TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2410
TEST SETTLEMENT ONE ("SOLUSTON")
HALO, SCANDIA-CN38 SYSTEM
QUARIAN UNION, KRESGE SECTOR
Though she had been here many times in her young life,
Tali'Zorah nar Rayya always found that entering Soluston gave her a
weird feeling. Like every member of her species, she had never seen an
actual quarian town - only holos of what they'd looked like centuries
ago, on Rannoch or Venachar, Lubnaig or Haestrom, or one of the other
long-lost worlds of the ancient Rannoch Hegemony. The permanent
structures of Halo Test Settlement One had been built by combined teams
of quarian engineers and human contractors based on those holos and what
few architectural records remained from the era before the Evacuation.
As such, it had a slightly artificial feel, like a movie set or
an idealized version of the Old Country in a theme park on some ex-
colony world. And as the Halo Acclimation Project had progressed and
the test groups had spent longer and longer in the town, it had grown
and evolved, starting to take on a unique idiom all its own, one
influenced by the style of the structures that had stood on Halo's
surface for millennia before the quarians came. There was nowhere else
in the galaxy quite like Soluston.
Tali walked down the settlement's main street. The place seemed
particularly strange now, for the simple reason that it was largely
deserted; the Acclimation Project was between phases right now, testing
having been suspended for the winter, and the new spring's first group
of volunteers wouldn't arrive for another two weeks. That made it seem
a bit like she had always imagined the towns on Rannoch would be now,
eerie and empty. Did the geth live in the cities they'd driven their
creators out of? Did they have any understanding of the architecture,
know what the monuments stood for - did they have any feelings at all
about the people they'd displaced all those centuries ago? She'd always
She shook her head, banishing the reverie. She had no time to
muse on the geth right now; she was here for a very particular reason.
There was one house in Soluston that was unlike all the others.
Where the rest of the town - particularly the Science Center, the grand
building that stood at its center and housed all the research efforts -
was built in duracrete and glass, in that odd fusion of classical
quarian and native Halo styles, the house called (for reasons that
eluded most quarians) Spare 14 was a simple plastalloy colony prefab,
known throughout human space (for reasons that also eluded most
quarians) as an IKEA. Actually, it was two of them, because it had an
attached garage that was made of another, identical shell that had been
fitted with a larger door and no interior walls.
This house was unique not only because it didn't match anything
else in town, but also because it had stood there -before- the town. It
was a relic of the previous settlement to stand on the site, a human
farming colony called Goodyear. Nowadays, it was the private retreat of
the only quarian to have lived in Goodyear, whose house it had been in
those days as well.
And it was where Tali'Zorah was bound, because that quarian
happened to be her grandmother.
She knocked at the door - no doorchime in a structure as basic
as this - and was admitted a few moments later by that grandmother, who
greeted her with a hug and ushered her inside.
An observer would have been hard-pressed to tell the two women
apart, and not only because they were both quarians, anonymous in their
full-body environment suits and semi-reflec helmet visors. At
seventeen, Tali was as tall as her grandmother, and they had the same
slim, athletic build, honed by hours of diligent training. Their voices
even sounded similar - enough so that, with a little effort, Tali had
occasionally been able to fool her father into thinking he was talking
to his mother, not his daughter.
Tali's grandmother's name was also Tali, which occasionally made
for confusion in its own right. Tali'Shukra vel Halo - Tali the Elder,
as she was known around the fleet - was quite a famous woman in the
Quarian Union. She was widely, if a bit inaccurately, acclaimed as the
discoverer of Halo, and had led the efforts to understand the quarian
people's most curious possession for quite a lot longer than Tali the
Younger had been alive.
"Well, well, well," said Tali'Shukra, stepping back to look her
granddaughter over. "So the day has finally come. You must be
excited." She shook her head. "Listen to me. I'm saying exactly the
same ridiculous things your great-grandmother said to me when I was
leaving on -my- pilgrimage."
Tali'Zorah shrugged. "Tradition is important," she said, gently
mocking one of her father's favorite pronouncements.
Tali'Shukra laughed. "That it is," she agreed. "Come with me.
I have something for you." She led the way around the half-partition
that served to sketch in the house's tiny vestibule and into the living
It always amazed Tali'Zorah how homey her grandmother had
managed to make this dingy little prefab. She should've expected it -
it was a quarian national gift, the ability to make the drabbest, most
cramped living space into a warm and welcoming home - but it somehow
seemed like a more vivid accomplishment in a human-built colony shelter
than in one of the warren-like habitation holds of a starship.
Centuries of living on the move had made the quarians a ruthlessly
unsentimental people when it came to material possessions, but their
place in the quarian heart was usually occupied with a vengeance by
holograms and photographs, and Tali'Shukra was no different. The living
room walls, like those of her quarters aboard the Archangel before this,
were like a summary of her life in carefully selected still images.
The younger Tali's attention was pulled away from the pictures
by the sight of what lay, neatly laid out, on the low table in the
middle of the room. It was an encounter suit, not unlike the ones they
both wore, but obviously of higher quality than the standard model
Tali'Zorah was wearing. Which is not to say that hers was poorly made;
rather, the one laid out on the table was exquisite, with fittings and
fabrics that had obviously been made, quite laboriously, by hand.
"This was my pilgrimage suit," Tali'Shukra explained, gesturing.
"Your great-great-grandfather, Kevirin'Zorah, made it for me many years
ago. Now that you're leaving for your own pilgrimage, I want you to
Tali'Zorah blinked. "Grandmother... I... I don't know what to
"You don't need to say anything," Tali'Shukra said fondly.
"Just wear it with pride. It saw me through many a tight scrape before
my pilgrimage was done. If anything, I expect yours will be even more
"Thank you. I will." Tali'Zorah looked around. "I've never
noticed - do you have a cleanroom here? I want to change before I leave
so you can see me in it."
"That's... something else I want to discuss with you before you
leave," Tali'Shukra said. "Something else I've given you. Though I
didn't realize it at the time."
"... I'm not sure I like the sound of that."
"It's nothing bad. At least I don't think so. You'll have to
make your own decision about that... eventually. But I should start at
the beginning." She gestured to one of the armchairs and seated herself
in the other one. "It started not long after I first met Benjamin... "
An hour later, dressed in her new encounter suit and with her
head very gently spinning from all she'd just learned, Tali'Zorah
embraced her grandmother in the doorway of her house.
"Thank you, Grandmother. I... I don't really know what
everything you've just told me -means,- but... thank you. I'll keep in
touch as I can. And good luck with -your- mission," she added. Then,
with an impish smile in her voice, she added, "This will be, what? Your
"Some of us remain pilgrims all our lives," Tali'Shukra told
her. Then, with another hug for good measure, she said, "Be well,
Tali'Zorah. Be careful - but enjoy yourself. Keelah se'lai."
"Keelah se'lai, Grandmother," Tali'Zorah said. She looked back
once as she walked up the street, waving, and then went into the Science
Center to say goodbye to Mordin.
That didn't take long, not because Mordin was dismissive, but
because he did everything, including sentimental farewells to beloved
pseudo-nieces, quickly and efficiently. She'd always liked that about
him. Growing up quarian, steeped in a society where everything could be
and generally was debated at length, it had been very refreshing to have
one friend who always got straight to the point.
Presently she emerged, bearing further gifts and well-wishes,
and headed for the shuttleport at the edge of town. That was all her
goodbyes said. She'd parted from her schoolmates at graduation the
previous week, and her few friends on the Rayya over the weekend. Now
she'd been seen off by her grandmother and Mordin.
In the Read Messages file on her omni-tool, she had a coolly
cordial email from her father, which was all the sendoff she had
expected from him in the first place. She wasn't going to see him in
person; she had too much to do to be making special trips to his
flagship just to hear him say in person that he disapproved of her
choice of pilgrimage destination and the company she intended to keep
once she got there. He'd made that plain enough already. She hadn't
given a damn then and she didn't give one now.
Time, she thought as she boarded the shuttle that would take her
up to the Scandia-1 fueling station, to be gone from this place. She
had two hours to make her rendezvous with the Red Arc Line freighter
currently making the run from the Lucas sector to Zeta Cygni.
Next stop: New Avalon.