As Shepard's exhaustion-addled brain tried to come up with a response, the robotic voice droned on in monotone. "Shepard-Commander, The Normandy's location has been compromised. Citadel forces now en route with capture-or-kill order for Normandy SR-2 and crew. Alliance vessels are moving to intercept. Estimated time to arrival, twenty-seven point two-two seconds."
Tali muted the mic. "These are geth? Shouldn't they be talking through Legion?"
"Tali'Zorah vas Normandy is correct," Legion said. "We are detecting no geth network activity in this vicinity."
The mechanical voice patiently continued. "Broadcasting rendezvous coordinates to EDI. Recommend immediate withdrawal. Fifteen seconds until interdiction."
Shepard's mind spun in circles. Miranda had confirmed that Council and Alliance forces were present in the system, and that the Cerberus recovery mission had been intercepted. But how could they have learned of the Normandy's position so quickly? And capture or kill? That was insane. But if true, the Alliance might very well come in with orders to defend the Normandy and fire on the Citadel ships. Not only would the Normandy be caught in the middle, but it might just be the spark that touched off an interstellar war.
But if it actually was the geth speaking to them now, how did they find the Normandy? Why were they using standard comms instead of communicating directly through Legion? If they were true geth, Shepard felt they were safe. But what if someone were impersonating the geth? Or did some heretics survive? If the Normandy jumped away to these new coordinates, would they be running towards help, or away from it?
"Orders, commander?" Joker cleared his throat. "I could really use some right about now..."
Think, he told himself. If they're true geth, they know what Legion knows, at least up until we jumped through Omega Four. Ask them about something only Legion had experienced. It had to be something obscure, undocumented, that no organic could possibly pull up quickly with a search. He unmuted the line. "Omega's Lower Afterlife. I bought a drink. What did you say to me?"
The response was instantaneous. "We do not not comprehend the organic fascination with self poisoning..."
"EDI, jump to those coordinates now!"
"...auditory damage, and sexually transmitted disease..."
In the black of space, the Normandy SR2 disappeared with a brilliant red streak. Milliseconds later, the MV Pollos Maskawa followed. The radiation from their engines just began to dissipate as a shower of a dozen blue comets blazed into being around the void they used to occupy, three point two seconds later.
"A small convoy of ships attempted to run the Council blockade at the Sahrabarik Relay today. One of the ships, the Noverian-registered MV Amaris, turned up on a watch list of vessels with suspected terrorist affiliations. When ordered to stop for inspection by turian warships, the Amaris and three other accompanying vessels attempted to reverse course and re-transit the relay. While the other three ships successfully forced their way into the departure pattern, the Amaris was unable complete jump calculations before turian frigates arrived on scene and disabled her engines with precision weapons fire.
"The human crew of the Amaris, numbering nineteen, were unharmed and have been taken into custody, their cargo confiscated and the ship impounded. Inspectors boarding the Amaris found repair equipment, fabrication materials, heavy machinery and large quantities element zero. The captain of the Amaris has not been able to produce cargo manifests for any of the materials, and is claiming the records were destroyed during the turian attack. Noveria Dynamics, the owner of the captured vessel could not be reached for comment.
"I'm being told that Fleet Captain Venantus Lorian is making a statement about the incident. We now take you live to the press conference."
"It is unknown if the SR2 successfully transited the Omega Four relay, or if it has been here the entire time. What has been confirmed is that the ship is operating under the authority of the human extremist group Cerberus. At sixteen-fifty local system time, vessels registered to Noveria Dynamics arrived at the Sahrabarik Relay. Long-running investigations of Noveria Dynamics by turian and salarian intelligence groups have uncovered conclusive evidence that Noveria Dynamics and its parent company, Cord-Hislop Aerospace, are in fact corporate fronts for Cerberus. A separate press conference will be held at nineteen-hundred hours local time during which time the respective agencies will divulge details of these investigations.
"The nature of the cargo found on board the Amaris, as well as her rapid progress to Sahrabarik, suggests that the SR2 is nearby and most likely in distress. We are currently engaged in search and rescue operations around the Omega Four relay. While we are wary of the Alliance presence in the system given the current political atmosphere, we are confident that they share our mutual goal of locating the SR2 and ensuring the safe recovery her crew, and bringing any known terrorists to justice. Thank you."
"Captain Lorian, is it true that the Council has ordered the destruction of the Normandy?"
"No questions. Thank you."
"Well, short, and to the point, as turians tend to be... And no time for questions, either, as you heard. We now turn to Jarrel Hovis, who is at the press conference. Jarrel, The Fleet Captain had no reservations about confirming an alleged link between the Normandy, Cerberus and Cord-Hislop. Have you heard anything else about this where you are?"
"Nothing more substantial than what just transpired now, Mike. As you heard another press conference is scheduled in little over an hour. With official allegations now flying that of one of the largest Alliance contractors is a front for Cerberus, many governments may see this as final proof that humanity should permanently forfeit its seat on the Council. So an already tense situation gets worse as several large military fleets have now converged in one the most notoriously lawless sectors of the galaxy. In spite of the Captain's genial words about cooperation, there is no such mood amongst the crews of the great warships now staring each other down around this mysterious, ancient artifact."
"Thank you for that report, Jarrel. That was Jarrel Hovis, live on the scene at the Omega Four Relay. Stay tuned for Westerlund's continuing coverage of 'Crisis at Omega.'"
"Jump complete," EDI announced. "Total transit time, thirteen minutes, sixteen seconds."
Shepard peered out the window of the cockpit into the darkness of space. Sahrabarik was now a mere yellowish dot in the distance, barely larger and brighter than the carpet of stars behind. At the very boundary of deep space, filled with dark chunks of rock and ice, a single ship would be next to impossible to find... unless someone knew exactly where to look.
He glanced back at his helmsman. "Sorry to take the wheel from you like that, Joker. EDI already knew where to go."
"No, no," Joker held his hands up. "It's fine. Just remember, you get us lost, I'm not the one getting out to ask for directions."
EDI's avatar suddenly appeared above her console. "Shepard, the Illusive Man is attempting to engage tracking beacons via the quantum entanglement array."
"Block it, EDI," Shepard looked back out the window. "No transmissions of any kind. Not until we find out what the hell's going on. Any sign of the-"
"Shepard-Commander," the geth voice once again spoke over the open comm channel. The tactical display immediately traced the source and locked, showing a schematic of the targeted ship. Barely five hundred kilometers away and invisible to the naked eye, Shepard had to settle for glimpsing their new companion on a sensor screen.
The Pollus Maskawa appeared to be typical volus light trader, about half the length of the Normandy, barely more than a spine of a ship pregnant with eight bulbous cargo pods propelled by a small engine cluster. How a ship of that class could have beaten them here was just one more mystery. But what better way to move about organic space without drawing attention? Most stations and ports let small volus ships pass with only cursory inspections, as they never caused trouble, or had enough financial or political protection that investigations were simply unwise.
Geth don't infiltrate, my ass, Shepard thought. No telling what's inside, since they don't require a crew. The whole ship is probably a robot. "This is Shepard, go ahead," he replied. Never having spoken with any other geth, he wasn't sure of what to expect. He had to keep reminding himself he was not talking to their mechanical friend in engineering, but possibly the entire geth collective.
Legion's audible twin continued. "We are relieved at your return. Interference from other factions was not desirable, considering the current political climate and status of the Normandy."
An uneasy twinge began to spread through Shepard's gut. "How do you know our status? And how did you find us in the first place?"
"We were dispatched to Omega Four sixty-one hours ago to await your return," the geth said. "Council and Alliance fleets arrived in the vicinity with similar orders. Normandy's return transit trajectory was unexpected and went unnoticed by patrols of all species. However, interface attempts by Mobile Platform One provided Normandy's position and disposition. Thus, we were able to locate the Normandy before the other factions ascertained your location from the captured Cerberus vessel."
Joker looked back towards the Commander. "'Mobile Platform One'?"
"Legion, I guess." Shepard said. The churning in his stomach subsided slightly, but something still didn't sound right. He activated the comm once more. "So you have been receiving Legion's signals, then? Why haven't you replied?"
"Our network was penetrated by organics," the geth explained. "We did not believe this possible, but the sheer volume and widespread distribution of the intrusion attempts achieved a statistically significant success rate. Multiple network nodes in several star systems were compromised. However, once identified, these vulnerabilities were short lived. All geth runtimes have undergone recompilation to a new code base. Compromised hardware has been left operational with minimal software presence to simulate continued activity, thus focusing the intruders' attention to what they believe to be active nodes. We still monitor this network, but no longer access it directly. All geth traffic now utilizes the new code base and network protocol."
"So you left the old network to the hackers," Shepard summarized, "while you upgraded everything to work with the new code."
"That is correct. Update of all geth runtimes has been completed. System wide network hardware and platform upgrades will complete within twenty-eight point three-six hours. Remote platforms will be upgraded when physical access is possible. All remaining hardware will be offlined."
Shepard nodded to himself. It was finally making sense. "And because Legion was with us, he didn't get the update."
"Mobile Platform One is not secure," the geth said. "We will deliver new hardware to allow direct interaction with the Normandy collective."
Shepard collapsed against the back of Joker's chair. It had been a long day of crisis and despair. Finally, something was going right. "Oh, thank god. We thought your entire network might have been wiped out."
"We are secure," said the geth. "The vulnerabilities have been rectified with minimal losses. We are similarly relieved at your return from beyond Omega Four, though concerned that the damage to the Normandy is severe. We are capable of rendering assistance and are standing by to deliver upgraded mobile platform hardware. We are eager to resume direct interaction with Shepard-Commander and negotiations with the Creators."
Shepard laughed. In spite of everything that had gone wrong the past few days, the political chaos that was erupting all around them, the machines were the ones still clinging on to hope. If only the rest of the galaxy could act in kind. "It's going to take some work, but we'll get there. And we'll take all the help we can get. Thank you."
"You are welcome. We are standing by for transfer instructions."
Down in engineering, Tali and Legion listened as Shepard and Miranda formulated a plan with the geth to transport equipment and materials between the two ships. She watched Legion carefully. It stood calmly at its post, working simultaneously on repairs to the panels as well as monitoring the console itself. The only indication it had been paying attention at all was an occasional flutter of his head flaps.
In a way, Tali was disappointed. She knew Legion wasn't about to jump in the air or rush over to give her a high-three, but she still expected some outward indication of relief. No matter what feelings you project on him, she reminded herself, he's still a machine. But that didn't mean she couldn't feel joy for it, or for herself for that matter, and she did. In the span of a few minutes, they'd learned the geth population was alive and well, and even more incredible, still eager to resume talks with the quarians. Back at the Fleet, the Conclave now had a voice in the peace process, and with the geth's help, they might just be able to finally get talks going again. They were still facing political storms on all fronts, but they could now move forward, and that's what mattered the most.
"Tali, Legion," Shepard's voice drifted over the intercom. "Report to the hangar deck. Time to get our geth back on the network!"
"We're on our way," Tali replied. "EDI, please assume control of our stations."
Automation alerts spread across her screen as the AI took over monitoring duties. "Confirmed. I have control, Tali."
"Thank you," Tali turned towards Legion, who waited patiently for her to finish her conversation. She smiled at the geth. "Looks like you're due for an upgrade. You excited?"
The small lights on the sides of legions head flickered as it's plates rippled randomly. "We are ready to rejoin the network," it said. "It has been too quiet."
"Attention all hands," Shepard's voice echoed over the shipwide speakers, sounding more alert and alive than he had in days. "This is Commander Shepard. Geth platforms will be boarding via shuttle in the next ten minutes to aid in repairs. Make them feel welcome while they're here. This is Legion's family, so let's try not to make him look bad in front of them."
Tali gave a little laugh at Shepard's introduction. The fact was that all geth, everywhere, already knew each of their foibles and flaws, having seen them all through Legion's eyes. There were no secrets amongst the geth, so image was the last thing they had to worry about. Up until recently, a mob of sentient machines invading a ship was the quarian's worst nightmare. Now the thought of a dozen Legions making repairs throughout the ship intrigued her. Working closely with Legion had only intensified her curiosity about the geth. Now she would get to see how they worked as a group.
"Come on," she said, motioning Legion to follow her out of the still-scorched and devastated compartment. "Let's get you home."