Tali could feel the subtle movement of his hand within her own, fingers momentarily tangled together as they spoke quietly. The sensation was muted, poorly translated through layers of her suit, but she appreciated the reassurance it offered. It helped to sooth the unease of the darkened facility, the empty research stations that offered far more questions than answers.
The terminal flickered, casting uneven light against them, reflecting in the soft glow of his eyes. There was a smile tucked away behind her helmet, subtle but hopeful. Tali knew that the Commander had his own apprehensions about this mission, despite the simplicity it presented. The lingering unanswered questions, however, were disconcerting; as was the prevalent lack of information regarding the research facility. Just what was it they were involved with here? And why did they leave so abruptly? It didn’t appear that their departure had anything to do with—
The sound of the name gave her pause, causing Tali to shift uneasily, gaze adverting from the Commander. It was uncomfortable to be addressed as such, a title that had so long been associated with her father.
Tali had slowly become accustomed to Jace’s insistence of using her rank, often spoken to her with the warmth of affection behind it. An Admiral’s daughter was something she knew well how to be and, with Jace’s encouragement, she was learning how to begin and hesitantly accept the role of being an Admiral. But Admiral Zorah had been her father and that was a position the quarian could neither be nor live up to.
Her fingers slid away from Jace’s, attempting to tuck away the doubts that haunted her, the questions of if she would ever be able to begin living for herself outside of his shadow. With her omni-tool still lit, she began the process of delving deeper into the encoded files, sussing out routes of data that were not fully corrupted.
The network that linked the research terminals appeared to be unstable, mostly a garbled mess of incomplete data chunks. What files that she was actually able to access gave little information as to what sort of research the facility was conducting, a mismatched jumble of memos, correspondents and reports. Mentions of schedules, shift rotations, requisition forms and dig site locations- all of which made little sense to the quarian without further context.
However, the further she probed into the network towards finding possible redundancy files, the more apparent it became that data corruption was likely not a result of the power failure. The erasure was too ubiquitous, too thorough to have been from a systems failure. For reasons unknown, it appeared that the inhabitants of the facility had attempted to purge whatever data remained before they had calmly left. It was only by a small bit of luck that, whatever procedure they had implanted to delete their network’s data, was not nearly so precise.
It was an unsettling notion, the prospect that the abandonment of the station had little to do with the Reaper invasion. Was this part of why the Alliance had such interest in sending Shepard here? On an otherwise simplistic search and retrieve mission?
Tali’s fingers fidgeted over her omni-tool’s interface, sifting through what data she could find. However, when she finally came across some of the redundancy archives, it was evident of just how pervasive the damage had been. Any lingering doubts that the corruption had been due in part to a systems or power error was disproved with these results. Clearly the asari who had been working here had not wished any of their research data to be left behind.
Out of the mess of useless data chunks, Tali was able to pull a few files. Internal memos, compilations of research data she couldn’t quite understand and-
“Ah-ha!” She quietly muttered to herself, a happy note of triumph lighting her voice. It carried through the shared com link, a mildly embarrassing after thought, but Tali quickly went on to explain. “I believe I’ve found something.”
Among the data she was able to retrieve was a simple, but hopefully useful, basic map of the facility’s layout. Looking it over, it appeared she was correct in her presumptions that there was a second floor. Mostly containing research labs and offices, it opened up and gave way to the main floor they were currently on. Glancing up, Tali could just make out the railings and scattered walkways that disappeared into the darkness above them.
The tunnels far below the facility seemed to be accessed either through an elevator or stairs, and it appeared they were quite extensive, most ending at various dig sites. It told them little of where exactly what they were looking for might be located but at least it was better than blindly wandering around the long since abandoned research station.
“Here.” She forwarded copies of the map to both Jace and the other Alliance soldiers, the bright glow of her eyes turning to gaze at the Commander. “Most of the data in their systems has either been manually wiped clean or corrupted. I don’t think we will get much else of use from it. The damage is pretty systematic. Before they left, the researchers at least first took their time to make certain very little would remain.”
A muffled exclamation of excitement carried through the comm systems, forcing the marines in the room to turn to her before Tali could even go on to explain her findings. Jace already made his way to the computers as she began her findings.
The wind outside passed through the shafts leading to their current locations, chill howling and frosting the group. Rocks fell and banged against the metal, empty halls reflecting the sound back at them to remind them how lonely the room felt.
Tali turned to face him, to briefly explain what information caused her to become so excited in the first place. One of his omni-tools lit up, the light sources around the room flaring with each received message.
A map, or lay-out at least. Corridors twisting down further into the ground, with note that the digging stopped at a third floor. From what he could make out, appeared whatever caused this vacancy also stopped the facility from any further expansion.
His mouth twisted down, frowning at the layout and structure of the map presented to him. The corridors were uneven, the trek would be hindered by the poorly tunneled shafts leading down. It didn’t matter if the sigh escaped him caught through the comms, Jace couldn’t help but feel exasperated.
"Okay, so they did an automatic wipe without physically checking what the systems had left-" that sounded familiar- "and parts of the facility’s layouts remained.
We’ll be heading down the tunnels to my left and going slowly. Orderly. I want guns down but out. Doesn’t matter what was down here that caused evacuation, but evacuation happened. Dawson, take point.”
Jace’s eyes drifted to Tali, bobbing his head at her for the job well done. And it was a well done job. These specs could have easily been lost by someone combing the directory for basic information. Thorough was not something he’d seen out of Alliance work in the past.
Footsteps of the privates banged across the room and he knew it was time to go. Fingers twirled to Tali, drawing her forward while staying behind him. Honestly, Jace had no expectation of anything still in the tunnels or the rooms, but he’d prefer her behind him nonetheless.
As their journey through the tunnels transpired, the sight of poorly cut rocks caught his eye. They dug down and through, sure, but it was haphazardly. Almost frantic. The metal scaffolding was designed solely for the purpose of standing damage, but it didn’t seem to be sound in the location chosen.
Like the entrance, ice had claimed the metal walkway long before they got here, meaning water had to be present, or a heavy amount of condensation. Regardless, a quick warning of taking time through the area was issued through the headset.
A general warning he wasn’t worried about, but his nerves were shot. Nothing seemed right, all of this was too convenient. The Alliance bared down on this mission, urging the LT. from informing the Council. Even though this was an asari colony world. And to make no effort to help the citizens?
And of course, this whole structure seemed poorly designed. Rushed. How long was it here, and why did the asari know to build and dig in this spot?
The questions were simple, but they bugged Jace. And their sudden disappearance, coupled with how empty the location truly was. Shadows danced across the walls, tricks of the mind. It seemed like they moved away from him, studying him. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought the darkness watching was truly watching, but all the same, these shadows seemed more animated to him.
Small amounts of light flowed into his vision, likely some activated in the room ahead as their journey now stopped. Another open room, high enough to have a second floor, greeted them with open arms. Lights were more ample here, visibility far greater tan the previous room. Immense amounts of crates and containers, several small rooms closed off by doors.
"Same as last time. Proceed to sweep the room. Slowly, and report anything you see. Comms on, but minimize discussion."