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Subject: "Correspondence III: 2400-2410"     Previous Topic | Next Topic
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"Correspondence III: 2400-2410"
 
   LAST EDITED ON Apr-07-10 AT 06:47 PM (EDT)
 

2400

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!bombsight.ipyards.ipo.zc>
Subject: The more things change...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Mon Apr 3 2400 10:12:32 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

If this message's originating server name looks familiar, that's because this is the very same computer system from which I sent you my first message 20 years ago... and I'm sitting in the very same office, in the very same chair. Just to make the symmetry as complete as possible, I'm even listening to the same piece of music.

Remember I said the IPO needed its own navy after the Babylon 3 debacle? Well, here's where we're going to build it. I've spent the last ten months pulling together the manpower to dust off this old place - the original Utopia Planitia Naval Shipyard complex at Zeta Cygni II - and get it ready to roll again. We pretty much left it alone back during the WDF reconstruction, because of the much larger and shinier facilities we had Sphereside, but those are working to capacity maintaining the WDF and doing contract work for Starfleet and the Salusian Navy, and rather than wait around for ReRob and Wolfgang to expand operations over there, we all decided between us that firing up the old yard would suit our purposes better.

Mind you, it hasn't been, and continues not to be, easy. Some of this stuff hadn't worked for a while when the yard went down, and so has been gathering dust for more than 110 years. Restarting the yards and beginning on Babylon 4 at the same time is pushing the envelope of what even our resources can swing... but it has to be done. If we can have the first of the IPO Space Force's new ships online by the time B4 is, say, pressure-ready, we'll be doing just about right. In the meantime, I've swung a deal with Daver and Noriko for the WDF to cover our asses at the construction site, with some backup from the Freespacers. I'm a little nervous about that, but it'll have to do.

I've had a bunch of ideas kicking around in my head for the ships we should build once we have these yards running again, too. Obviously we could just load up the schematics for ships we already own the type certs for and start cranking out Connies and Iowas, but I've been thinking - we're probably going to have a hard time recruiting as many experienced spacers as we'd need to crew a reasonable-sized fleet of ships like that, and we don't have the time to set up a training command and start from scratch. Even in reconstituting the WDF we were able to restart the Academy and bring through three complete graduating classes before it all hit the fan. I just don't think we're going to have that kind of luxury with the Space Force.

Complicating that, there are basically two courses of training a person needs before you get a competent spacer. There are the technical aspects of the job itself - how to operate the ship's systems, how to steer and fight and fix her - and then there are the basics of being a spacer. I ran up against this when Babylon 1 was destroyed and Dad nearly got himself spaced. He hadn't been properly trained as a spacer, and it never occurred to me when I tapped him to build the station - and it nearly got him killed. I should have remembered from my own academy days: First you have to be taught how to survive out in the black, then you learn how to make the toys work. And all that takes time.

I was in this office yesterday, mulling over that very idea and playing Tempest on my omni-tool, when it hit me. The beauty of the omni-tool is that it's so simple and intuitive a child can use it, and yet so powerful and flexible that an expert can make it do almost anything. I've had mine for almost 20 years now and while I'm still no expert, it didn't take me very long at all to become at least basically competent with it. And I thought: Why not build a starship that operates on the same principles?

Think about it. With modern automation and virtual intelligence technology, we could build a starship the size of, say, a Saracen-class destroyer but with a crew requirement no greater than that of a Predator-class scout, and except for a few very specialized positions (the engineering staff, mainly, and medical), we could design the control systems to provide the same sort of context-sensitive help that omni-tools do. We could build warships ready to be crewed by, not laypeople, but reasonably sharp individuals who may not necessarily have comprehensive training as spacers.

And if we could do that, and make it work reliably, then the training we give most of the crew could focus on teaching them to be spacers - and it could be that much shorter as a result. The rest would be a matter of learning on the job. If we made the systems adaptive enough, they could even pick up on the crew's progress along the learning curve and streamline themselves - get out of the cleverer crewmen's way, more or less.

I know you're shifting uncomfortably and giving me that sidelong look now, but I'm not talking about fitting every ship in the fleet with an AI. That wouldn't be practical anyway - the only AI protocols I trust enough for a job like that are CLULESS and HalOS. (Larry would be hurt to hear me say that - he's very proud of STACIS and justifiably so, but STACIS constructs are better-suited to organization and enterprise management than starship operations, IMO.) Producing a sufficient number of AI cores under CLULESS would be flat-out impossible, and procuring that many HalOS systems and making sure they're all metastable would take longer and cost more than building the ships they'd go into - and in either case, then we'd have to go through Turing and half of them would probably quit and go off to run donut shops. :)

I don't know, maybe it's a pipe dream. For certain it'll take a hell of a lot of work. (sigh) I have to learn to delegate. I keep having ideas and then ending up hellbent on seeing them through myself, and since they all take years and years and I don't have that long, I end up just getting busier and busier.

Y ffordd hon ar gau,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: The more things change...
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Mon Apr 3 2400 13:01:45 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Having seen in person how busy you were last summer - and that was making a concerted effort to block out some free time to spend with us - I can certainly concur with your sentiment about delegating.

Your idea about borrowing a page from the omni-tool design handbook, so to speak, and applying the principle to the control systems of a starship is a very intriguing one, though, and I think I may be able to help you with both items at once. Let me introduce you to a friend of mine, Emdra'Dakka vas Rylcar. She's the daughter of Admiral Rael'Dakka (my son's namesake), who was captain of the Archangel when I joined her crew. Emdra is a brilliant software engineer and the lead designer for the QuarTech Consortium, the national enterprise we set up (at your recommendation, I might remind you!) to patent and market our omni-tool technologies to the galaxy. There are a number of features we don't sell to the general public (your omni-tool has most of them, because it's a fleet model, not one of our commercial offerings), and Emdra knows how every single one of them works from the inside out.

Some of the technologies Emdra knows about are considered state secrets, so you'll need permission from the Conclave Subcommittee on National Security and the Admiralty to incorporate them in your ships, but given the Conclave's support for the IPO, I think you'll be able to convince them if you can provide assurances that your new yards won't be selling its products to anyone other than the IPO's fleet itself - which it sounds like you can.

As for the hardware, well, I haven't worked directly in starship engineering for many years - as you know, I've been rather permanently sidetracked by the various Halo projects - but if you need a sounding board for any of your ideas as you develop these new ships, I'd be happy to tell you what I think.

Oh - and for the record, don't think I don't know what you're always saying when you sign off. This time you tried to catch me out, but I happen to know the phrase you wanted was rydw i'n dy garu di. What you actually said means "this road is closed", which I sincerely hope was not some sort of attempt at being metaphorical.

Cave canem,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!bombsight.ipyards.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: The more things change...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Mon Apr 3 2400 17:23:02 -0000 (GST)

Ha! I knew you'd catch me. No, it wasn't an attempt at a metaphor, it's just the only other phrase I could think of off the top of my head in that language.

I'd love to consult with your friend, maybe with an eye toward hiring her and a team from QuarTech to develop the system if she thinks the concept's workable. If we can get it to work, it could be a major feather in the Union's cap to have something like that come out of Scandia. As you've told me many times, the Flotilla's always looking out for new PR opportunities, after all.

Du'IHchoHmoH mIvvam,
--G.


2401

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: What am I to do?
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Mon Jul 9 2401 11:12:49 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

This is a terrible thing for a mother to say, but sometimes I wish they would stop promoting my son.

I know, it's a dreadful sentiment. But throughout his career, every time he's been promoted, Rael has gotten a little bit more intense, a little bit more driven - a little bit more obsessed with the twin lodestars of his life, namely his career and the reconquest of Rannoch. He's convinced that if he can attain a seat on the Admiralty Board, he can rally those who wish to return into a political force formidable enough to sway the Conclave. For my part, I am just as firmly convinced that launching us into a war against the geth would be the worst mistake since the last one - but Rael believes that war was lost through military ineptitude, not over before it began.

If you couldn't guess from these grumblings, he has indeed been promoted again. With Captain Renjli's retirement, Rael has been advanced to command of the Rayya, and some are saying that it, like his previous promotion to first officer, is simply an obligatory step, for form's sake, before he's elevated to the Admiralty. Among his peers in the Navy, he's considered a charismatic force, a natural leader. Civilians don't often see that side of him - he's brusque with them, impatient with what he sees as their softness and complacency - but he'll have to learn better if he plans to influence the Conclave.

The person I feel sorriest for in all this is Tali'Zorah. The pressure on her increases in direct proportion to her father's prominence in the Navy. Vedik and I played into Rael's hands by buying her the encounter suit she wore on her visit to New Avalon; when we returned, he took the opportunity to send her through primary arms training before she had a chance to outgrow it. The instructors were nonplussed to be asked to put a seven-year-old through the course - they don't call it the Grinder for nothing - but he insisted, and in the end they had little choice.

Luckily - for her, not so much for Rael - Tali'Zorah is just as hard-headed as he is, and does not bend easily once her back is straightened. She puts up with much of his pompous strutting because he's her father and, whatever his flaws, she loves him and wants to please him - but she has limits beyond which she will not go, and he has learned to his cost (and, I have to confess, my delight) where they are. He threw her into the Grinder, and she repaid him by bettering his own scores, which he logged when he was twice her age - and then politely declining to attend the graduation ceremony on the grounds that she was not planning to pursue a military career, so the honors would be meaningless to her and should go to the next highest-scoring candidate. Rael couldn't decide whether to burst with pride or fury. It was a beautiful sight.

(And then she spent two weeks in sickbay being treated for exhaustion, having pushed herself to her limit just to set up that one moment of defiance. Whatever one may wish to say about the child, one cannot claim that she is lazy.)

Well, I say I feel sorriest for Tali'Zorah, but perhaps that's not strictly true. She does not enjoy their confrontations, but she holds her own. Zira'Vel, on the other hand, can do little but get out of the way when Rael and Tali'Zorah are on a collision course. Rael is, after all, technically her commanding officer, and don't think for a minute that he hesitates to pull rank when it suits him. I don't say Zira is cowed by these tactics, not for a moment - but she's too professional an officer to indulge in open defiance when he plays that card, and he knows it.

I had always thought that Vedik and I taught him better - and that you did, come to that, when he spent his pilgrimage working for you - but his obsession with Rannoch has become so all-encompassing that it blinds him to everything that does not advance that cause. He honestly believes that pushing his daughter so hard is in her best interests, because she'll be of serving age when the time comes to retake the homeworld - and so she'll need to be ready to stand at his side as he leads the charge...

And now he's been promoted again. He's one step from his destination, and if his past behavior is any indication, this will only make him harder to deal with. And once he reaches the top of the Navy pyramid, then what? I fear the consequences for all quarians, not just Tali'Zorah, if he should somehow succeed in propelling the Union into a war with the geth.

I hate to ask it of you, but you were his commanding officer during his pilgrimage, and in his (admittedly, increasingly rare) softer moments he has often spoken fondly of his time under you. He may listen to reason if it comes from you. Keelah knows he won't when it's coming from me. Will you please try to convince him of the folly of his ambitions? Even if the geth have done absolutely nothing since driving us from Rannoch, there's no conceivable way our navy could defeat them. The whole Wedge Defense Force, with all its shiny new ships and advanced weapons, would be hard-pressed to defeat the geth forces that sent us into exile, let alone what they must have built in the centuries we've been gone.

For Tali'Zorah's sake, if nothing else, please try.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: That sure didn't work.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Jul 11 2401 12:42:29 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Well, I tried... but whatever fond memories Rael may have of me, he's clearly not letting them influence his present behavior. In fact, he got quite angry. As to quarian foreign policy, he desired me in no uncertain terms to take my meddlesome Earthman's superiority complex elsewhere and tell some other species what to do with its future, then declared the subject closed.

After that he got quite... personal. It seems he doesn't much approve of my continued interference in his family's private lives (his phrase). He said he holds me in large part responsible for the fact that you've - again, his wording here - wasted your life chasing after first me and then the false hope of Halo, and that he suspects I'm a major reason, directly and indirectly, that (as he sees it) Tali'Zorah has turned against him.

"My father may inexplicably be willing to tolerate your constant efforts to lure Mother away from him," he said at one point, "but I'm not. I can't stop you from communicating with her, but I can and do forbid you and your family to have any further contact with my daughter."

I'm sorry, Tali. I was as friendly and diplomatic as I could be - I've always liked Rael, you know that - but I think I just ended up making everything worse. What he turned on me just now sounded like the kind of thing that's been bottled up for a long time, and I commed him up and pulled out the cork.

On the other hand, now that he's gotten it off his chest and given me the telling-off he's obviously been saving up for a while, maybe he'll lighten up a little bit with the rest of you.

Maybe we'd better just... let him cool off for a while.

Afekirishalehu,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: That sure didn't work.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Tue Jul 11 2401 13:30:12 -0000 (GST)

Keelah. I'm so sorry I set you up for that. I had no idea he had such resentment stored away. He asked me once, many years ago, what you and I were to each other all those years before he was born, and I, wanting to be as honest as I could with him, tried my best to explain... and it seems he's formed entirely the wrong idea of where we stand today as a result.

Vedik will be furious - at Rael's ideas both that you've spent all this time trying to "lure me away from him", and that he'd just meekly put up with it if you were. He understands us in a way that Rael clearly does not at all. He considers you a great friend and he'll see Rael's attitude as a grave insult to both of us. As do I, come to that.

I'm sorry to drag you into my family drama. You must think we're a pack of fools, and in several respects, you would be right.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: That sure didn't work.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Jul 11 2401 14:39:11 -0000 (GST)

Nothing to apologize for. The more I think about it, the more I suspect he didn't really mean at least some of what he said. He's under a lot of pressure himself, after all - mostly self-imposed, but still. Man's got to vent under those conditions. Maybe I was just a convenient outlet.

I'm glad to hear that about Vedik, though. I mean, I knew it already, but it's nice to see it in black and white like that. He's a hell of a guy. You couldn't have done better. (I just realized it looks kind of backhanded phrased that way. Not how I meant it, I assure you.)

I just hope this doesn't bring a bunch more crap down on Tali'Zorah. God, when I was her age, my biggest worry was whether Mrs. Hannington would make us sing "America the Beautiful" in class that day. (Patriotic songs were very big at my elementary school, and for whatever reason, I've always particularly hated that one. I think it's because even in the fourth grade, my little voice simply couldn't handle the "amber waves of grain" part.)

Jeg elsker dig,
--G.

From: "Tali'Zorah nar Rayya" <tali.zorah!rayya.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.zorah!cvp2402.rayya.navy.qu>
Subject: I'll be fine.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Wed Jul 12 2401 02:12:43 -0000 (GST)

Dear Mr. Gryphon,

Don't worry about me. I can handle Father. Look how well his attempt to block me from sending you email worked. :)

- Tali'Zorah

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!bombsight.ipyards.ipo.zc>
Subject: Project Sovereign: basic spec
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Mon Sep 17 2401 14:21:23 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Attached is the basic specification document for Project Sovereign, which we just finished this morning. Obviously most of the actual engineering remains to be done, but here, in broad strokes, is what the IPO-SF's new flagship is going to be.

At the big signoff conference this morning, Vision had an interesting idea. She suggested that we actually prototype the ship virtually, "building" a fully operational ship in a simsense environment before we ever cut a single piece of actual metal. That way, the inevitable engineering changes and unplanned snags that the lead ships of new classes always run into during construction can be taken care of much more quickly and without wasting real materials, which (touch wood) means that when we build the physical one, it'll be smooth sailing. It also means we can spend that much more time training up the yard's new tradespeople and getting everything all in a row before we pick up tools and start building for real.

Obviously, that'll require an intricatedly modeled VE - if our virtual shipyard's physics model is even a little bit out, we'll just be designing a really elaborate video game. But Vision's confident that she can take care of that, and if any machine intelligence in the galaxy can, it's her.

It also means that when we get the software for the new ship working, we can port that layer directly from the virtual hardware onto the actual hardware and boom - one of the jobs that's usually the biggest pain in the ass on a new starship class project, one and done.

Been a while since I started work in earnest on a brand new starship type. The last one was Concordia, and that was such an almighty rush job I didn't really have time to enjoy the process.

Ki sakihitin,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: Project Sovereign: basic spec
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Mon Sep 17 2401 17:30:12 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

I stand by what I said when you showed me the first sketches - that is an extremely ambitious design. You and your team will have your work cut out for you making it happen - but having seen the list of people you have working on it, I'm convinced it can be done. I wish I could be part of it.

Meanwhile, my own work goes on. With Tangent's help, I've finally worked out a reliable system for translating the inscriptions we've found in the Cartographer and other sites around Halo. So far none has revealed anything helpful about the construct's builders, but we have discovered what it's for... and oddly enough, it's more or less what we're trying to use it for. It was intended as a sanctuary, though I'm not sure yet what from or who for. It seems strangely exposed for a fortress, which makes me wonder if it's supposed to be a part of some larger construct, though Tangent insists that isn't the case, except inasmuch as it was part of a system of several such installations.

Unfortunately, he knows nothing of those other installations, other than that they existed - not even how many there were. A prudent security measure, if they were indeed intended to serve as sanctuaries, but frustrating for us now. No one ever builds things with archaeologists in mind.

Love,
-Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!bombsight.ipyards.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: Project Sovereign: basic spec
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Mon Sep 17 2401 17:57:12 -0000 (GST)

That's fantastic! Ah, these are exciting times.

As for wishing you could be part of Project Sovereign, well, Halo Station One has subethernet broadband now, right? We're building the prototype in cyberspace... :)

Ta graih aym ort,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: Project Sovereign: basic spec
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Mon Sep 17 2401 20:32:39 -0000 (GST)

... And so much for me having any spare time over the next couple of years. I hate you, Milkman Dan.

Love,
- Tali


2402

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Hello me, it's me again
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Thu May 24 2402 15:45:12 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Sometimes I love this job. I just met another me! How much do you know about parallel cosmos commonality?

[...]

I once joked to a reporter, back in the Golden Age, that if I hadn't become a Wedge Defender I'd have been a super-hero. That's what led Derek to create the Scarlet Sentinel comics, but it appears, in a weird way, I was kind of not joking.

Also, you may have noticed that his girlfriend a) is named Katherine and b) looks a bit like Kaitlyn. I'm not sure whether I ought to be slightly disturbed by that, but I kind of am.

In other news, I'll be back at the Yards next Monday for an inspection tour; Zed thinks we might be ready to lay down the second Sovereign within the next couple of months. Certainly the virtual prototype is looking in good shape, thanks to all our late nights. Now I just have to decide what to call her...

Te iubesc,
--G.


2403

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: What. The. CRAP.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sun Feb 23 2403 11:30:42 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

I give up. I just give right the hell up. Terrorists I can deal with. Enemy agents I can deal with. Random crazies I can deal with.

DISAPPEARANCE WITHOUT A TRACE, on the other hand? I draw the line there. The Cianbro guys had finished clearing out Friday; Major Krantz from Tac Div and his guys were doing a final security audit before the Systems guys went in to finish up the interior fittings and whatnot. We got a distress call from him this morning about 0500, the Bajoran Militia reported an energy surge of some kind from B4's position, and then... nothing. It's just gone. No debris, no signs of violence. The station is just not there any more.

Zoner swears up and down that it's not his fault. Neither one of us was anywhere near the place.

And now the contractor's out of the picture. Which, you know, I can totally understand Dad's position on the matter. They did the job they were hired to do. They did it four times, in fact, and this time they'd finished - the paperwork was signed off, the crews had moved out. Job done. Contract fulfilled. We could hire them again, but that would mean going through the bid process again, a completely new job code, and so forth, and so on. That'll take three or four years before we can even start building attempt number five.

We're not even sure we'll be able to start over, with or without Cianbro. Even the IPO's resources aren't infinite. We were able to use reclaimed and salvaged materials from the prior attempts in each of the previous restarts, but B4 was complete and has disappeared entirely. We're literally starting from scratch.

It's times like this I wish we had just agreed to repurpose Terok Nor. Babylon would've been operational ten years ago if Zoner and I hadn't insisted that a new station had to be built.

Oh, my aching back.

Ti tengu cara,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: What. The. CRAP.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sun Feb 23 2403 13:16:32 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

No you don't. You really don't. I was part of the team that reviewed the Terok Nor surveys, remember? I know what a pile of junk that station was. Cardassian space habitat engineering, outdated and indifferently maintained by a resentful conquered people - the worst of all possible worlds. It would have been a nightmare. Probably several of them. You'd have been better off buying our oldest, most worn-out ship, parking it in orbit, and using that.

If you do decide not to proceed with a whole new contractor selection process, what's the alternative? Running the whole project in-house is liable to be just as complicated. You'd need a very experienced workforce with highly capable, self-directing leadership to pull such a project together - one accustomed to the kinds of economy and time-saving measures that will be required to make up for the complete loss of everything that's gone before on that site.

I can think of two, offhand, neither likely to have the available manpower to do the job alone. So I guess it comes back to what you jokingly asked me years ago: Do you think the Freespacers and my people can work together? :)

I don't envy you trying to get it to happen, but if you can pull it off, it'll be a great example for the whole galaxy of the Babylon Foundation's cooperative ideals.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: I don't know what to make of this...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Aug 25 2403 23:12:33 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Remember a couple of days ago when I said Kaitlyn seemed strangely preoccupied, but I couldn't think why? Well, I guess I know the answer now, but it leaves me with more questions.

After dinner tonight, she announced that she's been accepted at Worcester Prep, the private high school some crazy person started on the site of the old WPI when they rebuilt Worcester the second time. Classes start next Monday. She apparently filed her application last Friday and didn't say anything to Kei or me until her acceptance came through. (It's probably an indication of how old I am, but I'm still sort of vaguely stunned that she got an answer back in four days, two of which were a weekend. When I was her age - well, when I was her age we were still figuring out whether dinosaurs were good eating, but if you wanted to get into a private school back then you had to apply months in advance of the school year starting. But that's neither here nor there.)

I've done what little research I've had time to do, and it does look like it's a good school (even if it is, God help them, a replica of WPI). The music program, in particular, comes very highly recommended. But we have good schools here, too. Making the school district the best it could be was one of my city planning team's priorities, not because I was expecting to have need of them myself at the time, but because you can't have a great city (or a great civilization, come to that) without great schools. So I'm thinking there has to be more to it than that... but I can't imagine what it is.

I mean... I'm torn. On the one hand I think it's great that she's come up with this plan and seen it through on her own. We've always tried to give all our kids as much latitude in charting their lives as they're willing to take responsibility for, and so far that's worked well for all of them. And it's great that Kate wants to undertake this big adventure at her age. (I passed on private school when I was about her age because I didn't want to leave home.) It also doesn't hurt my feelings that in order to line this up, she's apparently dumped Mike Carpenter, but that's probably just Grumpy Dad Mode kicking in. I can't help it, I just never cottoned to the guy.

But... I don't know, I worry about her more than the others. I wouldn't bat an eye if Leonard said he wanted to go to private school on Earth. (I would if the twins did, but mainly out of fear for Earth.) But Kate? So far from home, on a planet that - let's face it - Zeta Cygni isn't on the best of terms with, with her speech problems, and she's so shy to begin with... I can't figure why she's decided to do this. And I'd never say this to her, but I'm terribly afraid that she'll find it was more than she bargained for. I'm not worried for her safety - she can take care of herself, I've seen to that - but emotionally, I just don't know if she's prepared for something like that.

I'm not going to stop her, obviously - I'd be the class hypocrite if I even tried. She's met all the criteria that we set out for our kids' personal projects. I'm not even going to try to talk her out of it. But I'm going to worry. And I'm going to wonder.

Ko kicino,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: I don't know what to make of this...
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Wed Aug 26 2403 01:32:41 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

One of the many things modern quarians like to debate about, since the Migrant Fleet ceased to migrate, is whether our tradition of pilgrimage should be continued. Some argue that it's no longer necessary, because even though almost all of us still live on the ships of the Flotilla, the Quarian Union has a much more stable and prosperous economy than the Migrant Fleet ever did. We don't need to send our young people out to search for and return with things of value. Others maintain that it's not we who have changed but the galaxy, and it's too dangerous nowadays. But there are those who insist that it's important beyond its practical value - that it provides a much-needed change in perspective without which our children, confined to the Fleet throughout their upbringing, can never truly understand the world in which we live - never become the people they're meant to be, if you want to be a little romantic about it.

That the pilgrimage remains necessary is one of the increasingly few things about which Rael and I agree, though we believe it for different reasons. He's adamant that it's a critical opportunity to acquire practical experience in the outside world, and while I don't disagree with that, I think it's much more important as a... I guess you might say a spiritual experience. I know my own life would have been very different - and very much poorer - if I had never left the Kythera and gone out into the wider galaxy to see what there was to see.

Maybe this is Kaitlyn's pilgrimage.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: I don't know what to make of this...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Aug 25 2403 23:12:33 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Maybe it is.

Thank you. I feel a little better. I'm still going to worry - she's awfully young to take such a big step, and Earth is so far away... but I feel a little better.

Eu te amo,
--G.


2404

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: I should be happier.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Mon May 3 2404 10:12:04 -0000 (GST)

After all, what navy mother doesn't hope that her son will one day be an admiral? And yet, now that Rael's final promotion has come, I feel... well, I am proud of his accomplishments, I'd be a very poor mother indeed if I weren't, but I also feel a great foreboding. He's ramped back the rhetoric when speaking to me in recent years, but I think that's only to maintain peace in his house, not because his views have moderated. It's become reasonably clear that he sees his father and me as silly old people who resist his vision out of inertia or timidity. Only the fact that Vedik would knock his fool head off, admiral or not, keeps him from saying it in so many words.

Fortunately, Tali'Zorah is busy with her schoolwork. Now that she's entered an academy ship, she's insulated to some degree from her father's fanatical drive by her own. She may not be as far from home as your Kaitlyn is, physically, but the headmaster of the Hekademos will brook no interference with his pupils' schooling from parents, even newly minted admirals.

The Hekademos is one of the Union's finest school ships, and boards its students full-time, saving them the wear and tear of constant shuttle rides across the Flotilla. If nothing else, Rael is sparing no expense to make certain Tali'Zorah has the finest education any quarian can get. He may still want her to be a soldier, but he doesn't want her to be just a soldier. And between her academic schedule and his new responsibilities, with any luck they'll see too little of each other over the next few years to get into many really big fights.

Keelah, listen to me. You would think I was talking about some cheap holodrama, not my own family. "Next time on 'Tweendeckers... "

Anyway, as I said, I'm proud of his achievement. His old confederate Han'Gerrel reached the board before him, which should make Admiralty meetings interesting, since Han has all the interpersonal subtlety and regard for social nicety of a krogan mercenary. His bluntness and unwillingness to put up with optimistic speculation may make him a useful counterbalance to Rael's unrealistic insistence that we can and should undertake the reconquest of Rannoch. Unless, of course, he agrees, in which case, Keelah help us.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: Challenger launch simstream
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Oct 12 2404 18:04:36 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Attached is the simsense stream of the christening and launch of IPS Challenger, which took place at the Yard earlier today. Since you couldn't be present for the ceremony, I've done the next best thing and sent it to you. Skuld did the editing and presentation, and special thanks to my long-time steward and galley chief, David Jantzen, for providing the recording platform.

We're going to be doing final fitting-out and whatnot for the next few weeks, and then we're off for space trials; if all goes well, that'll lead to a shakedown cruise sometime around Thanksgiving, then home for Christmas and regular deployment to B'hava'el in the new year. As a thank-you to everyone over there who made it possible - Emdra's team at QuarTech, the Logistics Command guys, you - I'm planning to make part of the shakedown an official visit to the Union, with an open invitation to any members of the Conclave and/or Navy staff who want to see what their support for the Babylon Foundation and the IPO is actually paying for. We'll have tours, maybe some fun activities... it'll be a hoot. Most likely sometime in early December.

Got a note from Kaitlyn the other day; she seems to be doing better at WPI this fall than last, not that that would've been hard. Her band is doing really well - they've got a gig in Canada next weekend! - and her new roommate is apparently working out a lot better than poor Hiroe. I'm quite looking forward to meeting her, actually; she sounds perfectly fascinating, and I think Kate's planning to invite her home for Christmas break.

For now, though, it's back to work - we're starting on the basic spec document for the Defiant class on Monday, assuming that the fitting-out of Challenger is going well enough that I'll have time to hold the meeting. And I need to set up a meeting with Emdra and the QuarTech board to talk about licensing the NGW operating system to Kanzaki Industries on Ishiyama. Sumire's shipbuilders are thinking about a heavy destroyer to complement the Defiants, and we'll need NG/OS to get it to work.

So much to do!

Mein tenu pyar karda han,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: Challenger launch simstream
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Tue Oct 12 2404 21:17:54 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

That was a lovely ceremony. Thank you for having it recorded for me. I particularly enjoyed Skuld's little speech about the significance of ships' names - something that I think would resonate for any quarian.

You complain, but I think you're only happy when you're busy. I'm much the same. My team and I spent much of last month conducting a second comprehensive survey of the Cartographer, based on what we've learned from the first-generation translations. The new discoveries we're making are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but every little bit we uncover brings us closer to understanding the origins and true purpose of Halo.

One thing that I'm becoming more and more convinced of as the investigation goes on is that Mordin's initial estimate of Halo's age was way off. His estimate of 50,000 years was based on biological factors he observed in the plant life, and which I don't particularly understand. It's possible that the current biosphere (bio-ring?) on what Tangent refers to as "the habitat surface" has only been here for 50,000 years, but it's becoming clearer that the ring structure itself is much, much older. Exactly how much older, we still haven't figured out - the materials the ring structure are made of defy radiological dating - but our astrophysicists have done some fascinating work examining micrometeorite impacts and solar wind erosion on the outer surface and come up with an estimate of at least 250,000 years!

Our first clue has actually been in front of us for years, but I only thought to investigate it a few weeks ago. When we reactivated Tangent, he said he had been in sleep mode for about 50,000 years. We assumed that meant he had been dormant since the structure was built, but one thing we didn't really understand about the way Tangent's AI worked at the time was that he never volunteers anything. I don't think he's secretive, particularly; he's just not creative enough for it to occur to him that anyone might be interested in anything they didn't specifically ask.

So I asked him: How long ago were you activated? The answer wasn't definite, but it was informative: so long ago that he doesn't know, because the number of seconds since epoch on his system (whenever that was) has overrun the MAXINT value for the register it's counted in. He knows the date he was activated, but since the calendar system Halo's builders used is long-dead, that tells us nothing. When I asked him to elaborate about his initial report, he told me that the last time he'd emerged from sleep mode was at the time of the installation's "prior activation".

I haven't gotten anywhere beyond that yet - I'm not asking the right questions. For instance, when I ask him what that activation involved, he says merely, "This installation was activated." Who ordered that activation? "The Reclaimer." I said I thought I was the Reclaimer, and he said I am. What constitutes a Reclaimer? One who meets the criteria established in his operating parameters. What are those? Impossible to articulate, I guess. Like Mr. Justice Stewart, he knows it when he sees it. It apparently has nothing to do with species. 50,000 years ago, my species was just figuring out fire and sharp things.

If you're taking away from this the idea that Tangent can be frustrating to work with, you have no idea.

Oh - when you set up your meeting with the QuarTech board, remember that some of the technologies incorporated into NG/OS are not just trade secrets but state secrets, so you'll need to clear any licensing arrangement you make through the Admiralty. Which will be a slightly more uphill climb now that Rael is on the Board, but possibly not - he's smart enough to recognize the benefits that the Union's collaboration with the IPO have brought us, personal problems with you or no.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: (no subject)
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Fri Dec 24 2404 02:12:35 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

I don't know if you will ever read this. It depends on a lot of factors, not all of which are within my control. But I have to write it as if you will, because otherwise I may well go mad.

Do you remember last year, when I told you that Kaitlyn was going to Earth and I couldn't understand why? You said perhaps it was her pilgrimage. I thought you might be right, but there was always something sort of unspoken, niggling at the back of my head. I always had the sense - just an unclassifiable feeling, almost like zanshin - that there was more to it. That she was running away from something. And I occasionally let myself wonder if that something might be me. That she'd... gotten tired of me. Wow, that looks stupid written out in so many words. But...

... well, I found out today.

You may also remember me mentioning that I didn't much care for her first boyfriend. I thought she was a little too young to be dating, but I was caught in my own trap - the whole freedom-for-responsibility thing. I couldn't run him off without becoming a kinghell hypocrite, especially since I never thought my dislike for him was anything other than a grumpy father's resentment for the first boy to come prowling around the porch, so to speak.

I learned today that I should listen to my instincts even when I'm not sure what they're trying to tell me.

I'm sorry if this is incoherent. It's late and I've been struggling with my thoughts and feelings - and Kei's - for hours. She's finally gone to sleep and I'm still at it. A few hours ago I learned that my eldest daughter left the city, left the sector, left my home because she was raped. By Michael Carpenter. Seventeen months ago. Under my own roof.

And I never suspected a thing about it.

Yeah. Big-time space hero, me. Can't even protect his own family. Doesn't even realize he's failed in that most essential of a father's duties for a year and a half.

So much for zanshin.

She ran into him today, doing the last of her Christmas shopping at the Galleria. He came to the house after spotting her there. Corwin and Utena, Kate's roommate at WPI, drove him off. Afterward, Marty Rose said he'd convinced him to join the Zardon Foreign Legion. He's already shipped out to Christ knows where.

As you might expect, Kei went absolutely fucking ballistic. If not for Marty and Utena, she'd be out there right now in full Psycho Tracker Mode, as you once saw her, bent on hunting Carpenter down and putting a large hole in the back of his head.

And, God help me, I don't know if I could find it in me to lift a finger to stop her.

The only bright spot in any of this is her roommate. That girl is amazing. She reminds me... well, she doesn't remind me of anyone I've ever known, actually. Maybe there's a little of Miria Sterling there, now I think about it, but the complete package is utterly unique. She confronted Kei head-on at the highest peak of fury I've seen her reach since... well, since before I met you... and backed her down. I don't think I've ever seen that happen. Without her on the scene, I think we'd all be smoldering wreckage tonight. As it is, we're hanging on. Barely.

I wish I could just tell you this. I'd dearly love to have your thoughts, and I hate feeling as if I'm hiding something. But while I have no secrets from you, a chuisle, this one isn't mine to share.

Thanks for listening, anyway, even though you don't know you did.

Sark'tto kii,
--G.


2405

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Busy couple of weeks...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Fri Jan 7 2405 14:12:43 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Kaitlyn and the gang just headed back to Earth, and I feel like the last two weeks lasted about a year.

By which I don't mean that it was a trial having them here, just... it's been a busy time. Kate had a very rough time a couple of days before Christmas - I can't really go into the details right now, but don't worry, she's okay. Going to be okay, anyway. You know how that works.

We were still sort of recovering from that when the holidays were upon us, and you know what a busy time that is around here. This year it was even busier than usual, because Kate brought her roommate from WPI with her for the break, as I suspected she might - and thank all the gods she did, because she got us through the rough patch pretty much by force of will. She's an amazing girl. She reminds me... well, she doesn't remind me of anyone I've ever known, actually. Maybe there's a little of Miria Sterling there, now I think about it, but the complete package is utterly unique.

Utena Tenjou is her name, and I doubt it'll be very long before everyone in the Federation knows it. She's just one of those people who have it. The Force is strong in this one, as they say. (Indeed, I suspect that's literally true in her case.) She's fearless without being (too) foolhardy, confident without arrogance, beautiful without (I think) entirely being aware of it. I probably sound a little besotted with her, which is unseemly in a man my age, but it's not really like that. It easily could've been, but context prohibits. Anyway, I suspect my eldest son is going to be walking into closed doors enough for the both of us with her on his mind. Poor boy, I know the signs all too well.

Okay, so she did wreck part of my dojo and break my shoulder, but I was asking for it. (Did I mention she's a very talented swordswoman? Sorry. I'm rambling again.)

The important thing is, she's good for Kate. I don't think they're involved, per se, but they obviously make each other happy - and make each other feel safe, if that makes any sense - and really, when you get right down to it, I think that's more important in a relationship than anything else. And Utena brought with her a classmate from her old school who's even better for Kate in his way, a young man named Miki. He's a real young gentleman, you'd like him - and possibly the only person in Kate's age group I've ever seen who can keep up with her musically. Watching them collaborate over this break has been incredible. It's like they've known each other for years, when as far as I know they met for the first time on Christmas Eve.

Where was I? Oh, right. The reason I say this break was even busier than usual because of Utena - well, partly that's just because she's the kind of person who catalyzes things. The world just becomes more eventful in her general vicinity. But what I mainly meant was that her birthday fell right in line with all the others - two days after Kei's, three after Zoner's, four after Christmas - so we had still another party. And Corwin had another present to make. (He really outdid himself, too. He's done his best work to date, week before last. That's one of the signs I mentioned earlier.)

I have to admit, I feel a lot better about Kate being on Earth now. She's been content there since last spring, thanks to Azalynn and the rest of the band, but now I know she's really happy. And I know... she'd be mad at me for phrasing it this way, but it's the only way I can think of it... I know she's in good hands there. Hands I can trust. I've faced the girl steel-to-steel. Having her there, looking out for Kate (though I know Kate would say she doesn't need any such thing), is the next best thing to being there myself.

Hope you've had a good Yule, and all good wishes for the new year. Keelah se'lai.

Tia anao aho,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: Busy couple of weeks...
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Fri Jan 7 2405 19:32:35 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Vedik and I extend our fondest holiday wishes to you as well. Keelah se'lai.

This new roomate of Kaitlyn's sounds like the sort of person who makes an immediate impression. I was just talking to Tali'Zorah a few minutes ago, and she mentioned rather grumpily that Corwin has written of absolutely nothing else in his half of their correspondence over the past ten days or so. (Oh yes, they remain in regular contact, much as we do, despite her father's having forbidden her to have anything to do with your family. Rael is no technician, and even if he were, can you imagine that anyone would be able to prevent those two from communicating electronically?)

Tali'Zorah's complaints aside (I don't think it's a matter of jealousy, exactly, but I can sympathize with her position - any girl gets tired of hearing constantly about another after a while), I'm glad she's had such a positive impact on Kaitlyn's life, and that you find her presence in that life so reassuring. I know that Kate's self-imposed exile (as you've seen it) has been a source of worry for you since it began. It pleases me to see that weight, at least, removed from your shoulders.

And it amuses me to read that, in your world, mortal combat is a perfectly normal way of getting to know your teenage daughter's boarding school roommate - and that, from the sound of it, you got yourself a bit of a thrashing in the process. I think I'd quite like to meet this girl. :)

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: Interesting times?
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Fri May 6 2405 20:12:43 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

You're not wrong about that! When the first reports started coming in, I thought World War VII had started - and by the end of the day I wasn't that far wrong, either.

You know, on the one hand, I can't help but find it very depressing that my home planet now appears to be run by fascist assholes. On the other, I find it richly, deeply satisfying that my daughter and her friends just punched them in the middle of their face without my having to get involved in any way until it was all over. It's like they just dropped their book reports on my desk all at once and said, "We're ready for finals now."

Tomorrow we're having Kate's mastery trial in the dojo here on Challenger. I've got some interesting contestants lined up. It should be quite a show.

Mi kla,
--G.

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!tr808.ipo.zc>
Subject: Finally.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sat May 21 2405 00:11:49 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

After only 14 years and four attempts, as of this afternoon, we at last have an operational Babylon Station. The ceremony went well - I've attached a simstream of the highlights - and all is going smoothly so far. the diplomatic staff is still getting settled in, but by next week they should be ready to get busy saving the galaxy.

Meanwhile, over on Jeraddo, construction has started in earnest on Satori Mandeville Memorial, and the Duelists are getting stuck in on the rehabilitation of their castle. All good stuff.

[...]

And - to no one's great surprise - Utena and Corwin are off to spend the summer preparing her for her starship master's examination. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were to swing by the Flotilla at some point in their travels. I figured I'd warn you now so you can be ready to repair the dent Rael is presumably going to leave when he hits the ceiling.

Inħobbok,
--G.

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: ...
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Jun 28 2405 17:32:11 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

I just heard from Corwin and Utena about what happened on the Rayya earlier today. I'm so sorry about Zira'Vel. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know. Please pass on my condolences to Vedik, Rael (if you think it won't just make things worse) and Tali'Zorah as well. I never met Zira, but you and Vedik have spoken so well of her over the years that I almost feel like I have - and I hate to see anybody little Tali's age lose her mother.

I hope she's holding up all right, and that the rest of you are too. Rael and I... may have had our differences a few years ago, and we've been barely cordial since, but I wouldn't wish this kind of loss on my worst enemy, and he's far from being that. I'm thinking of you all.

Hau hadomi o,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: ...
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Tue Jun 28 2405 17:55:13 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Thank you. We're all still a bit in shock. It's a powerful reminder that just because the Migrant Fleet no longer migrates, we still live aboard ships, we still depend on these suits, and we still face dire consequences if the systems we take for granted fail. There hasn't been a significant infectious outbreak aboard one of our ships in nearly thirty years. Some in the Conclave believed such events were things of the past.

In a way, we - the quarian people, I mean - were lucky. Though tragedy has struck my family and two dozen others, it could have been very much worse. Would have been, but for the intervention of Tali'Zorah's guests. She could not have done what she did without their help, and Mordin has confirmed that the fever would still be ravaging the Rayya if the three of them had not defied Rael's orders and breached the quarantine. We would be losing hundreds of people, not dozens.

For all my fury with Rael for his stubborn adherence to outdated procedures and his pigheaded refusal to accept outside help, I can't bring myself to punish him for it. After all, he knows it's cost him his wife, their daughter her mother. Perhaps - it sounds terribly cold and calculating of me to say it in so many words - it will give him reason to re-think his views.

On the other hand, I couldn't be prouder of Tali'Zorah. It was already too late for Zira by the time Mordin was able to cure the fever, and she knew that, but she also knew there was a job to do... so she put aside her grief, devised a plan, and made it happen, obstructions be damned. With Corwin's help and Utena's, she saved hundreds of her shipmates. The Admiralty Board will probably vote them all medals for it, whether Rael objects or not, and I'm not even sure he will. He's probably furious about his orders being defied, but he's never been one to argue with results... and he has his own problems. However much of a prig and a martinet he's become, he truly loved Zira and I'm sure he's devastated by her loss, even if he won't permit himself to show it, even to their daughter.

And she has such... such grace. She's suffering terribly, of course - she's just lost her mother, to whom she was very close. But she's bearing it stoically, the way we always used to do when untimely death was a commonplace thing in the Flotilla. (An unexpected side benefit of her father's adherence to the old ways, I suppose.) She even had it in her to console Mordin, who was absolutely crushed that he couldn't devise the cure in time to save Zira.

He's bounced back now, of course, with his usual salarian resilience. If anything, the incident has re-fired his enthusiasm for the Acclimation Project, which has been flagging a little bit of late with all the pushback we've been getting from the government. Now more than ever, we are both convinced that we have to get off these ships, sooner rather than later, or things like this will keep happening. Evolution itself is against us; with our obsessive need to clean and disinfect, our heavy reliance on antibiotics and antivirals, and 18 thousand viral generations for every quarian one, we're breeding our own destruction.

We're not going to start agitating, using this as a rallying cry - that would be crass almost beyond reckoning - but it motivates us to double our efforts... obstructions be damned. Tali'Zorah expects nothing of us that she wouldn't demand of herself, after all.

Corwin and Utena had to quit the scene in quite a hurry, as you might imagine, and no one except Tali'Zorah properly thanked them. In lieu of an apology for this rudeness from the quarian government - which may yet be forthcoming - please pass on mine to them, and my thanks. It was a great thing they helped my granddaughter to do, and they didn't have to get involved.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Holiday greetings
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Tue Dec 27 2405 11:21:23 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Back in New Avalon after a lovely few days on Titan. We missed you and Vedik at the big to-do; the place was jammed, you'd have had a great time. Even the Hanagumi made it over from Ishiyama. Maybe next year...

Corwin and I gave Utena her birthday present a little early tonight, and of course then none of us could resist taking it out for a spin. She whipped Corwin and me good, but we're taking the official position that it was only because I'm rusty on Legios ops and Corwin's a lousy Beta gunner.

Attached are a few photos from the big party. Please note that that isn't a toy tiger Kate has there. I told you Zoner had something big planned for her this year. :) (That's Utena's friend Wakaba Shinohara showing off the new Lens. Go figure, I didn't even know Skuld was considering her. Sound choice, though. Got more than a bit of that Tenjou spark in her own right. Good kid. Why am I talking like Mordin?)

Glad to hear that Tali'Zorah liked the Christmas package Corwin and Utena sent her way. And that Rael doesn't approve. (Ooh, that makes me a bad person, I'm sure of it.)

Te quiero,
--G.


2406

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: January 27
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Fri Jan 27 2406 08:14:42 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Fifty years ago today, a quarian teenager on her pilgrimage did a very foolish thing and nearly paid for it with her life. She was saved only by the intervention of a perfect stranger, a man with a colossal price on his head and a dull coldness in his eyes. At first she thought her situation had gone from bad to worse. For what possible purpose could the galaxy's most notorious murderer have purchased her from the Black Dragon Society?

But then he risked his life to protect her, not once but several times. He stuck by her when they were stranded in a very strange place, guiding her through the wilderness to (relative) safety. By the time they got there she had come to like him, then to trust him. As she got to know him, which was easier and took less time than she would ever have imagined, she realized that what she had taken for coldness in his eyes was actually a deep sadness, a spiritual wound she, in her youth and navet, couldn't begin to understand. But she didn't need to understand it.

Because, quite by accident, by then she had fallen in love with him.

A person could argue that it wasn't meant to be. They came from different species, after all, biochemically incompatible species, and she was quarian. They couldn't eat the same food, couldn't eat in the same room; she couldn't even let him see her face without risking a deadly illness. Besides, he was an adult - in fact an immortal - centuries old. He'd seen and done things she couldn't even imagine. By comparison, she was just a child.

But one day she told him all those things, and he told her that none of them mattered. And he was right. They didn't.

In the end it wasn't to be. At least not the way she thought it would. Their lives accelerated them on different vectors; perhaps it was inevitable, perhaps it was just bad luck. It doesn't really matter. As a dear friend of them both would tell her many times over the following years, the cosmos is under no obligation to conform to the desires of sapient beings. She was bitterly disappointed; so, she is given to understand, was he. But they regrouped and got on with things, because that's what they both do. They're survivors.

And eventually they did find each other again, and if what followed wasn't what they had been expecting, all those years before, it doesn't necessarily follow that it wasn't as good.

Keelah se'lai.

Love,
- Lot 490

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Aw, you beat me to it!
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Fri Jan 27 2406 10:04:23 -0000 (GST)

But you probably put it better than I was going to anyway. :)

Keelah se'lai indeed, my love. Tayyr qitn.

--G.

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Now we wait.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sun Mar 5 2406 18:33:54 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

I just heard from Bell; Corwin's away a-Trialing. They still won't tell me where they've sent him or what he's there to do - even the Midgard-Knight, it appears, can't expect all his questions about celestial matters to be answered. Well, that's not really fair of me. They're keeping it from Skuld, too, and she's a member of the sir Council. Presumably these are ancient rules that were put in place to keep people from cheating.

Whatever the reason, the next we'll hear will be news of his success... or failure. However long it takes.

Utena's on Tomodachi, staying with Skuld; she's on break from school right now, but if this isn't over before the break is, I don't imagine she'll be going back. She wouldn't be able to concentrate anyway. I can't claim I really understand their relationship - something happened last Christmastime that seemed to put them on a whole different footing, but for all that they're obviously in love I don't think they're lovers. It's none of my business, anyway, but sometimes I have to wonder. Regardless, they're very close, and she must be freaking out. I know I am. I've known this was coming for a long time, but somehow that's not really any help.

I just have to keep telling myself: He's as well-prepared as we could possibly make him. He's smart. He's tough. He's resourceful. He'll be fine. He'll come back covered in glory.

If I repeat it often enough, maybe I'll start really believing it.

Kahaju ciabie,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: Now we wait.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sun Mar 5 2406 20:23:46 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Now even more so than when Kaitlyn left for Earth, you understand what it is to be a quarian parent whose child has left on pilgrimage. The same utter uncertainty. The same constantly recurring questions - where is he? What is he doing? Is he safe? Is he well? When will he be back? Will I ever see him again?

Vedik and I were so lucky. Rael's pilgrimage was untraditional - a thing which I think annoys him as he has gotten older and more set in his ways, but it meant that we, as his parents, did not have to be tormented by most of those questions. We knew where he was, what he was doing, that he was in good company. We knew that, while there was always the possibility of some accident befalling him, chances were good that he'd come home in one piece. Most of my generation's parents didn't have that luxury. Vedik's certainly didn't. (Mine had died by the time I left, but the Zorahs suffered similar agonies in their place.)

Everything you've said about Corwin is true, though. He is smart. He is tough. And he's bold - when he and Utena were here last summer, he proved his courage in grand style. No one could be readier to face whatever challenge the gods have put before him.

Speaking of Utena, are you still planning to offer her command of the Defiant test article this summer? I must warn you that if you do, Tali'Zorah may actually catch fire from sheer jealousy. There is no way Rael will ever agree to let her go along, and it'll be years yet before she's finished her schooling and can declare herself ready for pilgrimage - however hard she pushes to compress her academic timetable.

I'm joking, of course, but also serious. Jealousy is really the wrong word - she won't grudge Utena and her friends the opportunity - but she'll be furious that she's unable to take part. I tell you this not to put you off doing it, but merely because I need a bit of advance warning to prepare for the inevitable explosion when she and her father have it out.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: Now we wait.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sun Mar 5 2406 22:02:35 -0000 (GST)

That's the plan right now. I'm going to stop by Skuld's in a few days and run it past her. Figure we could both use the distraction by then.

Sorry about Tali'Zorah. I imagine the last thing she needs right now is more teen angst. Mind you, if she gets word back to the rest of the gang, it's not entirely out of the question that they'll mount some kind of rescue mission. That would be... strangely satisfying, but politically unsound, and I think Utena has sense enough not to try it. She's very particular about anything she perceives as oppression of her friends - I told you what she and the others did to B'Elanna Torres's uncle last fall! - but she's smart enough to know the difference between something like that and Tali'Zorah not seeing eye to eye with her father. Besides, she knows Little Tali (ha! she's what, almost 14 now) has an automatic out, she just has to wait for the window to open.

I have to admit I take a certain perverse pleasure in knowing that Rael's own insistence on traditional quarian values guarantees that she'll be out from under his opposable digit in a couple-three years. It's really got to kink his air hose knowing that, if it's occurred to him at all yet.

I recognize that that's rather petty of me - all he did was insult me, my family, and my species - but they do tell me I can be unforgiving sometimes. I'm working on it. My therapist thinks I'm making real progress with my anger issues!

Ik hou van ju,
--G.

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!daggerdisc.ipo.zc>
Subject: He's done it!
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sat Mar 18 2406 00:47:54 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Corwin's done it. He's more than done it. They sent him to investigate a developing situation in a place called Cephiro - which turned out to be the alternate plane Utena and her friends come from - and he not only investigated it, he fixed it. Sorted the whole damned mess, and reunited Utena with her long-lost fiance. I just came from their wedding reception, which was held in the Great Hall of Asgard and, as you can imagine, was quite a shindig. Not quite so big as the party I attended in the same room back in '91, but still.

I'm so proud of that boy I could bust. It's customary for sir to return from their Trials covered in glory or blood; Corwin managed to do both, and rack up the full Eight-Ball Code trifecta in the process:

  1. Get the girl: check (FSVO "get").

  2. Kill the baddies: check.

  3. Save the entire planet: very much check.

Okay, point 1 is debatable, inasmuch as he got the girl on behalf of another, but I think it stands. And I think that's what I'm proudest of. Any bastard tough enough can kill the baddies and save the entire planet. It takes a special kind of man to get the girl for someone else's sake. But he did it. From what I've heard, he didn't even have to think about it. He just saw what was right and made straight for it. No hesitation. No complaints.

He obviously thinks we've seen the end of that story. Me? I may not be a Norse god, but I've been around a while longer than he has. I suspect it's only just started.

Like the poet said, it ain't over 'til it's over. Eh?

Ich hob dir lib,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: The news from the Rim.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Jun 10 2406 11:53:12 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

No doubt you're very busy right now, but you should be aware that your young protge has caused something of a revolution on a certain level of quarian society. The younger strata of the Navy officer corps, as well as many quarians of Tali'Zorah's generation, have followed the extranet reports of the Valiant's battle with the Amar avidly. There are fan clubs springing up around the Flotilla; their members are very taken with the idea that planetborn children can be such capable spacers.

Tali'Zorah is much envied by her contemporaries because she's met Tenjou vas Valiant, as she is now known in these parts. (The number of youngsters who, very quietly and in private, try on the name "vas Valiant" may very well be all those above the age of ten who haven't gone on Pilgrimage yet... and a large number of those out there now.) Rael is annoyed, though mainly with the younger officers - and Han'Gerrel, who infuriated him by pointing out, quite rightly, that it sounded much like the day they had when they won their Medals of Valor - rather than Tali, for a change.

I have to admit I'm a little skeptical of what Leonard thinks he is doing, but Mordin insists that the Force is real, and I defer to his expertise.

Also, I must note that this makes three of your children who have undertaken something very like the pilgrimage. Are you quite certain you're not quarian? I would hate to think that I sweated out that retroviral rewrite for no reason.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!tr808.b5.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: The news from the Rim.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sat Jun 10 2406 12:23:43 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Revolution - ha!

(Re planetborn, I wonder what her fans would say if they knew she comes from a world where there's literally no such thing as outer space.)

And oh yes, the Force is quite real. Remind me the next time we're in the same place and I'll show you.

As for the pilgrimage, I dunno what to tell you. Maybe you rewrote part of my DNA. After all, you did kiss me when yours had just finished.

Moni ife e,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: The news from the Rim.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Jun 10 2406 13:02:54 -0000 (GST)

... Why is that funny? And what in the galaxy does that mean, "literally no such thing as outer space"? I've grown accustomed over the years to you telling me things that shouldn't make any sense, but that one, I'm afraid, actually doesn't.

Incidentally, I have just been informed that the Conclave will be discussing the question of "Valiantism", as the local network is calling it, on Monday. It seems a group of students at one of our secondary school ships has asked the headmaster for permission to apply for a Duelists' Federation charter (and invite the club's officers to teach them the basics of the sport). You can imagine why this has caused some consternation. Dueling with edged weapons is not a common sporting activity among my people, for obvious reasons.

And as to your DNA, I don't think it works that way.

- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!tr808.b5.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: The news from the Rim.
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sat Jun 10 2406 13:22:11 -0000 (GST)

Utena comes from an alternate dimension where the cosmology is Ptolemaic. The sky is literally a glass dome on which the sun turns around the earth. (Don't bother trying to calculate how that could possibly work. Magic is involved. Big magic. Cephiro is pretty much made of magic. It's a carpet remnant of Creation.)

As for why the "revolution" thing is funny, it'd take too long to explain. Suffice it to say that Utena and revolutions go very much hand in hand, so your unknowingly apt choice of words tickled me.

I'm not sure whether I support the idea of a quarian IDF chapter or not. On the one hand, I've seen first-hand the kind of character it builds if you get the right group of kids involved. On the other, you're right, dueling with live steel when you have a pressing need to maintain enviro-suit integrity is crazy-go-nuts. Getting the officers in to explain that might be the way to go, though. If they're anything like Utena and company, those kids aren't going to listen to any boring safety speeches from boring safety grown-ups. They're going to need somebody they identify with to tell them, "Hey, you guys, maybe this isn't the best plan."

You're also probably right about my DNA, more's the pity. I doubt the pilgrimage is a genetic trait anyway. Though since I've had my omni-tool, I've gotten so good at typing with only my first two fingers that my subordinates claim it's slightly disturbing.

Nob nala,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: The news from the Rim.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Jun 10 2406 14:01:49 -0000 (GST)

"A carpet remnant of Creation." That is a fascinating metaphor.

- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: (facepalm)
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Mon Jul 24 2406 01:13:43 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

Have you seen the latest hilarity out of Earthdome? You just watch, we'll wrangle about this diplomatically for a few years, but in the end I'm gonna have to invade the frickin' planet and sort those assclowns out myself. 'Cause I'm not already getting enough bad press. Jesus wept.

Ne'mehotatse,
--G.


2407

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!daggerdisc.ipo.zc>
Subject: See?
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Thu Jan 4 2407 09:10:32 -0000 (GST)

I told you things spontaneously get more interesting with the Duelists around.

Unscheduled excitement notwithstanding, it was great to see you guys at the big Sendai do. And to see Tali'Zorah in action. How she's grown! And did you notice how easily she fit into the machine those kids become when there's work to do? It was like she'd been one of them all along. Definitely takes after you, particularly in a crisis.

Four more years at least before she can strike for pilgrimage, huh? The phrase "we'll see about that" comes to mind. :)

Ni wu rondi,
-G.

From: "2401 Penitent Tangent" <tangent!halo.qu>
Return-Path: <tangent!2401pt.halo.qu>
Interrupt-priority: URGENT
Subject: Your assistance is required.
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Cc: "CPT Utena Tenjou, IPS Valiant" <tenjou!ipo.zc>
Date: Thu Jul 12 2407 02:32:39 -0000 (GST)

Mr. Hutchins:

Your email address is one of the most frequently used in the Reclaimer's system profile. Online research indicates that you are affiliated with a galactic law enforcement agency and have extensive starship combat and search-and-rescue experience. This combination of factors makes you most suitable to address the current emergency situation.

Please rendezvous with the Quarian Navy vessel Rayya as quickly as possible. Precise coordinates and current fleet approach IFF codes are attached. NOTE: Immediate contact with hostile forces upon arrival is near-certain.

Captain Tenjou:

Current IPSF fleet distribution data indicate that your command is nearest to the Scandia system. For this reason, and because of your prior association with the Reclaimer's family and familiarity with the Rayya, you are receiving a copy of this request as well.

Regards,
2401 Penitent Tangent
Monitor, Installation 05

>>> Quarian Union Observer / Friday, July 13, 2407
>> Fleet News
> Obituaries

Colonel Vedik'Zorah vas Archangel nar Kedrin QMC, aged 72; killed in action July 12, 2407, repelling boarders from QNV Rayya during an attack by an unidentified alien species.

Son of the late Dr. Arnim'Zorah vas Kedrin, biotechnology researcher, and grandson of the legendary Admiral Kevirin'Zorah vas Archangel, Col. Zorah was born in 2335 and completed his pilgrimage in 2353. He served his entire military career as one of the Archangel's marines, becoming an officer in 2360. He married Tali'Shukra vas Archangel, discoverer of Halo, in 2366, and their son Rael (now Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya) was born the following year. They had no other children.

Col. Zorah was a much-liked officer with many citations for bravery and initiative in his military record. He was also known as a strong proponent of the Halo Development Program and the Acclimation Project, but declined to stand for election to the Conclave while he remained on active duty, saying that the role of a soldier is to protect the people, not make policy. He has been nominated posthumously for the Rannoch Crescent by Rigva'Edald vas Rayya, the vessel's representative to the Conclave, for his heroism.

The colonel is survived by his wife, son, and granddaughter. Memorial services will be conducted Tuesday aboard the Archangel.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: (no subject)
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>, "CPT Utena Tenjou, IPS Valiant" <tenjou!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Jul 14 2407 03:12:43 -0000 (GST)

Benjamin, Captain Tenjou...

I don't even really know how to begin. By apologizing that this message is so late, I suppose. I've been trying to make a start on it for hours and coming up empty.

Thank you - both of you, and all your crew - for your gallant defense of the Rayya last week. I know, because you are both idealists, you have spent the last day rebuking yourselves for the lives that were lost in the battle, but you mustn't. You did all you could.

Whoever, whatever these creatures are, they knew exactly when and where to strike. The Navy is already learning the lessons of that day. No ship will ever be sent to patrol the Formation's perimeter alone again - but the Rayya was alone that day, and without the help of the Challenger and the Valiant, she would have been lost. You saved nearly a thousand lives. Don't let the ones you couldn't save blind you to that fact.

Just the fact that you came to her aid means more than I can say, to me and Tali'Zorah both. If the Admiralty have forgotten how to be grateful for help freely offered, she and I haven't. (And nor, I think you will find, has Captain Kar'Danna.)

Vedik's memorial service will be held Tuesday afternoon on the Archangel. Please come. He considered you both his friends. Rael knows that, and he respects his father too much to make a fuss.

- Tali'Shukra

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: (no subject)
To: <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Date: Sat Jul 14 2407 03:21:24 -0000 (GST)

Oh, Tali. You don't have to thank me for trying. And though I take your words about the lives we saved to heart, as I'm sure Utena does too, I'm so sorry it wasn't enough.

Nothing I try to say right now will be adequate... I've never been any good in this kind of situation... but you have to know that I have - have always had - the highest regard for Vedik'Zorah. He was a great man and a good friend. The galaxy is poorer without him.

Of course I'll be there Tuesday. In the meantime, I won't intrude on your grief, but I'm here if you need me.

I love you,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Archangel" <tali.shukra!archangel.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!ts23238.archangel.navy.qu>
Subject: Re: (no subject)
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Jul 14 2407 03:40:45 -0000 (GST)

Benjamin,

Thank you. Inadequate or not, it's good to know you feel that way. Because you're right. He was a great man. He was never one for grabbing headlines or making a stir, but in so many ways, great and small, he was a hero to all who knew him. Certainly he was my hero. Just by being there, with all his quiet, undemanding strength, he kept me in one piece when I finally accepted that (so I thought) I would never see you again.

Vedik used to joke sometimes that he knew I was only settling for him, but it didn't matter to him because he'd rather have half my heart than all of anyone else's, particularly knowing that a man of your caliber (that's how he always said it) had the other half. And every time he did it, I would take the bait and start to chide him for selling himself so short, and he would sit with his arms folded and just smirk at me (you learn to tell these things after a while) until I caught on that he was teasing me... and yet we both knew, but never said, that there was a thin filament of truth buried somewhere in all the self-mocking humor. That was the sort of relationship we had - one that recognized its limitations and worked creatively around them. There's something very quarian about that.

I told him a few years ago about Mordin's experiment in Goodyear, and he just laughed and said he'd figured as much when it only took me three days to recover from Rael's birth. "I'm not as dumb as I look, Tali," he said. It was a thing he often said.

He wasn't dumb at all.

He saved so many lives. It's a horrible clich, but if he had to go, this is how he always wanted it. He loved being a soldier. Loved protecting his people. The idea that he perished in defense of the Fleet - and of Tali'Zorah, who (as you know) he doted on... I truly believe, I have to believe, he was content with that end. Not that he wanted to die; he loved his life. But he loved his job more. He loved his people more. The way he met his death will make him a legend, but I will always know that he was greater even than the myth.

Such men are rare. In my life, I have been privileged to know more than my fair share of them. Vedik's grandfather, the hero of the Archangel, was one. Vedik was another. So are you and Mordin.

Keelah. I can't believe he's gone.

I'll see you Tuesday, Benjamin. You'll be most welcome. Until then... I have much to do. I can lose myself in the work. That's always been my way anyway.

Oh - and please thank Utena and Corwin for the note they sent to Tali'Zorah. I don't know what was in it, but it has done a great deal to lift her spirits. She blamed herself for her grandfather's death; he detailed one of his marines to guard her while he led the counterattack in Engineering, and she'd convinced herself that if Kal'Reegar had been with Vedik - or if she had been - things would have ended differently. Whatever Corwin and Utena told her seems to have disabused her of that notion, and for that I'm grateful. She's too young to carry such bitter self-reproach.

Love,
- Tali


2408

From: "Tali'Shukra vel Halo" <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!pt2401.halo.qu>
Subject: Time for a change...
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sun Feb 3 2408 11:32:12 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

As you can see by the change in my address, I've relocated. It was my choice. I had to get away from the Archangel, at least for a while. Too many memories. Too many ghosts.

If the new conjunction in my name is puzzling to you, well, it's puzzling to a good many of us as well. It's the Conclave's clever way of differentiating a brand new third class of quarian. Where nar means (roughly) "child of" and vas "crew of", vel denotes someone who lives in a permanent surface installation. It's actually not new - centuries ago, when we inhabited more than one planet over on the far side of the Perseus Veil, people indicated which world in the Quarian Hegemony they came from that way. Somewhere a long way back, I have an ancestor named Rana'Shukra vel Rannoch, the last member of my clan to be born on the Homeworld. This is the first time since the Evacuation it's been used, though, and now it's applied to those of us who live full-time on Halo.

Which, right now, is just me and Mordin, who isn't even quarian, but you'd be surprised how often he appears in the Observer as "Mordin'Solus vel Halo". This amuses him, as he notes that if we were to apply the full salarian naming convention to his present situation, he would properly be called "Scandia-CN38 III-Σ Quarian Union Sector 27A Test Settlement One Science Center Solus Mordin".

I've moved into our old house, which now stands next to the Science Center in the center of Soluston. It's been vacant all these years - the people who have spent time in the Test Settlement have kept it up as a sort of monument to the discovery of Halo. I hadn't stepped foot in it since I left Goodyear, the day after you did. I was slightly startled to discover that it's just the same.

Don't worry, I'm not spending all my time alone here, moping around amid the ghosts of our past. That would be no better than if I'd stayed where I was. I did, for the first week or so, and then I pulled myself together and asked Mordin to move into what used to be our spare room. He seemed a bit flustered at first - gave me a long and slightly rambling explanation of salarian mating drives, or lack thereof, until it eventually dawned on him that I wasn't hitting on him, I just wanted some company. Then he was utterly embarrassed. Then he got over that, as he does, and we just had a good laugh about it. I haven't laughed like that since... well, since before Vedik died.

Anyway, neither of us is here all that much. He spends his time working on the Acclimation Project, which is finally moving into larger-scale trials, and I spend my time in the Library with Tangent, puzzling over the cryptic holo-records. There's got to be some kind of key to decipher them; even being able to translate the language doesn't help me much if I don't have the context for the metaphors employed. And there's so much data buried in the optical banks that running searches doesn't help unless you have very, very specific search terms already worked out. What's needed - and I can't help but think that the Forerunners (as we've taken to calling Halo's unknown builders) must have needed it as well - is some sort of index to make sense of it all. But if such a thing exists at all, it's not here... so I work at it the old-fashioned way. I have time, after all.

Some days it feels as if I have little else.

That came out all wrong. I'm all right. Honestly, I am. I have worthwhile work, I have friends, I have connections to the outside world. And if I'm not on speaking terms with my son, I still have my granddaughter. She has little free time, as she is very busy blazing a mile-wide trail of shattered assessment benchmarks across the Quarian Union's educational system, but we see each other at least once a month. Which is more often than either of us sees her father. It's a sad thing to say, but that suits us both fine.

All right, I am in a bit of a brown study today, it seems. It'll pass. They always do. And then I'll dust myself off and get back to work. That's what I do, after all. It says so right on my clan's crest. Did I ever tell you about that? As the last living member of clan Shukra (this branch, anyway; I think there are a few on the Davrella), I have our ancestral records, including a certified holo of the crest we were entitled to display on our homes back on Rannoch. (It was a tradition with its roots in our pre-spaceflight era, like heraldry on Earth.) A few years ago I translated the clan motto from the ancient Khelish. Arak atav - "I survive."

Strangely apt, no?

Well... back to work.

Love,
- Tali


2409

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!challenger.sf.ipo.zc>
Subject: heads up
To: <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Date: Tue Jul 14 2409 22:27:33 -0000 (GST)

3WA COMCEN just lost contact with the Z'ha'dum expedition after receiving an incomplete transmission that may have been an attempt at a distress call. We can't raise Kei on the Lens. I'm on my way out there now with Bea, Jean, and Mace to try and find out what the hell is going on. If you guys have got anybody in that part of the Rim, I'd suggest you ask the Admiralty to flag them away from the Alpha Omega system until we get some answers.

--G.

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!blinkdog.ipo.zc>
Subject: (no subject)
To: <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Date: Wed Jul 15 2409 03:10:47 -0000 (GST)

Just finished a survey of the Icarus landing zone. The ship is here... what's left of it. At first glance it looks like a crash site, but look a little closer and the picture changes. They got down okay, just as the pilot reported, and then... not sure. Heavy weapons of some kind, but not anything I can identify off the top of my head. Some kind of laser or plasma lance, maybe. Massive. Cut the ship to ribbons. It doesn't look like they even got a chance to fight back.

There are several bodies, but not everybody's here. It's hard to tell whether the others were taken away, or just... vaporized. Given the amount of firepower that must have been flying around, the latter is entirely conceivable.

Kei's not here... but the Cosmic Rod is, in about a dozen pieces. I can't picture her letting that happen without a fight. On the other hand, I can't really picture it happening at all. But it must've, because here are the pieces.

Her Lens dropped off the grid just after the emergency signal. It isn't here, but we can't tell whether it even exists. Even Skuld isn't sure what that means.

Apart from the wreckage and the bodies, there's nothing here. Scanned from orbit, the whole planet's dead. No life signs, no energy signatures... nothing. We're not even sure why they chose to land in this particular spot. It's just a rocky nowhere. There's nothing here.

Just dust and echoes.

Marty Rose and Yuri just arrived. Zoner's supposed to be here within the hour. They'll do their best, but I doubt there's anything more for them to learn.

I'm going home. No. Not home. That would be a mistake right now. Back to New Avalon, though. Try to figure out what to do next. I feel like I've had a hundred plates spinning on poles for the last 20 years and I've just dropped them all.

Djerin,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vel Halo" <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!pt2401.halo.qu>
Subject: Re: (no subject)
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Wed Jul 15 2409 03:17:40 -0000 (GST)

Mordin just woke me after your yeoman reached him at the Science Center with the news. Why in the world didn't you com me? No, Tali, that's not helping. Mordin and I are preparing to leave now. We're much closer to the mission site than to Zeta Cygni, so we'll go and join the investigation. Do not despair. I know from experience that it's much too early for that.

- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!xerxes.hq.ipo.zc>
Subject: going offline for a while.
To: <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Date: Sun Jul 19 2409 15:32:45 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

I'm dropping off the grid for a while. A few weeks at least, maybe longer. Steve and Utena will keep the IPO running while I'm gone.

Remember the little place on Sakura's estate, way up in the back woods? She's offered to let me stay there for a while and get my head together. I need to clear my headspace. Sort a bunch of crap for long-term storage. I've had too much on the boil for too long, and I didn't even realize how hard I had to run to keep up with it until this broke my stride. Even once I've recovered my balance, assuming I even can, I don't think I'll be able to keep up that pace without her. Some things are going to have to go. I'm not sure which ones, or where. That's on the long list of things I need to figure out. Until I do I'll be no good to anyone.

Anyway, it's about time for me to go. Corwin's down at Mathews Memorial making sure Old No. 1 is ready for the trip. Even Daggerdisc is too big for the place my head is in. I need that exile feel, me and my Valkyrie against the galaxy. Got to get back to someplace like where Raoul helped me get to when the Fun Stopped. That was worse than this. It had to be. And I got on with things after that.

Oh, how I wish I could go back to Goodyear.

I'll drop you a line when I come back out... maybe sooner.

Min khine yaratau,
--G.

From: "Tali'Shukra vel Halo" <tali.shukra!halo.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!pt2401.halo.qu>
Subject: Re: tanned, rested, ready(?)
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Thu Nov 26 2409 10:34:21 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

Welcome back! We've all missed you.

No doubt you're neck-deep in official reports explaining all you've missed while you were away. Somewhere in there is the report Mordin and I filed from Z'ha'dum, which, to save you the trouble of reading it, I can tell you now amounted, like all the other Z'ha'dum reports, to a small pile of nothing much. (You may notice that Mordin is referred to as "Dr. Solus" throughout; that was mainly an attempt to head off the inevitable confusion in the Records Office, since one of the members of the Icarus expedition was a 3WA operative named John Morden.)

Here are a few items of more personal news you won't find in the official reports of events momentous and historic on a galactic scale:

The large-scale Acclimation Project test scheduled for August went very well, with less than ten percent of the experimental group becoming ill and most of them recovering without needing heroic medical measures. There were no deaths, which is good on many levels. Most of the participants have already volunteered for the next test, which Mordin plans to run for twice as long and start in the spring. It's too early yet to add the wild card of winter conditions into the mix.

Tali'Zorah's reign of terror aboard Hekademos is nearly at an end; barring unforeseen (and frankly improbable) developments, she will graduate at the top of her class - technically, the top of the class before hers - in February. Once that's accomplished, there will be nothing to prevent her embarking on her Pilgrimage. She'll be even younger than I was when I began mine.

Your new apprentice sounds very interesting indeed. You do have the oddest habit of picking up strays when you're trying to be alone... :)

More seriously, I'm glad you're feeling able to face the galaxy again, and that you're making a sincere effort, at long last, to learn to delegate. I know I'm hardly one to talk, given my track record, but that same record gives me the weight of experience to tell you this - burying yourself in work only helps for so long. Eventually, as you've discovered, you have to turn a valve somewhere and let the system decompress.

If ever you find you're unable to do that for yourself, you know you can always call on me to help. I know you needed space to figure out what to do next, and I respected that - but now that you're back, you don't have face the universe alone.

Not as long as I'm here.

Love,
-Tali


2410

From: "Tali'Shukra vas Venachar" <tali.shukra!venachar.navy.qu>
Return-Path: <tali.shukra!pt2401.venachar.navy.qu>
Subject: A new adventure
To: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Date: Sat Feb 20 2410 12:43:12 -0000 (GST)

Dear Benjamin,

As you see, my situation has changed again - in an unexpected direction this time. The Admiralty has given me command of the Venachar, one of the Flotilla's Idenna-class long-endurance cruisers. She's a ship designed and built to travel great distances and stay out for months or even years at a time without a support squadron - a rarity among quarian vessels. They were originally outfitted before the discovery of Halo with an eye toward scouting the galaxy for a world to colonize, then sidelined when the debate over whether to seek such a world deadlocked the Conclave. Since then they've just been loafing around on Formation patrol.

The fleet's top engineers have spent the last three months refitting the Venachar, returning her to the configuration in which she was intended to roam far from the Flotilla looking for a homeworld, but now her mission is slightly different. With her, Tangent and I are going in search of the other Installations - the other Halos. We've deciphered enough of the Cartographer's data to know, or at least strongly believe, that there should be six of them, of which at least one other should be somewhere in this spiral arm of the galaxy.

I know that's not much to go on, and it's beyond a needle-in-a-haystack search, but there are a few clues for us to go on. We'll begin our search assuming that the other Installations are in similar systems, parked in similar orbital positions near relatively massive bodies. That much we know about at least one other, Installation 04, based on the Collier-Duke report. We also know 04 is probably somewhere coreward of the Zebulon sector. If we can find it, its Cartographer may yield more helpful information than 05's, and searching along similar parameters may lead us to others, if there are any to be found.

Before we leave Scandia, though, I'm going to make certain Tali'Zorah is fully prepared for her pilgrimage. You and I have both known for years what destination she would choose, and chosen it she has. Unless the galaxy comes to an abrupt end before then, she will graduate from Hekademos next week, and she's already making ready to depart. Her father is being surprisingly calm about the whole thing, though he, too, knows full well where she plans to go. It appears he's resigned himself to it.

Look for her in the first week of March; she's going to make every effort to be away in time to attend Corwin and Utena's wedding. Sadly, I won't be able to go, since by the time it happens I'll be on the other side of the Federation - but I'm sure they, of all people, will understand the importance of the mission that calls me away.

The mission is open-ended, but I expect to be at it for at least two years. The ship doesn't have a subether relay, just a hyperwave array, so contact with the inner sectors may be a bit sporadic, but I'll keep in touch as I can.

Until I see you again, Benjamin, be well. Stay alive.

Love,
- Tali

From: "Benjamin D. Hutchins" <gryphon!ipo.zc>
Return-Path: <gryphon!tr808.b5.ipo.zc>
Subject: Re: A new adventure
To: <tali.shukra!venachar.navy.qu>
Date: Sat Feb 20 2410 11:32:19 -0000 (GST)

Dear Tali,

That sounds like an exciting way to spend a couple of years. Congratulations! What will Mordin do without you?

You're right about Corwin and Utena understanding, but we'll all miss you. I'm sure everyone will be thrilled to see Tali'Zorah, though. Even the Duelists who haven't met her have heard all about her by now.

Be careful out there. If you run into anything your ship can't handle, don't hesitate to call. In fact... hmm. Let me see if I can arrange a more reliable bit of comm gear for you. It's long past time anyway.

M'bi f,
--G.

Correspondence - A Mini-Serial in Three Parts by Benjamin D. Hutchins
With Philip J. Moyer and Geoff Depew
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
2010 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited


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