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Salvaging from Strife (Chapter Cover Art)

Salvaging from Strife[]

Chapter 29 - Unique Opportunity[]

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Part 1[]

Quarian cruiser
Noveria System

"Tali'Zorah vas'Rayya, this was not how I imagined your pilgrimage ending."

The disappointment in his voice stung. "Father, I can't return to the Fleet yet."

"Your pilgrimage is over, one way or another." Admiral Rael'Zorah firmly stated. "Your actions with the humans grossly exceeded what is permissible and caused serious damage to the diplomacy and reputation of the Migrant Fleet. The Conclave voted to recall you from your pilgrimage."

"At least give me some time to find a pilgrimage gift, Father," she bargained. "Or else your enemies in the Fleet will use it against you."

"You have given them more than enough already," her father answered with the strict, stern Admiral voice he used whenever she failed to meet his standards. "Besides," he added knowingly, "if I let you go, I know you won't be looking for a pilgrimage gift. You'll go back to the humans again, and I won't allow that. Admiral Daro'Xen has already agreed to employ you in her geth research. She will be pleased to have you."

Tali swallowed her indignation. She still felt feverish and sick, but the doctors had deemed her healthy enough to receive visitors. This was the first time Tali had seen her father since departing on her pilgrimage, and she wasn't about to start acting like a child in front of him. "Father, the path I took on my pilgrimage was dangerous, but I don't regret taking it." she defended herself. Okay, there were some doubts, like taking Dr. T'Soni prisoner, but she wasn't about to mention that. "I'm your daughter, I'm more than capable of facing the risks."

Her father spoke, "When the Pilgrimage Oversight Committee reported your employment by human mercenaries, I was concerned. But pilgrims are traditionally left to seek their own route through the galaxy, and you shouldn't need help." He began pacing restlessly around the small medical chamber, still talking. "So I held my counsel, even when more and more disturbing updates reports came in about your pilgrimage. Feros, a firefight on the Citadel, going to that pirate den Omega. I trusted you knew what you were doing, despite all the risks."

He came to a sudden halt, not looking at her. "And then, the first time I hear your voice since your pilgrimage began, it was in that video from Noveria."

Tali flinched guiltily. One of the medical assistants treating her had chattered about what had happened while she was ill. She hadn't looked at the viral video herself, but she remembered the bad bits well enough. Keelah, of course her father had watched it. Multiple times, knowing him.

"After that, with Noveria demanding reparations from the Migrant Fleet and threatening to make an example out of you. I requested command of the task force to Noveria myself. I promised you a home on Rannoch, Tali. I can't give you that if you're dead."

Not knowing what else to do, Tali awkward reached out and hugged him. She whispered, "I can't just return to the Migrant Fleet, Father. I must find out what the geth are doing."

"There were no geth on Noveria," her father said, pulling away.

"No, but we did find rachni, Father," Tali argued. "The Spectre Saren Arterius is connected to the geth, I know it. He's the key to understanding why the geth left the Perseus Veil, and whatever it is they are planning, they're a threat to the galaxy."

"And I suppose the humans are your solution?" His voice was probing, judging her answer.

"At least they're doing something about Saren," Tali answered carefully. "He's too dangerous to be left alone." That wasn't going to convince him. She changed course. "And if nothing else, the geth are the humans' enemy as well. This may be our best chance to find an ally against the geth."

Her father chuckled drily, the suddenness of it catching Tali off guard. She asked, "Did I say something?"

"The humans are offering an anti-geth alliance," he revealed. "Have been offering for a while now, actually, but since Noveria, their persistence has become ridiculous."

Tali perked up. Commander Shepard had, on Omega, mentioned asking the Migrant Fleet for assistance, but hadn't provided many details.

Her father must have noticed her interest, elaborating, "As a diplomatic request from an alien species, the question of an alliance fell into the purview of the Conclave. Such an alliance would be a unique opportunity for the Fleet, but there were too many risks to consider, and so they remained undecided. After what happened on Noveria, the Conclave had enough, declared the whole affair a military matter and gave the final decision to the Admiralty. The other four admirals are tied. Han'Gerrel and Daro'Xen in favor, Zaal'Koris and Shala'Raan against."

"I am inclined to decline. Not because they nearly killed you," he added before Tali could protest, "I will not forgive them for that, but the priorities of the Fleet come before my own. The humans simply can't be trusted. Sooner or later, one of them will try using us, and the Fleet will find itself betrayed, dragged into their violence, or worse."

"The other species think of quarians as thieves and vagabonds, I experienced that on my pilgrimage, and you must have too on your own pilgrimage, Father," Tali reminded him unhappily. "You're doing the same to humans."

Her father shook his head. "You are optimistic, Tali," he said, "but the captains reported receiving secret negotiations at Noveria from the human factions, aiming to undermine each other. Even their high priestess made such hints. Sooner or later, the Fleet will be forced to pick sides, and that will not end well."

"At least talk with Commander Shepard, Father." Tali appealed.

"The mercenary who hired you? Why should I talk to a hired gun of all people, after he nearly killed you?"

"The world the geth invaded, Coromodir? It's his homeworld. It's personal for him. I've worked with him, and trust me, Saren and the geth are the only two things he cares about now."

Part 2[]

Elysium, Vetus System

The Bloody Igor bounded up the steep slope with great leaps. Just a few weeks ago, Commander Shepard would have zigzagged up the sharp incline, careful not to unbalance his Mech, but one of the perks of being placed in command of Normandy Relay, even if as a figurehead, were the free upgrades. He was still working out the kinks, but the Hunchback had bigger problems right now.

"We're outnumbered two to three." Rosby radioed him. His Quickdraw, covered in scorch marks and bare metal where shrapnel had ruined the paintwork, limped lopsidedly after him, one arm hanging limply. The rest of the Star Hunters were receiving improvements as well, if not to the same level, which was the only reason Rosby was still operating at all.

"Then we're taking at least one more of them down with us." Shepard panted back. Rising up over the crest, his eyes swept the terrain for anything they could use to his advantage. "Stay low and hide behind that rock pillar on your right. We'll hit the first one." He himself turned left to crouch behind another rock formation, waiting for their pursuers to catch up.

Nova-Black Hawk (Firing in the City - MWO Version) 2

Black Hawk Medium Omnimech

They did not have to wait long. A Black Hawk OmniMech shot up on jets of flame over the edge of the plateau, transferring its forward momentum into a high-speed sprint between Shepard and Rosby. Its upper torso twisted towards Rosby, away from Shepard, and unleashed a devastating volley on the Quickdraw.

Shepard struck. His arm-mounted lasers cut low, sweeping across the Black Hawk's legs, slowing its rapid movement down to a sluggish crawl. Shepard took a heartbeat to adjust his aim, before a sustained barrage from Igor's main shoulder-mounted autocannon broke the shield and battered the rear of the now vulnerable Mech. The Black Hawk slumped over, knees folding and weapons powering down.

His triumph was short-lived, as another OmniMech came into view. A moment after, a bright flash and loud buzz filled Shepard's cockpit, before the controls locked up. A penetrating hit to the cockpit, pilot kill.

"You fight well for a freebirth, Commander Shepard," the Mechwarrior piloting the Fenris proclaimed. "I am pleased your victory on Noveria was no mere fluke."

"Thank you, Star Commander," Shepard replied, ignoring the 'freebirth' insult. "I look forward to seeing you and your warriors in action myself." The controls came online again, and he began moving the Bloody Igor to meet Rosby's Quickdraw. "Now if you would excuse me, I believe your next challengers are arriving, so I will leave you to your next battle."

"Ha," the Clanner laughed, "excellent. Until next time, Commander Shepard." His Fenris stalked off to hunt its next prey, followed by the Nova and a Puma.

"Cheating, Clanners." Rosby grumbled.

"Just because they are vat-grown supersoldiers and use the most advanced 'Mechs and weapons doesn't mean they're cheating, Bonesaw," Shepard told him. "Now come on, let's find the others and get back to the hanger."

A beeping informed him of an incoming call. Opening it, he said, "Hey, Ollie, we're on our way back."

"Glad to hear it," Oliveira's voice said. "Hurry up, will you? I've got a group of quarians who want to talk to you, and they aren't interested in snacks."

Part 3[]

Star Hunter Offices
Elysium, Vetus System

Still wearing his cooling suit, Shepard found the Admiral in his new Elysium office, but not alone. Three more Quarians were there as well, bodyguards Shepard guessed, and Adept Williams.

"I am trained in alien diplomacy and served Blessed Blake on the Citadel," Shepard heard the adept tell the Quarian Admiral as he approached. "I am more than qualified to take part and assist in the discussion."

"I will speak to Commander Shepard alone," was the impatient reply. "That is final."

"With all due respect, Admiral," Adept Williams persisted. "But Commander Shepard is still familiarizing himself with his new responsibilities. He may require advice."

"Thank you, Adept, but I am more than capable of talking to Admiral Zorah without your help." Shepard cut in. "If I do require your help later, I'll tell you. Right now, we should respect the Admiral's request."

The adept frowned, but only said, "I will be waiting outside if you need me, Commander." She then strode out of the room. Admiral Zorah nodded to his companions, and they too left.

Briefly stepping over to shut and lock the door behind them, Shepard then turned to face the Quarian. "Admiral Zorah, I am honored by your presence," he began.

"Spare us both the theatrics. Tali advised me to be direct with you."

"That's fine by me," Shepard agreed. "is your daughter recovering well? We've heard nothing of her here on Elysium."

"Tali Zorah vas Rayya has returned the Fleet, and her employment with you is terminated," was all Admiral Zorah said. "I am not here to discuss her, but because of the constant requests from you humans for cooperation."

Finally, a piece of good news. "Well, I'm glad to finally hear that." Shepard told him, gesturing towards an empty chair and moving behind his new desk. "I'm afraid the Normandy Initiative will need time to handle the details, your visit was a surprise, but we can cover the broad strokes and start as soon as possible."

"You misunderstand, Commander." The Quarian remained firmly standing, and so Shepard did the same. "I'm here to determine if the Migrant Fleet should work with humans at all."

"If?" Shepard repeated, feeling his good mood vanish again. "Why if? We share a common enemy, the Geth. Isn't that enough?"

"You have more enemies than the Geth," Admiral Zorah countered. "Your people have a reputation for violence as bad as the krogan, are in a civil war, and at war with the Batarians as the same time. I have no interest in wasting valuable Quarian lives for conflicts that do not concern us."

"The Normandy Initiative is only concerned with ending the threat of Saren and the Geth." Shepard left out rumours that the garrisons of Elysium were being quietly stripped down to reinforce outlying colonies, now that he and the rest of the Normandy Initiative were on Elysium to deter Batarian aggression. That wouldn't help his case. "I understand your worry, but I promise, any help you provide will only be used against them."

"I count the Spectre among those I don't want as enemies of the Migrant Fleet. What my daughter told me and what has been made public about Noveria is highly implicating, but the Migrant Fleet will not involve itself against a Spectre of the Citadel. I trust the Council to deal with any rogue Spectres themselves, discreetly."

"That can be arranged." Shepard forced out unhappily. "Only the Geth then." It would still be justice for Coromodir, and he would take any help he could get. He would deal with Saren without the Quarians' aid, if it came down to it. "I'll be blunt, Admiral Zorah, with all the conditions you're demanding, what do you want from the Normandy Initiative?"

The Quarian thought for a moment, before saying, "Information and firepower. The Migrant Fleet needs up-to-date data on the Geth. As is, the Citadel Council has been reluctant to share information from the Human Sphere about the Geth's actions. And your Star League has been silent on the matter as well. I expect our Fleet researchers to have full access and cooperation from the Star League."

"And firepower? You need human troops for ground ops?" Shepard guessed.

"Indeed. Our exile from Rannoch has left us nomadic spacers, and we lack a conventional planetary army like the Turians, or you. Our marines are specialised for ship defence and boarding operations, not planetside battles. Normally, that isn't a problem, but now, it constrains our options against the Geth, when they are becoming active beyond the Perseus Veil. I intend to correct that." Admiral Zorah tilted his head slightly, faceplate still frustratingly opaque. "And you, Commander Shepard?"

"Information and firepower as well," Shepard answered. "The Quarians created the Geth, no doubt you've been studying them for centuries. If anybody is an expert on the Geth, it's your people, and we need the expertise urgently. As for firepower, your Migrant Fleet is the largest fleet in the galaxy. The Normandy Initiative doesn't have enough naval power to threaten the Geth properly, but having some of your warships at our back will change that."

"You are demanding a high price. We need those warships to protect our civilians and our species from extinction."

"It's a price worth paying, and your ships will be fighting against their sworn enemy." Shepard argued. "This could be a mutually beneficial partnership, if we just work together. Sharing data and salvage, your fleets providing me the space support I need to hit the Geth where it hurts. You wouldn't be here if you weren't interested."

"Perhaps," Admiral Zorah admitted. "There is potential. But no matter what, only the Geth. Nobody else, Commander Shepard. Not the batarians, not even the Spectre you're hunting, not unless he's standing right among the Geth."

"I can work with that," Shepard told Admiral Rael'Zorah. "In that case, we should discuss the particulars somewhere else. Point Commander Alenko is training with his new squadmates. Let me show you what the Normandy Initiative has to offer to the Migrant Fleet." He moved to unlock the office door.

"That can be done later," the Quarian demurred. "For now, I'm interested in what you can tell me about Coromodir."

"That I can do." His aunt had told him only the bare minimum, but Lady Arano had sent him an encrypted datafile before departing for the Aurigan Reach, a copy of a report from Coromodir, written by a Precentor Lipeltic. It was worth sharing, as a sign of goodwill.

Now he just had to figure out where to attack Saren next. If none of the great powers, or worse, his aunt, assassinated him for overstepping his authority.

Part 4[]

Virmire, Hoc System

Wrex didn't know why the geth hadn't detonated the makeshift nuke yet, but he wasn't going to give them the chance. It was pure luck Doctor Droyas still retained sufficient access to geth communication to discover the nuke, and even purer luck Wrex was close enough to do something about it. Krogan were tough, but even they couldn't survive a nuclear explosion at such close range.

"Destroy them!" he bellowed to the krogan following behind him. The hotblooded warriors eagerly complied, rushing out to shoot at the geth escorting the nuke. The bipedal krogan-sized geth units reacted quickly, fanning out to take cover among the structures of Saren's base and returning fire. Wrex, however, only had eyes for the geth Mech striding beside the cargo hauler transporting the nuke, and which was now turning its weapons onto them.

Wrex dove for cover behind a sturdy-looking pipe as a pair of recklessly charging krogan died, torn apart by the PPC of the Mech sweeping through them with its searing bolt of lightning. His assault rifle wouldn't do a thing to the thick armor plating. Holstering it to his armor, the Krogan BattleMaster swapped to the massive laser weapon he'd been lugging around. On a Mech, it would be considered small, but it was just the right size for Wrex. Poking his head out from cover again, Wrex studied his target.

It looked hideously uncanny, shaped with curving organic-seeming lines, standing on two thick, sturdy limbs and bearing another similar-looking pair as arms. For lack of a better choice, Wrex chose the giant glowing eye in the centre of the torso, taking aim and firing. Armor vaporized or melted from the energy of the laser bypassing the still intact kinetic barriers, and the light vanished from the big lightbulb thing.

Unfortunately, that only made the 'Mech angry. Only running the moment the laser finished firing saved Wrex, and even then he was thrown from his feet by the close misses. Scrambling to his feet again, he spotted a welcoming doorway and hurried in, but no further heavy fire came his way. So, Wrex carefully creeped back, to see the Mech directing its ire towards the other krogan. The cargo hauler trundled on steadily, heedless of the battle raging around it.

Priorities. "Keep them distracted, I'm going after the nuke," Wrex ordered into his communicator. He sprinted towards the cargo hauler, firing his assault rifle one-handed as the laser cooled down to suppress the few geth units in his way. An enemy laser skimmed across his chest in return, and he felt the burning heat through the armor.

Still, he got close enough to do something reckless. Wrex was one of the few Battlemasters left in the Krogan's slow extinction, with centuries of combat and biotic experience behind him, and he put those skills to use. Forming a mass effect field ahead him, he leapt forwards as gravity suddenly changed direction, flinging him forwards the last short stretch to a swift and fatal crash against the cargo hauler. For a few seconds, the world hurtled past him in a blur, until he reversed the mass effect field at the last moment, braking hard at accelerations that would kill more fragile aliens. He still collided painfully against the cargo hauler's rear, but that was fine.

Wrex swept the laser across the door's control mechanism, melting it, and wrenched open the entrance, climbing into the sealed cargo bay as shots hammered his kinetic barriers from behind. His weapon felt burning hot in his hands from firing too often too quickly, but it was still heavy and durable enough to smash the geth unit inside to scrap. And then the krogan was glaring at the nuke, realising he'd forgotten to ask Droyas how to disarm it. It was a big ugly thing, and lights were starting to flash. With no time for other options, Wrex lifted his still overheating laser and held down the trigger, then dropping the broken hunk of metal to shoot his assault rifle into the molten hole.

The lights died down, even as his suit's environmental sensors warned of a radioactive environmental hazard. Wrex began groaning in relief when the roof of the cargo hauler broke open and the massive leg of the Mech nearly crushed him.

"Oh right, forgot about you." he grumbled, looking up at the Mech looming over him.

Part 5[]

Virmire, Hoc System

Wreav found him sitting atop the toppled wreck, while jubilant celebrating krogan rampaged beneath him. Wrex watched annoyed as his brother descended using his jump pack from above to land beside him.

"I could have used your squad," Wrex said before Wreav could say something stupid.

Wreav scoffed. "It's not my fault you didn't clear the anti-air towers before running here. I had to take them out myself. Besides, looks like you handled it yourself." He stomped against the Mech's battered hull to loud clangs. "So, any idea what they were doing?"

"Droyas says we're close to the geothermal taps. A small nuke there could set off a chain reaction that destroys the entire base. Anywhere else, too much survives. I guess Saren had plenty of secrets he wanted hidden."

"Bah, who cares," Wreav dismissed, gesturing at the krogan around. "Look at them cheering. The galaxy will learn to fear the krogan again, and all will know Clan Urdnot did this. We're getting what we came for, the genophage cure. Anything else we loot from this place is just a nice, juicy bonus." He kicked at the Mech again. "Say, you reckon the humans will pay well for this piece of junk? They love salvage."v

And there was Wreav being stupid again. "You never think things through, brother," Wrex sighed. "This whole operation must remain secret. That means no telling anyone else about Virmire, and no selling anything from here to anyone. Or the Citadel will find out about Saren's base here, and you can say goodbye to the cure forever."

Wreav grunted, "Quit whining. This is a great day for the krogan species. I'm going to hunt for stragglers. One of them's bound to make a fine trophy."

Wrex let him go without a word. Standing up, he hopped down from the Mech to the wrecked cargo hauler half-buried under it. The nuke was still inside, but he needed the privacy more. Tapping at his communicator, he waited.

He didn't have to wait long. Professor Juhg's irritated voice spoke, garbled by intermittent static. "Wrex. Why am I here."

"Saren was working on more than just curing the krogan genophage here, Professor. While Droyas is busy bringing the cure back to Tuchanka, I want you to find out what you can."

"There are other researchers in Clan Urdnot. I don't see why you had to drag me all the way here. I'd rather be figuring out a history curriculum."

"This is more important," Wrex told him. "And you're the best suited for the task."

"Are you serious? The geth will have wiped any data they can, and I don't know what else a paranoid Spectre might have set up. It's booby trapped rooms, piecing together scraps of clues, probably while the place is flooded with some sort of toxin or the other and a bunch of hostile natives try their best to kill me."

"Sounds perfect for someone in your line of work. Not much different from digging on Tuchanka, is it?"

Juhg was silent. "I'm an archaeologist, not a treasure hunter," he complained, then paused, before asking. "What's the point of this? I thought you'd want to get in and out as fast as you can."

"I'm hoping to buy time," Wrex explained. "Sooner or later, the Citadel's going to realize something happened on Virmire, and they're going to send someone to investigate. I want Saren's secrets as a distraction. Give them something else to worry about when they come sniffing around Clan Urdnot. And it wouldn't hurt to have some blackmail material, in case Saren wants a little payback."

"You almost sound reasonable. I want a proper escort, lackeys to handle the menial work," Juhg demanded. "And that nuke you disarmed for a museum exhibit."

"No," Wrex told him. "Once our technicians arrive, I'm ordering them to repair it and plant it properly. Once we're done here, I'm setting off the nuke and wiping out any trace we've been here. As far as everyone else is concerned, nothing happened on Virmire."

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