Chapter 61 – The trial
To Garrus’ slight surprise the garden plaza, where the hearing was to be held, wasn’t anything like the courtrooms he had seen back on the Citadel, when he had been called to witness in cases he had worked in C-Sec. It was an amphitheatre-like construction that didn’t look like it belonged inside a starship. There was also a large number of quarians, who had gathered around to follow the proceedings.
As they walked through the crowd Garrus noticed that the three judges were already standing on the podium waiting for them. Shala’Raan took her place on the highest seat as the spoke-person of the gathering.
“This Conclave is brought to order,” she started formally. “Blessed are the ancestors who kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. Keelah se’lai.”
The entire crowd repeated the last words, and even Garrus found himself muttering them along with the others.
“The accused, Tali’Zorah vas Normandy, has come with her captain to defend herself against the charge of treason,” the quarian continued.
“Objection!” one of the quarian judges shouted immediately. “A human has no business at a hearing involving such sensitive military matters!”
“Then you should not have declared Tali crew of the Normandy, admiral Koris,” the quarian woman said sternly, and Garrus happily hid another smile inside his helmet. “By right as Tali’s captain, Shepard must stay.”
“Objection withdrawn,” the man said glumly.
“Shepard vas Normandy, your crew member Tali’Zorah stands accused of treason,” Shala’Raan continued. “Will you speak for her?”
“If it helps Tali, I will,” she said speaking slowly and with conviction. “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 at her side today.”
The same quarian man was again the first to respond.
“Nobody has been forbidden from anything! It is a simple—“
“Lie to them if you must, Zaal’Koris,” the other man who was judging the case interrupted. “But don’t lie to me and expect me to stay silent! The human is right!
“Admirals, please,” Shala’s authoritative voice cut the argument short. “Shepard’s willingness to represent Tali’Zorah in this hearing is appreciated. Tali, you are accused of bringing active geth to the Migrant Fleet. What say you?”
“How could Tali have brought geth to the Fleet while serving on the Normandy?” Shepard asked.
“To clarify, Shepard,” the female quarian judge, who had so far stayed silent, said. “Tali isn’t accused of bringing back entire units – only parts that could spontaneously reactivate.”
“But I would never send active geth to the Fleet!” Tali shook her head. “Everything I sent was disabled and harmless!”
“Then explain how geth seized the lab ship where your father was working!” the most hostile judge demanded.
There was nervous movement and silent whispers going through the crowd. Tali swayed and both Shepard and Garrus stepped closer in case she would fall. But she regained her strength.
“What are you talking about?” she demanded in turn. “What happened?”
“As far as we can tell, Tali,” the judge who seemed to be most supportive said gently. “The geth have killed everyone on the Alarei... your father included.”
“What?” Tali was completely at loss. “Oh, Keelah...”
“I appreciate the need for this trial, admirals,” Shepard said, stepping forward—Garrus knew she was lying through her teeth and only said so to please the quarians. “But right now our first concern must be the safety of the Migrant Fleet. The Normandy stands ready to assist in whatever capacity necessary.”
“Thank you,” Shala’Raan said and Garrus had the feeling this was what the quarian had wanted to hear. “Quarian strike teams have attempted to retake the ship, so far without success.”
“Shepard,” Tali turned to her, pleading. “We have to take back the Alarei!”
“The safest course would be to simply destroy the ship,” one of the admirals explained. “But if you are looking for an honourable death instead of exile...”
“I’m looking for my father, you bosh’tet!” Tali spat.
Garrus didn’t know what ‘bosh’tet’ meant, but from the way the admiral jumped it was a stinging insult. Garrus allowed another hidden smile under his helmet. Things were getting interesting.
“You intend to retake the Alarei from the geth?” Shala’Raan said as if she wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but the quarian couldn’t fool Garrus—the woman had been leading the confrontation into that direction. “This proposal is extremely dangerous.”
“With your permission, admirals, yes,” Shepard said sternly. “The good of the Fleet must come first... and Tali needs to find her father.”
“Agreed,” the supportive admiral said solemnly. “And if you die on this worthy mission, Tali, we will see that your name is cleared of these charges.”
“We can discuss that later,” the hostile admiral said.
“Then it is decided,” Shala’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 secondary docking hangar. Be safe, Tali. This hearing will resume upon your return, or upon determination that you have been killed in action.”
As the group dispersed the three of them retreated into a corner.
“Thank you for agreeing to take back the Alarei, Shepard,” Tali said weakly. “The admirals sound sure that my father is already dead, but...”
Garrus and Shepard exchanged a short glance, which revealed neither of them expected to find any survivors on board Alarei either, but that neither of them was going to mention it to Tali either.
“I don’t know,” Tali sighed. “We won’t know anything until we get there.”
“How are you holding up?” Shepard asked gently. “They just threw a lot of fire at you, even before telling you about your father.”
“I knew this would be bad,” Tali shook her head. “But I guess you’re never really prepared to be charged with treason. And my father... I don’t know. He could still be alive. They don’t know for certain that he’s dead. I just don’t know, Shepard. And I need to find out.”
“Is there anyone here you want to talk to before we go?” Shepard asked, allowing her gaze to roam the room, making mental note of each group of quarians.
“We should talk with the admirals,” Tali said. “It might help us to see what their viewpoints are. But I doubt we’ll change anyone’s mind by talking to them privately.”
“Hang in there,” Garrus said comfortingly.
“Shepard, the secondary docking hangar is through the Conclave chamber where you are now,” EDI’s voice suddenly came from their radios. “The shuttle they have provided is unarmed.”
“Understood,” Shepard replied.
“Whatever geth are on the Alarei have likely built more of themselves,” the AI continued and Garrus had a sudden bad feeling of what could happen if the quarians found out about the system. “Expect heavy resistance.”
“You set me up, Shala!” Tali spoke sharply to the older quarian woman. “You told captain Danna not to say anything. I don’t hear that my father may be dead until I’m in the trial? Why?”
“The admirals needed to hear the shock in your voice, Tali,” the woman replied. “Otherwise, they might not have let you try to retake the Alarei. That is your best chance at recovering that can exonerate you. I’m sorry. We cannot afford sensitivity, Tali.”
Grimly Garrus noted that he had been right and the older woman had intended for them to attempt to recapture the lab ship.
“I know you’re trying to help her, admiral,” Shepard said indignantly. “But that was over the line.”
“She has nobody else to speak for her, Shepard,” Shala’Raan said sadly. “I’m doing everything in my power. That’s what her father would have wanted.”
“Don’t say it like that!” Tali was still furious. “He could still be alive on that ship!”
“What can you tell us about the Alarei?” Garrus asked just to get the pressure off Tali for a moment.
“Not much, I’m afraid,” the quarian replied, studying him. “Rael’Zorah only said that he was researching new defense technology.”
“He told me only that he needed any geth parts or pieces I found,” Tali said, happy to talk to Garrus instead of the quarian. “I assumed he was testing weapons on geth components.”
“We knew nothing until the Alarei sent a distress signal, then went dead,” Shala’Raan continued. “We didn’t even know about the geth until a boarding team was attacked.”
“You’re saying there’s no data about the inside of the ship,” Shepard concluded.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” the quarian confirmed. “The marines who survived and escaped saw bodies in the halls. We must assume the worst.”
Garrus and Shepard exchanged another meaningful glance behind Tali’s back.
“No,” the young quarian protested. “We don’t.”
“What kind of evidence will carry weight with the admirals?” Shepard asked.
“Tali, you admitted to sending geth parts to your father for his project,” Shala’Raan said, glancing at the girl.
“Yes,” Tali said firmly. “But never anything that could have come back online on its own. I took every possible precaution!”
“Then find records of your shipments and the experiments,” Shala’Raan instructed. “Something that proves you were careful. Something that proves that this is all just a terrible accident that nobody could have foreseen.”
“We should go,” Shepard said gently.
“Good luck on the Alarei,” Shala’Raan said as they headed away.
Suddenly Tali hurried her steps.
“Kal’Reegar!” she called and another quarian turned to face them.
“Shepard, Tali’Zorah, Vakarian,” the man greeted them. “Good to see you all. Wish it were under better circumstances.”
“What are you doing aboard the Rayya?” Shepard asked. “This is not your usual post, is it?”
“No,” the quarian replied. “I, ah, stayed to argue the charges against Tali’Zorah. I’ve served with her, and she deserves better than what she’s getting.”
“Thanks, Kal,” Tali said with a tender note in her voice.
“Just stating facts, ma’am,” Kal’Reegar replied and Garrus would have liked to poke him for missing Tali’s obvious affection for him.
“Have you had any luck talking to the Admiralty Board?” Shepard asked.
“Admiral Raan asked my opinion about the geth, since I’d fought on Haestrom,” Kal’Reegar replied. “She and admiral Gerrel are hoping you’ll kill a bunch of geth to get the crowd on your side, then find evidence to clear your name. They were hesitant, but, well, you didn’t have many other options, ma’am. I recommended getting you onto the Alarei. I hope you can handle it.”
“You did the right thing,” Tali assured the man. “Thank you.”
“Keelah se’lai,” Reegar replied.
They headed across the room but were soon stopped by another quarian.
"Judging by your ability to play to a crowd, human, I have done Tali a favour by stripping 'vas Neema' from her name," admiral Koris said. "I take no pleasure in this, Tali, truly. But you have gravelly endangered and dishonoured our fleet."
"What exactly is your problem with my crew member, admiral?" Shepard asked.
"I respect Tali immensely," the admiral claimed, but Garrus didn't buy it. "Her actions against Saren are to be lauded. But like her father, she wants nothing but the destruction of the geth... the people we created. The people we wronged."
"The geth drove us from our homeworld!" Tali retaliated angrily.
"Of course they did," the admiral said shrugging his shoulders. "We tried to kill them. They are our children, Shepard. We have all done horrible things to each other, but it has to end. For both groups. Goodbye, Tali'Zorah. Be well."
"I'm surprised to hear you say that," Tali replied with a hint of bitterness in her voice.
"I don't hate you, Tali," the admiral said and to Garrus' surprise he sounded sincere. "I just think your father's plans for war were wrong."
“I can’t take this anymore, Shepard,” Tali whispered. “Let’s get to the Alarei and find my father.”
“All right,” Shepard nodded and they headed to the shuttle.