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When The Sun Sets On The Dune, You Know Where To Find Me

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He didn't think much about humans.

Why would he? It's not like he had a lot of free time to begin with.

When he wasn't doing meticulous suit repair (there always seemed to be a little extra dirt in the joints) he was on guard duty. When he wasn't on guard duty he was padding around planet after planet in search of scraps or useful tech with one of his two usual bands. When he wasn't doing that he was sleeping. He didn't have a lot of time to muse over yet another species added to the already overflowing galactic community.

Did he wonder? Sure. Sometimes he had a spare minute in-between falling asleep and remembering to turn his nasal filters off to muse over something other than guard detail. That was about the beginning and end of it. He didn't quite line up with the majority opinion of humans being special and unique, though even further from the nearly as common sentiment of them being pushy, greedy suck-ups. Granted, it's not like he didn't understand. It might've been centuries since his people were booted off of the Citadel space's prestigious order, but he still felt the sting whenever he was the only quarian in the room the rare time he was somewhere other than among the Fleet or on an abandoned planet. He got it. He just didn't get it.

Humans were newcomers. In many ways, so were they. While quarians had contact with other races well before their exile, humans were first noteworthy not just for their stubbornness on the field, but also for how secluded they were. They genuinely had no damn idea there was anyone else out there until they ran into the turians out of the blue (which, in retrospect, could have turned out far, far worse). How were they also supposed to know they'd be welcomed with relatively open arms? It was a bunch of bitterness and regret masquerading as a genuine opinion. Sometimes he wondered if the Admiralty Board needed to do their job at all.

No, Kal'Reegar just didn't have much of an opinion on humans. Which made it all the more interesting when one of the most famous humans in the galaxy dropped by and asked if he wanted to join the Normandy.

The Admiralty delivered the unanimous vote they wanted to know more about dark energy build-up. They received reports from scouting ships about geth activity beyond Haestrom and considered it a sign to keep up the pursuit closer to the Perseus Veil. While his crew wouldn't exactly be knocking on its door, it was closer to the Fleet's boundaries than Kal'Reegar would like. He's saddled with a smaller team this time to avoid scrutiny, offered a choice upgrade for one of his preferred weapons and given a simple directive by both the Admiralty and his captain -- get in, steal anything you can get your hands on, book it.

'Galaxy's dangerous enough without seeking these bastards out.' He'd thought in another endless, irritable loop as he contacted one prospective squadmate after another. 'But that's not what I fight for, is it? I fight for the Fleet's best interests, even if their best interests should prioritize not being blown to shreds.'

He needed as many strong guns as possible -- even if they weren't going to linger and poke at dirt samples for hours -- but the Migrant Fleet Marines were always short. Eight was a solid enough number that could see them covering more ground in less time, a few to guard the frigate, but he's only able to take three, including him. Kal'Reegar chooses two soldiers from the Balarenna -- Vin'Donna and Haro'Kena -- alongside the newly promoted salvage tech from the Rayya with a little extra free time on her hands. Pua'Sheva wasn't happy about being near the Veil -- she was skilled and inexperienced -- but was more than willing to give the Admiralty the benefit of the doubt. He supposed someone had to.

The benefit of the doubt is starting to look like all they have once they clear the surrounding cluster of the Far Rim and enter too damn close to geth space. They started receiving unusual tech readings even before passing Haestrom -- "Oh, we're off to a perfect start." Vin had drawled -- and he's positive he keeps seeing activity out of the corner of his eye as Haro navigates in and around space debris with care. Kal'Reegar isn't about to pull down his squad's morale with their chances, so he makes small talk with Vin and hopes this won't be the last conversation they have.

"How long do you think this will take?" Pua'Sheva asks when talk dies down and everyone starts double-checking their weapons. She's been the most excited and most nervous of the group. Like a fresh adult about to go on Pilgrimage.

"Not long." He replies. He had to choose between an upgrade for his omni-tool and his assault rifle after the Balarenna went through a stock shrink. He's hoping he doesn't regret his decision to keep with his old-time favorite. "Just stay behind us and focus on your readings."

"Do you think this will be anything like Haestrom? We're far too close to Charoum." She presses. Kal'Reegar takes in her twitchy fingers and bright stare. She needs to know what they're up against, but he also needs her to focus. "Not that you didn't do your best, but there are a similar proportion of geth here, too, and the planet is also pretty inhospitable to organic life..."

"Tuchanka is inhospitable. Terro is just dry and covered in rock. Besides, Haestrom was a ticking time bomb all around. The worst example we've had of dark energy build-up so far and we had to stick around a lot longer than usual to dig through all the rubble." He'd rather conserve energy, but Pua'Sheva is starting to shake visibly the closer they drift toward geth space. He turns on his omni-tool and shows her the rough schematics given to him by the Admiralty -- she may not be a soldier, but he knows a thing or two about pre-battle jitters. "Remember, we're just here to get some clean readings and not get shot. I don't know much about the former, but I've got over a decade of experience on the latter." He flicks it off. "Just stick with us."

"Okay." She nods, a little too hard, and fiddles with her omni-tool. "Can do. Hopefully I can get a confirmation on black flux within the hour. It's going to have to be measured as far away from biotic engines and fuel emissions to be accurate. The data I saw from Haestrom had too much outside activity to be entirely reliable."

"Well, I can't really comment on all that." He chuckles. "I just shoot things."

She jumps when a sharp rumble drums against the hull's shields. A well-placed shot by Haro into an incoming chunk of rock too close for comfort.

"Boom." He agrees.

They barely touch ground and it's already less a noble mission and more navigating an asteroid field in a pre-flight frigate. The winds are nasty, with little else but rock and irregular canyons to break it up. Terro is a small planet, covered in dark rock and filled with sloping hills and geysers that spout bright white every few minutes -- he can see Charoum's red orb to the west, bright and solid with minimal cloud cover. Their scanners start acting up once the frigate is out of sight, a good sign that still means they have to navigate further out than he'd like. He soothes Pua'Sheva the best way he can and instructs her to turn her helmet light off as they walk beneath rocky overhangs and avoid open ground as much as possible.

The sloping hills that start to greet them a half hour in give them decent cover, but also make it easy for an ambush. Geth claimed Charoum as their own decades ago and, although quarians rarely ever went out here, he wasn't about to assume they overlooked this place. He keeps his head on the swivel as the young scientist mutters to herself.

"Wait, wait." She says, for the seventh time since they've left. His soldiers have been fairly calm all the while, but Haro is starting to get a little annoyed. "Sorry, I'm sorry, there's another reading just over here..."

"We got what we need. Let's go back already." He grumbles. He'd worked with the man only once before, but he was a stout soldier. Good at his job, good under fire. A restless type, though. A quarian made for the battlefield first and everything else second.

"She's just doing her job." Vin counters, crouching and resting while she can. She rubs dust off her helmet and flicks it into the air. "Whatever she needs to do will be helping the Fleet. If you want to get grouchy, get grouchy at the Admiralty for sending us out here. God, this planet sucks."

"Should I?" Haro asks, looking to him. Kal'Reegar tilts his chin down to level his gaze. "Seems Kal would be a better choice for that."

"Focus on your mission, Haro." He'd normally joke a little more, lighten everyone's spirits, but this somber, dark hunk of rock is starting to wear on him already. "You can practice your speech on the frigate back."

Even if he did encourage some banter, the sight of a downed ship in the distance would've made them all go silent. Vin lets out a soft tsk-tuck of sympathy and moves her hand from side-to-side in a quick prayer. It's twisted out of shape, covered in dirt and having clearly been there a while, but he can tell a quarian make three miles away. A few chunks of half-melted rubble stick out of the ground around it like stunted trees. Whatever downed it wasn't content to at least let it have the dignity of a noble crash. It was blasted to bits with cruel efficiency. There wouldn't even be bodies to find.

"...Not pre-flight. Still old." Haro notes, with the soft, even tone of someone who's seen it all before. "Poor bosh'tets have been here a while."

"Oh. The scanner is going crazy." Pua'Sheva breathes. She takes a few careful steps forward, holds it up in the direction of the ship and, like it's being guided by the ancestors themselves, it acts up again. She glances over her shoulder at them. "We're already pretty far out..."

Kal'Reegar appreciates her caution. It makes it all the more surprising when Haro's the first to speak.

"We're here. Might as well." He flicks his chin at her. "Right behind you."

Pua'Sheva hesitates. She looks to Kal'Reegar. He gives her an accompanying nod and she starts off at a light jog up the slight slope. She probably found it a sudden and strange change of heart, but looking at the aged wreck of quarians long since past had a way of motivating a marine. After all...nobody would come here willingly.

"Just one ship?" Vin asks. "Think they were exiles?"

"Probably. If the Fleet won't take them, everywhere else is pretty slim pickings." Kal'Reegar responds. "They also could have defected."

"But how long?" She shakes her head, though doesn't keep her eyes off the scientist and soldier pair as they near the towering wreck. "Surely exiles wouldn't be so desperate they would come out here..."

Vin was a classic quarian, through and through. Devout to the ancestors and always handy in a pinch. Kal'Reegar wracks his brain for scouting information he might've heard at some point in his career. Haro had noted it wasn't pre-flight -- it could be the Maelyava, a rogue quarian ship that broke away from the Fleet after a notorious disagreement with another ship that ended in cannon fire. It disappeared without a trace after snagging a mass relay before it could be captured by the Migrant Fleet Marines. Then again, it could also be the Zessul.

A shot rings out right as he's holstering his rifle to give his arms a break. Haro hits the ground.

"Geth!"

A group of geth troopers glitter just beyond the hill. Seven, by the looks of it. Why the hell didn't his scanners tell him? It must be the presence of dark energy. It had a way of making their technology less reliable than it should be, especially when their upgrades were still being finetuned. Their readings may have been going crazy, but he knew something was suspicious that he hadn't seen any geth, any mercenaries or general sign of life, the entire time.

"Take them out!" He yells, hunching behind a hunk of what appears the half-stuck remnants of a ship cannon. "Keep them off Pua'Sheva! Fire away from the ground if you can and keep dust cover to a minimum!"

They're on top of the pair in less than a second. Haro sends a hail of fire into one, a well-placed grenade into another two -- who scatter before it can hit them head-on -- but it leaves the scientist open for attack. Basic training is useful, but just that. Basic. Pua'Sheva's combat experience is nothing compared to theirs. She barely manages to get a geth off her before fleeing straight for cover. ...Right under that massive, treacherous pile of scrap that's rattling from explosions and gunfire.

"Sheva!" Kal'Reegar roars. "Get away from there!"

The geth are clever. They don't even bother shooting at her, not with her smaller than Haro and moving so quickly. They fire around her, right where the rubble is precariously resting, and it all comes crashing down before she can even turn back around.

"No!" Vin cries. She and Haro double their efforts, edging the geth back with heavy fire, but the damage has been done. "Damn it all!"

She's trapped.

They could retrieve her, if they had time, but geth are damned pyjaks. Lift up a rock and find fifty more. All three of them had whittled them down to just two -- even Pua'Sheva's one was twitching mightily and not about to get back up -- but he spots flashlights searching in-between the ground and the dark dust kicked up by the ship's wreckage. A glance at his omni-tool and all he gets is a blur of digital communication garbling up his feed. He doesn't have time to parse it out, but he'd bet his assault rifle they were calling for even more reinforcements. At the very least he knows he doesn't want to find out.

"Do we get her? It could take forever to clear out that rubble." Haro asks. Vin grabs a grenade and flings it over their cover, an impressive arc past the ship's remains and into the far field where one of the geth attempted to fall back. A sharp, erratic gurgle pierces the air.

"Of course we do. There aren't that many geth. You get the frigate and I'll run over-" Vin responds, only for a much louder explosion to cut her off abruptly and send a wall of hard dirt all over them. The geth weren't happy about Vin's other response, it seems. "Kal, we should go now-"

They'd need to assess the damage up-close to do any good and not put Pua'Sheva in a worse spot trying to free her. There were still two geth nearby ready to fight. More in the distance and closing in fast. Between the three of them it'll be all they can do to make it back to the frigate and clear the fireline. Just when he thinks their luck can't get any worse a damn juggernaut rears its ugly head around the collapsed ship and lets out an omnious rattle. Haro hisses in frustration and reloads a clip. Kal'Reegar only has a few seconds to make a decision and stick with it.

"Saving their best for last." He growls. "Even the geth have a screwed sense of humor."

It's a good thing he isn't on painkillers right now, or he might've written off the sight of a human Spectre, turian soldier and famed engineer showing up over the hill. Kal'Reegar's shock only lasts until they slide into cover behind him, as much as they can fit with their shields taking a battering.

"Commander Shepard?!" He yells over his squad's gunfire, the happiest scream he thought he'd have this entire ancestors-damned mission. "Fancy seeing you on the battlefield again!"

"That's no coincidence! You're always where the action is." She yells back as she ducks behind his cover, donned in dark bronze armor that makes her a beacon against the slate gray ground. God, she's a sight for uncovered eyes. "Been hearing how good with a gun you are. Your first impression wasn't exactly lacking, either. You interested in a new position, Kal'Reegar?"

Commander Ale Shepard. Famous (and, in others' regard, infamous) space marine. The very first human Spectre. Colony and military brat. Hacked a previously-thought 'impenetrable' batarian pirate ship and trapped the entire crew inside to be picked up by the turian fleet. Apparently great at holding her liquor. Bad with press. Damn good at everything else. He'd found it impressive enough that one of his own people got to work alongside her in the pursuit of Saren, yet he still never would've guessed she would later visit the Fleet with a former Admiralty Board member's daughter in tow to shout down the Admiralty Board.

That was nice enough, but, no, she asks if he'd also like to become an asset to one of the finest human-turian inventions floating around in space.

Definitely glad he isn't on painkillers.

"Not a bad offer, Commander!" He responds as he double-checked his shields -- they've been dangerously close to overheating the entire time thanks to the geth's improved overload tech. "I'd love to have a longer chat once we're not being shot at!"

Those synthetic bastards were never great conversationalists and they aren't about to dispute that legend as they pepper rounds at their dwindling cover. Tali'Zorah's drone is zipping across the far field tirelessly, keeping the reinforcements just distracted enough to slow them down, and her turian squadmate has found a spot further back up the hill to provide support fire. Kal'Reegar hadn't forgotten the near-rhythmic gurgles of geth in the distance as he gave that collosus on Haestrom something to think about. The guy was a great shot.

"Sounds like a plan!" Shepard agreed, boosting her shields with a flick of her arm. "What do you need me to do?"

"I have a squadmate trapped under that rubble. Pua'Sheva." Kal'Reegar ducks his head as a chunk of his cover goes flying and nearly exposes him. "Get her out of there and I'll keep the geth off your tail. I'll send one of mine to grab the frigate. Let's get out before they bring reinforcements!"

Rescuing their scientist is still a gamble, even with their bolstered numbers, but Shepard doesn't even hesitate to round the corner and head straight toward the collapse. That's what made her the first human Spectre -- not just circumstance, but her desire to throw herself in the line of fire for others. Now all he can hope is that Pua'Sheva is actually alive to make this all worth the effort.

"Are they trustworthy?" Vin asks. If she was anything more than dutiful, it was suspicious. Right now he has no patience for it.

"They saved our asses back on Haestrom. Go get that frigate, soldier!" Kal'Reegar orders with a pop of his rifle's heatsink. Vin takes off with her head ducked low and her rifle clutched in both hands, gunfire popping dirt clouds at her heels. Haro turns from the battle only to give him a quick nod. A seconds' worth of solidarity between remaining soldiers.

Keelah se'lai.

'Lose one or lose 'em all.' Kal'Reegar thinks as he sends a hail of assault rounds into the faceplate of a geth armature, Haro watching his back and firing the opposite direction at a flanker who broke rank. 'Tired of having to choose, but I'll never get tired of filling these bosh'tets with bullets.'

With the other geth driven far enough not to be an immediate concern they can focus on the biggest enemy on the field. Kal'Reegar activates his overkill protocol and vaults over his cover, running straight at the juggernaut with the intent to leave it a smoking pile of rubble. It's already taken a beating thanks to Shepard's turian friend. When its shields pop there's nothing stopping Kal'Reegar from turning it into an impressive imitation of the downed quarian ship.

With the juggernaut up in flames and victory singing in his veins, Kal'Reegar can't resist a heartbeat's second to take a better look at Shepard in action. Last time they fought together he'd been half-delirious with pain and had an entire geth colossus to focus the majority of his attention on, but now he's given a hull-window seat to the Commander's unusual fighting tactics. Erratic, even sloppy, but hypnotizingly effective. Like a supernova in motion. He'd only witnessed an exploding star once, but just like Shepard in a firefight, it's a sight he knows he won't forget.

"That's all of them." Haro says over communication. "For now. ...You sure have powerful friends."

"You're telling me." Kal'Reegar huffs as he jogs toward the wreckage.

It doesn't take long for all five of them to move the worst out of the way. Pua'Sheva's helmet is cracked from top to bottom, her leg is twisted out of shape, but she's alive. That's far better than he thought. With Tali'Zorah's help they sling her between them and half-walk, half-carry her back to the frigate, the other three keeping an eye out in each direction.

"Another close call." She says over the lolling head of the delirious scientist.

"Yeah." Kal'Reegar pants. "Aren't they always."

"At least everyone here has a second chance." Tali'Zorah doesn't elaborate further. He doesn't need her to. "Come on, Pua, there you go. Try not to pass out before we can give you some antibiotics."

They pick up the conversation hours later on the pick-up frigate, all of them tired and singed and still whole. A successful clean-up mission, if a little too tight for his preference, and again he has the new human Spectre to thank. ...Again.

It's a battered and beat-up old thing -- extra cramped with their retrieved salvage and guests -- but it's got him and his crew out of more pinches than just about any other. He'd defend it like a mother varren her pups, but he doesn't need to. Shepard just casts it a glance that's more appreciative than judgmental -- running a gloved hand over its creaking hull -- before getting straight into business. The Normandy is going on a secret mission into an extremely dangerous area and, put simply, they need all the help they can get. It sounds basic enough, but his three-squad is still in earshot and Tali'Zorah is conspiculously quiet. There's there's plenty she's not telling him.

As grateful as he is, Kal'Reegar thinks of the best way to let her know he'll consider the offer once he's a bit more in the know.

"Hm. I'm needed in the Fleet, but if they think I'm needed on the Normandy more, well." He leans against the wall, as much as he wants to sit down. His shaking muscles need to stay in mild activity after the day's strain. "You've got yourself a good gun."

"More than good." Shepard corrects. "I haven't forgotten your aim with a rocket launcher on Haestrom."

"Neither have I." The easy compliment makes his chest glow. "My arm's still cramping."

It's a lighter tone than he feels with the Commander peering at him with eyes the strangest shade he's ever seen. He remembers how they had flared on Tali'Zorah's behalf when she presented herself to the Admiralty Board's judgement less than a half-cycle ago -- the Spectre had asked for the crowd's opinion and gotten one hell of a riot going. Shepard had asked him his thoughts on Tali's accusal back then and it was like navigating a battlefield littered with leftover mines and still-active geth units. The now-famed engineer is giving Pua'Sheva's suit another check-up -- the scientist is lucid now, not quite as rattled, but they're not out of hot water until they get her to a clean room. Haro is kneeling next to her and offering a few words of comfort. His roundabout way of apologizing after getting short with her earlier.

"Did I g-g-get..." Pua'Sheva's voice glitches unevenly through her damaged helmet. "...get the d-d-data?"

"We got enough." Haro assures. Vin doesn't take her hands off the wheel, but she glances over her shoulder at her comrade-in-arms when he adds, "Thanks to you."

It's good to reunite with Tali'Zorah. Welcomed back to the Fleet, no less. Indeed, he had meant it when he roared at the four about his potential resignation should she get booted to save their sorry hides -- that entire trial had been one embarrassing farce after another, doubly so for having to be witnessed by humanity's unofficial representative. It wasn't the meanest threat Kal'Reegar could come up with, but aside from his sense of humor (which wasn't utilized enough anyway), his skill with a gun and the potential removal of said skill was the most effective he had. With quarians still the galaxy's proverbial pyjaks, he wouldn't be out of work yet.

For better and for worse.

"If Reegar comes on board it'll be nice to have another quarian." Tali'Zorah quips at her side. "I've about had it up to here with humans' ideas of dextro 'cuisine'." Her turian squadmate, relatively quiet this entire time, lets out a none-too-polite cough into his fist. Then, to his surprise, Shepard lets out a noise he can only register as offended.

"I said I'm working on it. I hate to say you're low priority, but you're two dextros on a team of levos." The human rubs the back of her helmet. "The chef has a hard enough time not burning a salad as it is."

"But I'm special." The turian insists. Kal'Reegar never liked reducing people to the name of their species, but he didn't have much to go off of yet. He's tall, still so by his people's standards, and his armor boasts a nasty blast hole around the collar. Even quarians had the means of repairing a damaged suit, so he imagines it was left alone for personal reasons. By the cracks it was done by a rocket. Maybe ship cannon.

"Ahem!" Tali'Zorah corrects. "That could be three."

They all turn and look to him as if suddenly remembering he's there. Kal'Reegar didn't exactly mind -- he wasn't someone who liked to stick out unnecessarily, anyway. That wasn't his job. That, though, was going to change if he stepped onto the Normandy. One of the greatest ships coasting in the galaxy aside from the mysterious and still hard-to-fathom Reaper tech that nearly destroyed the Citadel. He glances out the window and takes a moment to appreciate the view of the Fleet drifting in the distance. A beautiful glitter of life among the cold dust of the stars.

Whatever it was, he could handle it.

--

"I'm not your bubble-keeper. If you want to serve on a human ship, then by all means."

Kal'Reegar tilts his head, familiar with his captain's typical severe delivery.

"I'll miss you too, ma'am."

Neera'Yon Vas Balarenna waves a hand for him to be at ease, already, and settles back in her chair. Kal'Reegar relaxes his shoulders, even though no part of him should feel loose and easy.

Commander Shepard told him they were practically on a suicide mission. One that involved the abduction of human colonists, the fabled Collectors only two known quarians have personally seen and lived to tell the tale of and the return of the Reapers. The first was a sympathetic point among the Fleet, more often than not, but not an immediate concern when they had their own problems to attend to. The second followed the first, particularly since these mysterious bastards have never seen fit to pick a fight with them. The third...well. The third couldn't even be brought up in polite conversation without twenty opinions whizzing back and forth like gunfire.

The only reason Shepard wasn't straight up about it on the ship, she stressed, was because they were being actively funded by Cerberus -- her ship had been flagged as a Cerberus vessel the first time she brought Tali'Zorah back to the fleet, it had gotten some unhappy comments back on the Rayya, but it was widely assumed the famed Spectre had just gotten fast and loose with her ship models. Considering this is the same woman that screamed about the Reapers on galactic channels two years back, this was much more subtlety than he expected to hear from her.

All of these details aren't immediately important. As long as he held the Fleet's best interests in heart he was allowed to go where he wanted. Frankly, fighting the Collectors and getting to the heart of the issue was needed. He was forever loyal to the quarian cause, keelah se'lai and rayya le'shete, but he's seen firsthand what happens to a problem when it's deemed someone else's. Give it enough time and it'll land at a person's ship's door, twice as big and three times as bad. Running errands for the Admiralty Board for information on dying stars and picking up scrap wasn't the most good he could be doing. He knew that, even as he kept it firmly to himself as not to accidentally inspire a mutiny.

Even that discretion wouldn't last, though, with his captain folding her hands in her lap as she always did when she wasn't happy with the answer she was getting.

"It's worth repeating...good on you for getting her back to the Fleet." She states. "Fresh off her Pilgramage and they're already sending her on high-risk missions. We're getting desperate."

"Can't take all the credit for that. Not with Shepard showing up and saving me the decision of potentially leaving her behind." Word about how Pua'Sheva survived an entire ship falling on her head traveled fast. It was going to be talked about for months, he imagines.

"Learn to take a damn compliment, Reegar." Neera'Yon sighs. He chuckles. "I am curious, though..." She adds, drumming her fingers against her thigh. "Why Commander Shepard?"

"I go where I'm needed." He responds, automatically, and feels the old pride of his family swelling in his chest. "The Normandy crew has been making quite a name for themselves out there. Just to be apart of it would be an honor."

"And your other reasons?" Her tone tells him nothing other than his complete honesty will be acceptable. "She's not the first to ask you to serve. Only one of the most famous and, Reegar, the spotlight has never been your favorite fit. Even when you stepped up and got candid with the Admiralty Board."

Damn if that isn't true. Shouting down the Admiralty had gotten quite a bit of talk on his home ship, birth ship...the entire damn Fleet, really. It wasn't a reputation he was ashamed to have. Not when his actions always spoke louder than any nasty words he could spit at cocky captains. He felt more bad for Veetor'Nara. That was quite a bit of boldness he showed, but the guy looked like he was about to pass out afterwards.

Kal'Reegar takes in a deep breath.

"Because we spend too much time squabbling among ourselves and ignoring the galactic picture. I'm losing too many squadmates for little to no payoff and I'm damn sick of it. Going to Haestrom for data on dying stars. Skirting the Perseus Veil for some scannings that may or may not actually do anything." He lets that particular rock roll off his chest with a grateful heave. "I've accepted my lot in life, but that doesn't include being a fetch varren for piss-poor priorities. I can do more good than this shit. ...Ma'am."

The captain of the Balarenna nods, a quick approval, and he lets the rest of his anger out in a huff. Kal'Reegar's always being told not to bottle that frustration in, but it was easier said than done. He's no politician. He's certainly no scientist. A grounding force and reliable gun were his strengths and he wasn't about to compromise either anytime soon. Once he was done here he was going to have to see if anyone was up for a few sparring rounds. This much stress couldn't be good for his blood pressure.

"...If they endanger the Fleet, I want to be the first to know." She says after a minute of complete silence.

"You think they will?" Kal'Reegar asks, both surprised and relieved.

"Humans haven't been around very long, but they've always prioritized their own ambitions. Not that I don't share the sentiment, but it is what it is." She elaborates, with the smooth practicality she's known for. Kal'Reegar always thought (privately, of course) she should apply for the Admiralty in the gap left by Rael'Zorah's untimely death. "Commander Shepard did the Fleet a favor when she helped to take back the Alarei and clear it out. Again when she represented one of our own. That doesn't mean she holds our best interests at heart. Not with a Cerberus ship, for whatever reason she chose to use it." She scoffs. "Nice model, though."

Any other captain would sound like they were hoarding potential secrets for their own gain. He's served on the Balarenna for almost five years now and can say with complete confidence this was an experienced captain just trying to look out for the good of her crew and the Fleet at large. If Kal'Reegar finds out anything incriminating aboard the Normandy he could face a political fallout so heavy he'd be lucky if he got out with his own suit in-tact. Neera'Yon wasn't just taking a potential shot for the ship. She was taking one for him.

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

--

Quarians lives were hard and risky. If they weren't just short altogether. There was always good reason to celebrate a successful mission, from fight to salvage. So Kal'Reegar sings 'Let's Sail Past The Stars Together' with one arm around a former captain's shoulders, the other around a new recruit's, and tries not to think too hard about the hangover he'll have the following morning. Not when he's been spared the loss of a new comrade and the following gap in his chest turning up on a family's door to deliver the bad news. 

Quarian soldiers, well. They were always pushing their chances. Chasing the Collectors on a human ship was just one more nick in the visor.

--

"Kal'Reegar. I heard about your actions on Haestrom. Couldn't have been easy surviving a geth onslaught with only a rocket launcher and your wits left."

He may not have much of an opinion on humans, but Cerberus was another example entirely. Poor Veetor'Nara had only just barely escaped their clutches after his short-lived pilgrimage on a human colony (another thing he had to personally thank the Commander for once he had the time, that list was getting real long) -- it was a marvel he could string together a complete sentence after the trauma, much less have the spine to stand up to his superiors not even a few sun-days after. Kal'Reegar himself had a run-in with Cerberus agents looking to get information by any means necessary, on a neglected Ilium moon still in political limbo. Tali'Zorah seems relaxed around Jacob, though, and it's enough to make him put on his...nicest facade.

"Not to brag, but I've been through worse." Kal'Reegar responds, crossing his arms. "Par for the course when we have a deficit of soldiers and a surplus of assholes."

Yet not even that, since his entire squad save for Tali'Zorah saw that ancestors-damned star as their final resting place. There's a double-meaning in his words and he can tell Taylor Vas Normandy (or maybe it's Lieutenant Taylor) can sense it. Even through the translator the tone he takes on is more polite than he'd expect from a Cerberus agent. Kal'Reegar's still not the best at reading human expressions, but he's pretty sure he looks regretful.

"Well, you won't have to worry about that. The Normandy hires the best and takes care of its own." He gestures about him with one hand. "We have a clean room facility and some of the best medical expertise in the galaxy. If there's anything you need, just let us know." He scrunches his brows (with a quick glance at his quarian shipmate), then adds. "EDI can guide you around as you gain your bearings."

Kal'Reegar is about to ask where they are when a soft voice emerges in the room.

"Feel free to share with me any questions or concerns you have, Kal'Reeger."

It takes him a moment to realize she's not a voice over intercom, but an A.I..

"Well, that's...interesting." Kal'Reegar begins, wondering if it'd be worth making it clear how much he doesn't look forward to having a pair of synthetic eyes tracking his every movement. His paranoia was bad enough without tossing an outright spark onto a fuel line.

"It's definitely new, that's for sure." Ale Shepard agrees. She's been mostly silent the entire time, a little odd considering how talkative she always seems to be. "Don't worry. We all have the same goal in mind and that's to send the Collectors screaming all the way back to hell."

"Yes, don't worry, Kal." Tali'Zorah adds, a touch dryly. "It's also not the only artificial intelligence on the ship."

"It's not?"

"We have Legion in the core."

Legion? He remembers that name. It's not easy to recall memories that were wracked with more than enough lucid painkillers to put out a varren, but Shepard had uttered it once or twice in his presence. The entire two times they've met. Legion...

"Before you ask, yes, Shepard really is crazy as they say." Tali'Zorah stresses, lightly enough. Jacob folds his hands behind his back politely and looks away. Ale Shepard snorts.

...Now he remembers. The geth.

He may not want to take back Rannoch, but it didn't mean he was content to have a geth bunking a few rooms away. Hell, it was all he could do to simply acknowledge it when it was crouching behind cover with Commander Shepard all the way back on that overcooked planet. When he was recovering from an infection he still hadn't been entirely sure it wasn't a delusion brought on by an antibiotic overdose. Kal'Reegar had keenly neglected to bring it up when he returned to the Balarenna with the Admiralty Board's report in tow. Now he has to contend with its repeat presence and the sobering detail that it's also the first geth he's ever heard of with a name.

Tali'Zorah makes a quick motion with her hand and they have a brief quarian-to-quarian moment that earns a few sideways glances from the humans in the room. Commander Ale Shepard didn't get where she was by playing it safe...or entirely sane. He'll have to remember this little fact in case he needs to shout someone down again.

He really doesn't want it to be her.

He's a little more pleased when he's given a quick tour of the Normandy and almost confuses the place for home. It wasn't just the technology (the most advanced and up-to-date quarian ships were scattered and reserved for the most vulnerable of the population), but rather the comraderie he could feel before he'd even heard anyone speak. The crew was comfortable with each other. Teasing. Critiquing. Studying. He had expected to get flashbacks to his pilgrimage taking on low-paying jobs repairing weapons at a hole-in-the-wall shop, staying out of sight as not to offend the clientele and being treated like a dirty secret. Instead it was like walking around on the Balarenna after a salvage run.

Then again, this was the same Commander who called out the quarian's highest ranking officials to praise Tali'Zorah Vas Neema Nar Rayya as an equal. He was learning in typical sink-or-swim fashion he had to leave his expectations at the door. A small part of him wonders if he's going to feel something similar to the post-Pilgramage blues after too long.

"Glad to see another quarian on board, Tali." He hears someone say over the intercom as they walk down one of the Normandy's many sleek hallways. "Was starting to think I was going to be the only sick son-of-a-bitch you could relate to."

"You and your creaky knees will always have a special place in my heart, Joker." Tali'Zorah responds with a laugh. "That's our pilot." She clarifies. "Best one in the galaxy with a mouth that'd put Mordin to shame." She pauses. "Oh. Right, I still need to introduce you to him, too."

A few of the other crew members pause from typing to wave her way or ask how her last mission went. Kal'Reegar is thrumming with appreciation at how welcome she is (and relieved that the voice over the intercom is a human pilot and not a third A.I. with a damn name). The only thing pilgrims brought more than gifts for the Fleet were horror stories about how they were treated. Humans were often more...ignorant and insensitive than anything, while the older council races were easily the worst.

Despite the warm welcome it's hard not to feel a little out-of-place, still. Not when the Normandy was already a legend for its crazy and enviable crew. He finds out the turian, Garrus Vakarian, had successfully held off three of Omega's most notorious merc groups on his own for days. The salarian doctor had been part of the Special Tasks Force and, though he could hardly believe his ears, there was apparently an asari justicar sharing their lodge. Of all titles! Then, of course, Tali'Zorah was a damn impressive engineer and hacker. Even among quarian standards.

Him? He was just a decent soldier.

Kal'Reegar doesn't want to undermine his old captain or his new captain by getting bare feet, so he takes compliments from the human crew with grace even as they make his suit itch. It wasn't so bad getting a multicultural taste from the comfort of the only thing he was really good at. These Cerberus humans don't bear any of the legendary grudges against aliens he's had the pleasure of witnessing first hand, following up Jacob's almost apologetic politeness with friendly comments and questions that completely circumvent his suit and culture. He finds out, much to his amusement, that his feat with a rocket launcher had gotten some talk.

The pilot lives up to his title easily, someone who takes his position seriously but isn't so stuffed-up he's difficult to talk to. Now, his camaraderie with the ship's artificial intelligence is more than a little disturbing, but Kal'Reegar imagines he doesn't really have a choice and is making the most out of what he has. While some of the crew comes straight from the Illusive Man, many of these members used to serve under Captain Anderson. He only knows of him from what he's glimpsed on vids, but he was close to Commander Shepard, which already warranted a little respect.

He winds down his tour with one more report to Shepard. She's discussing ship schematics with a Cerberus representative (Miranda Lawson, if he remembers right), clearly deep in thought, but spares a minute to ask him if there's anything else he needs before he's settled.

Despite his reservations, he liked the crew. He definitely liked the ship, though it would be a while before he got used to the quiet engines. While he wasn't about to announce it in front of the Milky Way, he liked the appreciative way Shepard patted his back before seeing him out the door of the meeting room (even though she likely didn't know it was a more intimate gesture among his people).

Like his new position, he wouldn't get a big head over it.