Before turning off her omni-tool, Tali saved some of the garbled data chunks, curious to try and see what further information she may be able to get from them when she had the proper time. It was possible, although not entirely likely, that some of the data was still yet salvageable but now was neither the time nor place to entertain her curiosity over the matter.
The light from her omni-tool faded, leaving only the flickering of the terminal to cast distorted light against her figure. Beyond the darkness, there was only the quiet sound of the cold wind, howling against the facility as the snow continued to fall. Even with Jace moving to be near her once more, to apprise the information she had shared, Tali could not help but feel the vast emptiness of the station. That the darkness stretched farther beyond what she could perceive.
It was an unsettling feeling, one that made her shiver slightly. But regardless of how she tried to reassure herself that she was merely being silly, the unease lingered. Unconsciously, she shifted closer to Jace, the pale illumination from his own omni-tool reflecting against her visor.
Tali waited patiently as he looked over the schematics, happy that she was able to successfully retrieve something useful from the corrupted files. She knew that the Commander would not have agreed to allow her to join the mission unless he thought she was capable of assisting, but her worry about proving her usefulness had persisted.
It was not often that she was asked or given permission to join the away team, which in some manner she could understand. Although she was an Admiral, Tali had no formal or extensive military training and even the time she had spent in the field did not qualify to make up for that. While likely Jace himself could handle most tech work out in the field, Tali wanted to be able to help in whatever capacity was needed. Sometimes having a few extra engineers was useful.
Jace’s nod of approval caused her eyes to warm, a bright smile tucked away behind her mask. She found herself shifting upon her heels, an excited little bounce in lieu of being proud that she had been useful.
Leaving behind the terminal, Tali began to follow Jace as his instruction. Ahead, the other soldiers had started to make their way across the expanse of the room, carefully navigating around storage crates and lifeless terminals. Settled on the far side of the room was an archway and, as indicated by the map, the only entrance into the second part of the topside portion of the research station.
Their footsteps echoed softly as Dawson took point, Jace and Tali taking up the rear. With her pistol drawn, but pointed away, she cautiously followed the dim silhouette of the Commander, keeping a close eye on the faint glow of the lights set within his armor.
The corridor which separated the two topside stations appeared to have been dug directly out of the mountain. With no embellishments, the narrow hallway was merely constructed from burrowing through the rock. A curious change from the well-polished interior they had seen within the main entrance. Tali wondered if perhaps this portion of the facility had been added later or perhaps had merely never been finished before it was abandoned.
Ice had crept further into the building as well, making the corridor a bit of a precarious walk. But Tali took Jace’s caution in mind and kept a careful watch on where exactly she stepped.
The hallway eventually gave way to the second room, which appeared to contain more darkened terminals and discarded storage crates, darkened doorways to offices and other rooms. Much like the entrance room, this one spanned two floors, but with a bit more light Tali could just make out the walkways which hung far above them. The size of both stations spoke of just how many workers must have once occupied the place. But now, now it was quiet and there was no sign that anyone had entered the station for some time.
If the map Tali had found was correct, then the elevators that would lead down to the tunnels would be located at the other side of the room. From where she stood near the Commander, however, it was far too dark to tell if this was true.
At Jace’s command, the rest of the ground team began to spread out, beginning a careful sweep of the large room. Tali lingered behind the soldiers, drifting over towards some of the stations to examine what had been left behind. She did not bother with the terminal, instead picking up one of the datapads that had been piled upon the table.
Her long fingers flicked over the device, turning it on with a flicker of orange light. The device sputtered briefly before dying, causing the quarian to frown, nose wrinkled in confusion. It was one thing for data stored within the terminal network to have been wiped, but it appeared that even the datapads had been corrupted or broken.
With a soft sigh, she set the pad back down, thoughts shifting over this new bit of information. What exactly had they found here that they wanted all knowledge of erased? What exactly was awaiting them in the tunnels far below?
The questions settled uneasily within her tangled thoughts, recalling stories of other ventures whereupon Jace had need to visit abandoned tunnels. They had been filled with the remnants of the workers, now turned to husks under the influence of the Reaper artifact they had uncovered. Could something like that have happened here?
Tali’s gaze shifted, glancing across the darkened room to seek out the Commander’s figure. He wasn’t very far from her, likely puzzling his own way through the unanswered questions this mission had presented.
Her lips parted, intending to call out to him and catch his attention, but Tali paused. Uncertain, she let the words grow quiet, not sure how comfortable Jace would be in her seeking out his reassurance. Not when he was currently in command and in present company.
So instead, she turned from his familiar visage, attempted to bolster her own courage and resumed her quiet search through the defunct research station.
Like the previous room for the complex, Jace noted how eerily still the whole place felt. Items left untouched and undisturbed, a thick layer of dust covering each piece of equipment before them. In the previous room, so thick was the soot that picking the items up showed how clean the spot beneath was spotless. Leaving an outline of the object that had been there. He’d seen this before. Outlines on the walls, burn marks and residue remnants. Memories scorched onto the last place they stood while fleeing, while escaping for their lives. Back home.
Their screams blared through the starry night, echoing over the shots fired. The sound of engines roared like mighty beasts against the panicked settlers, feet trampling the ground beneath them. Families separated and shot down. The corrosive ammo melting bodies slowly, each gurgling drown marking the last spoken line.
Children crying for their parents slaughtered and abused, bludgeoned by the butts of the guns. They didn’t want to waste shots. Clear games of tagging down survivors and pulling off limbs. Signs of superiority. The four-eyed beings shouting in an eldritch language. Exterminating anyone they saw, leaving their bodies decoratively across the landscape. Those with bodies intact.
His mother, his beautiful mother, shoved him into the crawl space of their small home. She didn’t say a word, not a sound was made. He’d been inside when the abominations landed. Father? He didn’t make it. Her leg was bleeding profusely, shot up by the invading horrors. In the crawl space stuffed a sixteen year-old boy, with no idea what was happening. Never before had he seen his mother so pale, ghostlike and absent.
The door was kicked in with immense force, mother standing proudly away from the space. There was enough room to see out, to examine what was happening. They were monsters, creatures from a nightmare Jace couldn’t have created in his wildest dreams. Four eyes, rows of two, with ridges covering their face. Voices deep and growling, barking and pointing with fervor and determination. His mother, brave and proud, rose a hand to point at the monsters, to stand up for herself.
Through her eye. A single shot, aimed and placed threw her eye and out the other side. Blood and bone splashing on the wall and floor. His mother, brave and proud, silenced with no chance to fight back. Not once in his life- even now- had he heard a sound as loud as her body hitting the floor. Not a sound, not one cry or tear did he let out.
Stomach churned, boiled and twisted in his body. There was blood on his hands, gripping palms to tight they’d crack apart. Jace had known fear prior and since, but not like this moment. This single moment that had never left his mind. On loop it played, repeated, her body hitting the floor. The smack on the metal. Her body hitting the floor. The glee on the creatures’ faces as they celebrated their kill. How loud her body hit the floor. How her last words never made it to the front.
As the sun rose, he made a venture from the crawl space to examine her. She was locked, solid in place and never to move again. Taking the necklace off of his mother’s lifeless body, knowing that no matter how hard he tugged, no matter how violently he acted, she’d remain perfectly calm and uncaring.
The venture from the hut showed the aftermath of the attack, bodies of those he knew as neighbors and friends strung across the roads and dirt. The dirt, soaked in blood and already drying against the sun. Outlines of frightened children calling for their parents permanently stained on the walls. People not just hours ago working in the fields now torn apart and scattered to the wind.
And not one got sent to the river.
Not a single man, woman, or child got put into the river to join their former loved ones. Every single member of his settlement, his home, left to wander the leydik alone, an eternity of solitude and cold. Their faces frozen and twisted in fear, dying trying to save themselves and their families. And they failed.
They failed being brave. Not hiding and cowering away. A few hours passed before more screaming engines descended from the sky. His legs froze, not wanting to run or hide this time. Humans emerged from the carriers this time, sharp dressed and guns waving. Jace couldn’t understand a single word as they shouted at him, pointing and screaming. They were angry, violent, hateful. He remembered them in stories. The Alliance.
They swept the area, kicked down the doors and tore apart the homes. Immediately the young boy rose up to protest, but was shoved down on his ass. The men shouted louder, as if increasing the volume would make him understand somehow. After being invaded by creatures from beyond, Jace had to sit back and watch these soldiers tear down what was left of his home.
These suited men and women continued to scream at him, as they drug him from the settlement and into their ships. Hands waved and pointed at him as he struggled to get off the carrier and out. They were piling the bodies, burning them. Permanently condemning them. No matter how bad the stories were, the truth seemed even more horrendous.
Jace set the instrument back down on the table, not remembering lifting it up in the first place. A layer of dirt shook from the item’s new resting place, emphasizing and age upon the setting they’d been in.
Long enough to leave a fine coating of soot, encasing each object around them. He didn’t recall the previous room being so overwhelmed in abandonment, but there wasn’t much he could do. If he couldn’t shake the dust from his thoughts, then at no point could he condemn a room for being unable to do the same.
Pivoting on a single foot to those with him, quick head nods and finger pointings assigned tasks to the individuals present. In different directions the privates went, to scour the room of its’ worldly possessions. Tali, on the other hand, was already on the task of recovering data from the terminals she could access. A smile lit up his face behind the dark visor, ever impressed with her ability and awareness. Though she might not act like it, Tali always had a knack for doing what was needed.
Not to be left out, Jace turned to take in a full view, seeing the room about him, noting the layout. His stomach rolled over as his eyes searched to make meaning of the abandoned shaft. This room, in particular, had so many doorways and evacuation points. Entrances and exits for no reason but to be there. More dust, however.