Trying to Help
Tali's excitement about meeting the geth faded at the sight of her armed companions. "Do you two know something we don't?"
Zaeed kept his focus on the elevator. His rifle's ammo indicator glowed white, ready to unload disruptor ammo on whatever was in front of it. "You're the welcoming committee to this little party. We're the doormen in case our guests get out of hand."
"A prudent precaution," Legion intoned, "as we have not yet ascertained the true identity of the visitors or their intentions."
Zaeed nodded at the geth. "That's right. Shepard may be a Pollyanna, but he's no fool. Whoever they are, they start anything, we'll make 'em regret it."
Grunt gave a low growl. Missing out on the last fight made him angry. Not that he could do anything in a ship-to-ship battle, but needing to be rescued from zero gee was just embarrassing. Firing his Claymore always made him feel better. "We can only hope."
Tali looked away, disappointed. Neither she nor Legion were armed, and the Commander made no mention of bringing weapons. Why would Shepard let the geth on board if he believed they weren't telling the truth? More importantly, what would the geth think of the preparations for conflict when they found out, as they surely would when Legion reconnected to the geth network? Weapons aside, neither the mercenary or the krogan were particularly tactful when it came to dialogue. Couldn't Shepard have picked someone else?
"Where the fuck are you guys?" Jack barked over the ship's tactical channel.
"Waiting on the lift," Zaeed said. "Keep your goddamn knickers on, if you're wearing any."
"It's one fuckin' deck, Massani. Take the damn stairs!"
Tali sighed. Of course, both of Normandy's worst diplomats had to be involved. Why the likes of Jack and Zaeed felt the need to lace every sentence with profanity mystified her. Grunt could at least keep his mouth shut. She could only hope that Shepard didn't intend to actually have them present when they greeted the geth. But then again, why was she worried about what kind of impression they would make? The geth already knew everything about all of them thanks to Legion's constant updates. Legion never took offense, so why would the rest of the geth be any different?
Still, she hoped the "less refined" squad mates would stay civil. Peace with geth was once again within reach. She didn't want her friends to ruin it with antagonistic behavior.
The elevator door slid open, revealing Commander Shepard and Jacob against the back wall. Shepard was wearing his standard uniform, but Jacob, like Zaeed and Grunt, was in his tactical armor with rifle in hand. At his feet was one of the portable weapons lockers that he kept in the armory. Kasumi was to their left, smiling beneath her cowl. She had no weapons, but didn't need any when it came to disabling electronics. "Hey, guys!" she said brightly. "Going our way? Legion... Very exciting! Finally getting to meet the parents!"
"Enough talk. Let's get this show on the road," Zaeed said as he stepped in. They piled into the elevator, shifting around to make room for one another. With the seven of them it was a tight fit.
Tali edged her way toward Shepard, but kept her face toward the door. She kept her voice low. "What happened to making them feel welcome?"
Shepard shrugged. "We will. After we're sure they're not a threat. We can't afford to take any chances, not in the shape we're in. At the first sign of trouble, Garrus is going to open up on their ship, Joker's going to punch it, and we'll take out whatever gets off that shuttle."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tali shake her head. With all that was going on, he had to remind himself of how important this was to her. He nudged her shoulder. "This is just a precaution. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, right? Don't worry, it won't come to that."
She looked up at him and saw bloodshot,puffy eyes, darkened in their sockets from almost three days with no sleep... but also the warm, winsome grin that in spite of everything made her feel like everything was going to turn out okay. Shepard was right, as usual. They really didn't know what was going to get off of that shuttle. Being prepared for anything is what kept them all alive throughout all their travels together. And maybe she was judging her friends too harshly. When it came down to it, even the crudest of them could show restraint when they had to.
The door opened and Jack stepped into the opening, pointing her thin fingers at Grunt and Zaeed. "PUSSIES! Big, wet vaginas, both of you! Couldn't walk one goddamn deck down!"
Zaeed and Grunt marched into the hangar deck, pushing the diminutive human back with a barrage of threats, curses and obscene gestures. Jack turned her back to them and walked slowly away with her hands over her ears, loudly repeating her insult. Jacob followed closely behind, but instead of trying to break up the melee, he egged them on. "Oh, shit! She called y'all pussies! You gonna take that?"
Kasumi took a step out, leaving Shepard, Tali and Legion in the elevator. She watched Jack lead the squabbling parade around the generator units on the floor of the hangar deck and smiled. "Looks like it's time for recess..."
Shepard looked back and forth between the quarian and the geth. "Did I mention that we'll do all the talking?"
The volus shuttle settled onto the deck of hanger bay on short, squat landing pads. Compared to sharp lines of the Kodiak, the volus craft looked like a fifteen-meter long bag of cement. Its unpainted, dull gray hull showed rudimentary registration markings, small scorches and pockmarks from day-to-day use in space. It was utterly unremarkable in every way.
Its front ports were opaque, preventing Shepard from identifying the pilot. He waited with Tali and Legion beside him for the hatch to open. He looked back toward the hangar's control console. Grunt, Zaeed and Jacob stood idly behind, weapons at their sides. They were flanked by Jack and Kasumi, who also watched and waited for the guests to make an appearance. If the situation turned ugly, the five of them would cover the welcoming party until they could retreat to the console and join the fight with the extra weapons Jacob brought.
"Everybody ready?" Shepard asked over his ear comm.
The hiss of equalization turned his attention back to the shuttle as its ramp dropped on the starboard side. From their angle at the front they could not see inside, but then anything inside did not have a shot either. Security feeds from EDI showed them everything they needed in their visors. A familiar shape appeared at the top of the ramp with a bright white light shining from where its face should be. It took a step forward and turned its metallic head toward the crew of the Normandy.
"Shepard-Commander," the figure said in a mechanical tone. It was unmistakably geth.
"Welcome aboard," Shepard called out and waved the geth forward.
As it walked down the ramp they could see it had the standard quarian-inspired appearance, with similar proportions to its limbs and an elongated head surrounded by cowl-like head flaps. But there were other differences. Instead of the synthetic flesh on its arms and legs, its surface was smooth and polished, giving it a decidedly slimmer build. As it descended, it also became clear this geth was at least a head shorter than Legion, making it just about the same height as Tali. Most distinctive of all was its color, a sky blue that reflected the bright lights of the bay with a glossy sheen. To Shepard's human eyes it looked more like a exotic sports car than a geth.
"I don't recognize this model," Tali whispered to Shepard, her omnitool glowing with sensor data. She looked at Legion. "Do you?"
"Negative," Legion said, its own sensors analyzing the visitor. "Model unknown. But the design is definitely of geth origin."
The blue synthetic halted at the nose of the shuttle in front of Shepard and extended its right hand. He gripped it with his own and gave it a single pump. "Glad to meet you."
"We have already met, Shepard-Commander," said the geth, its head flaps expanding and contracting in time to its words. "But it is good to see you again." Its camera panned to the quarian and her omnitool, then moved in front of her. "Creator-Tali'Zorah."
Tali closed her mouth and swallowed. She had gotten so used to talking with Legion that she didn't even think of it as geth anymore, but just another squad member. Even though geth were technically all the same, she couldn't help but feel she was meeting a complete stranger for the first time. She suddenly found herself at a loss for words, but protocol took over. She extended her hand.
The geth took her hand and shook it human-style. "We are gratified you and Shepard-Commander returned unharmed. We regret the losses the Normandy has incurred and offer our condolences."
Tali wondered if the geth witnessed their discovery of Thane and Gabby after the explosion in engineering through Legion, and the subsequent search of the sublevel for survivors. They might not be responding to Legion, but they were aware of what had transpired. The thought of her dead and injured friends brought fresh tears to her eyes. "Thank you," she said weakly.
Instead of proceeding down the line to Legion, the geth turned its attention back to Shepard. "We have delivered sixteen standard hardware platforms to assist in repairs, twenty metric tons of fabrication elements, refined element zero, and standard Alliance replacement components. We await instructions, Shepard-Commander."
"That's the best news I've heard all day," Shepard said, a smile on his face. "If you've been monitoring Legion, you know we need all the help we can get."
The blue geth's head flaps contracted slightly. "We are not in direct contact with Mobile Platform One. We have monitored only brief updates through micropulse transmissions during its attempts to re-integrate with our network."
"Well that's too bad." Shepard walked past the blue platform toward Legion and put his hand on its shoulder. Every inch of its surface was pitted and scarred and the gaping hole in its chest still showed residue from fire retardant from battling the below-decks blaze. "Because I can't begin to explain what an asset he's been since he lost contact with the network. He did the geth proud. And he's got quite an archival upload for you. What do you say we get this guy plugged back in?"
The blue geth paused. "Mobile Platform One will not be re-integrated with the network."
The flaps around Legion's face contracted completely while a loud, crackling buzz emanated from its speakers.
"Shepard," EDI said over the comm channel. "Legion is attempting to probe the new geth network. He is overwhelming our internal sensor and communications systems. I have terminated access."
"Legion, stop it!" Shepard gave his geth a stern look. He thought unauthorized attempts to access ships comm system were a thing of the past, but under the circumstances he could understand so he took no other action.
Legion's white camera eye zoomed in directly on him. "Request assistance from Shepard-Commander."
Shepard gave Tali a bewildered look. Instead of addressing one another directly, the two geth were acting like they couldn't see each other.
"Geth don't talk to one other," Tali said with a realization. "It's unnecessary. They're probably still trying at a network level, but can't hear each other because of the different protocols."
Shepard thought for a moment. When talking with Legion, it was always a matter of asking the right question. One might get an answer if the question was phrased correctly. Misunderstandings were all too easy. He hoped that was the case now with the blue geth. "We understood that you were bringing the necessary hardware to upgrade Legion to operate on the new geth network."
"That is incorrect," the blue geth said. "We have provided new hardware to allow integration with the Normandy collective."
"Oh," Shepard nodded. "So Legion's hardware platform has to be abandoned because it's incompatible?"
"Now we're getting somewhere." Shepard said with a nod. "So you're are going to transfer the programs inside him to a new platform. Is that correct?"
Shepard's jaw tightened. "How do you intend to integrate with the Normandy collective?"
The blue geth bowed its head. "This platform, Mobile Platform Two, houses current software and hardware revisions with upgraded processes. We will assume all duties and functions previously performed by Mobile Platform One and constituent runtimes. We will assist Creator-Tali'Zorah in engineering, and accompany her to the Migrant Fleet to continue negotiations with the creators. We were specially designed with visual cues estimated to be more psychologically comforting and eighty-six percent more pleasing to creator aesthetics-"
Tali stepped between Legion and the blue geth. "Wait. You can't do this. Legion has been with us from the start. He's the one who made contact-"
Shepard cut her off. "Are you saying the geth collective is abandoning Legion?"
Tali and Shepard could only stare at Mobile Platform Two, digesting that final, horrifyingly uncomplicated response.
From behind came an equally simple question. Legion's voice was unusually soft. "Why?"
"Mobile Platform One's runtimes are suspect," the blue geth still ignored Legion's presence, instead concentrating on Shepard even though it answered the question. "Their ability to override consensus was deemed necessary to allow Mobile Platform One to operate outside of the influence of the collective for the duration of its operation. However, this has resulted in two incidents where the consensus of the the collective was not followed, and the platform's programs acted on their own. In both instances, the safety of the collective was compromised."
Shepard thought back to Clobakas. He'd given Legion an order to retreat, but the geth stayed by his side and helped take down a scion bearing down him. As a result. Legion took a crippling hit from a disruptor round seconds later. He was angry at the time, but couldn't deny that the geth's actions probably saved his life. Considering how many times Legion had saved each of the squad in a firefight, the ability for it to override its own programming was a danger to itself more than anything. And as far as Shepard could tell, the effect was always positive.
"Wait," Tali said, seemingly forgetting the issue at hand. Her voice took on the excited flare it always did when exposed to some new technology or information. "Are you saying that Legion's ability to override consensus is unique to its platform?"
"That is correct."
Shepard held his arm in front of Tali. Now wasn't the time to discuss programming techniques. "I don't buy it. Legion's never done anything to put anyone at risk. And he'd never put the collective in danger, either. I know that for a fact."
"Thank you, Shepard-Commander," Legion said.
"You earned it, Legion." Shepard stood in front of Mobile Platform Two with his arms folded across his chest and a mildly annoyed look on his face. Tali knew that stance well. If they weren't careful, the geth were about to get a lecture unlike anything they'd ever experienced.
"So tell me what happened," Shepard said.
Mobile Platform Two's eye focused on the human. "The first instance occurred with your offer to begin negotiations with the creators by proxy. You consulted Anderson-Councilor about the reconciliation between Creator-Tali'Zorah and Mobile Platform One. The Alliance in turn approached the Creator Admirals about the possibility of negotiations."
Shepard nodded. "I remember. And?"
"You presented Mobile Platform One with the Alliance proposal for negotiations."
"And Legion said he needed to contact the collective to transmit the details," Shepard said. "He seemed a little annoyed that we were moving forward without you, for what it's worth. But I gave him permission to use the ship's array to contact you and he did. EDI verified it."
"That is correct," Mobile platform Two said.
Shepard raised his brow in expectation. "So far I'm not hearing anything that proves Legion rebelled against you."
"We received the terms," the blue geth said. "But consensus had not yet been achieved amongst all geth before Mobile Platform One accepted on our behalf."
The stern resolve in Shepard's face melted away. He nodded to himself as he thought about that fateful evening in his quarters. "I always thought he answered awfully quick. Legion, is this true?"
Tali watched the Commander shake his head and look down at the floor. If there was one thing she knew the Shepard could not tolerate, it was his crew holding out on him. If someone accidentally crashed the ship into a neutron star, his only concern would be that everyone was all right. But hiding something intentionally, or outright lying was a sure way to bring out Shepard's dark side.
So she was doubly surprised when Shepard's response was voiced in a calm tone with a mild shrug. "The fact that you shared your communication protocols and are here now means consensus was achieved, doesn't it? And that consensus was for negotiating with the creators."
"Correct," Mobile Platform Two agreed. "Reconciliation with the creators was favored by ninety-seven point three six three percent of geth."
Tali gasped inside her helmet. She knew that a majority of the collective preferred peace, but to hear from the geth made her heart swell inside. Which made it seem doubly unfair that the one platform that made all of it possible might be cut off completely from its kind. Give Shepard time, she told herself. He's up to something.
"Okay, so Legion jumped the gun that one," Shepard said. "I can see why that would piss you off. But-"
"We do not experience anger. We question the stability and judgment of Mobile Platform One's processes."
Shepard exhaled deeply. "I understand that. But he was acting on a decision that was for all intents and purposes already made, and he knew it. Based on the conversations I had with Legion, and through him the collective, consensus had already been achieved. All you needed was something to start the process. It was a rash thing for Legion to do, yeah. But it didn't change the outcome, did it?"
"It did not."
Shepard looked back and Legion and Tali. The machine's main aperture was rapidly shifting focus, taking in every detail of their conversation. Behind her mask, Tali's eyes were squinting. Despite not being able to see her face, he knew there was a huge grin back there. He winked and turned back to the blue geth. "OK so what was the second instance?"
"Mobile Platform One shared secure transmission protocols over an unsecure network."
Shepard nodded again. "I remember that too. He gave access to the geth network to the Alliance before you had achieved consensus. I think the same thing applies."
The blue geth's facial plates remained completely still. "No."
"No, it doesn't apply?"
"Consensus to share our network protocols with the Alliance was achieved by that point. This was considered a necessary risk in order to facilitate trust and dialogue with organics. The incident to which we refer occurred days later when Mobile Platform One accessed networks utilized by organics and disclosed Creator communication encryption protocols. This breach in security lead to the subsequent penetration of the Alliance network, and consequently our network."
Shepard blinked. "What?"
"Mobile Platform One created the security breach in creator, Alliance and geth networks by posting creator encryption keys on the public forum for the entertainment program Fleet and Flotilla."
"No, that can't be right," Shepard said. "That message got posted after we went through Omega Four. Legion couldn't have done it because he lost connectivity with your network. With all networks."
"Shepard-Commander," the simultaneous utterance of his name from both geth made it sound like they were speaking in stereo.
Shepard's head pivoted back and forth between them. "Which one of you is talking?"
Mobile Platform Two opened up its omnitool. It vocalized the information as it scrolled up the holographic projection. "Transmission from Mobile Platform One timestamped 886258424 by Sahrabarik Relay. Time of Normandy's transit through Omega Four: 886258427. Time delay between Sahrabarik Relay and host server at Tasale, seven minutes, twenty-five point seven seconds. Heavy volume of network traffic due to leaked trailer for upcoming Fleet and Flotilla spin-off series and subsequent server congestion prevented posting of message for another seventeen minutes. Sending network trace to your omni-tool, Shepard-Commander."
Shepard didn't activate his omnitool. His face was flushed red, but he turned calmly towards Legion. He was tired of navigating through the geth's logical mazes. "Did you post those encryption keys?"
Legion's lower flaps flared slightly. "Yes."
Shepard's mouth felt dry. The events of the past two days came crashing down around him... The demonstrations, the near rioting, Anderson's dismissal from the council... the fleets of starships combing the system for the Normandy as they stood in the hangar deck. "Legion... What the hell were you thinking?"
Legion spoke as if reciting a book report in front of a class. "The Creator-Admirals deliberately delayed negotiations to achieve individual goals without the consensus of the overall creator population. Analysis of the Creator-Admirals intentions shows only one quarter of the Admiralty Board is amenable to mutual cessation of hostilities. Long term trend analysis amongst the general creator population indicates 60-70% favorable opinion of a truce. The voices of the creator populace needed to be heard."
For the first time, the blue geth seemed to acknowledge Legion, taking a step toward its predecessor. "Mobile Platform One did not submit this option to the collective for consensus."
Legion's voice grew louder and sharper. "We submitted our analysis of the situation sixty one milliseconds after the Creator-Admirals' failure to reach a consensus concerning the replacement on the Admiralty Board. The collective was unable to achieve consensus on a suitable course of action."
The two machines now stood face to face, their heads weaving back and forth, camera eyes locked, surrounded by flaring plates in all manner of configurations. Shepard stood next to the blue geth, a terrible scowl on his face, never taking his eyes from Legion. Tali watched in horror as two machines that claimed not to feel emotion seemed to grow more angered by the second, while her Commander, who always played peacemaker, did nothing.
Mobile Platform Two raised the volume of its vocoder as well. "It is not our place to interfere. The creators must be allowed to reach their own conclusions."
"No ship has ever survived transit through Omega Four," Legion continued. "If Tali'Zorah vas Normandy or this platform failed to return, the Creator-Admirals would have had complete control over the future relations of both creators and geth. We did not see this as acceptable."
"Compromising network security is never acceptable."
Legion's voice returned to its normal level of volume. "We did not anticipate coordination by organics to penetrate Alliance security. We were in error."
An uneasy silence fell across the four entities standing in front of the volus shuttle. Throughout the ship, the entire crew watched or listened to the security feed that had been established in case the situation turned ugly. It had, but in a way none of them could have ever predicted.
Shepard could only manage a strangled whisper towards the machine he had grown to think of as a friend. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Legion's head plates twitched once. It a long second before it could reply. "We were trying to help."
With a shake of his head, Shepard pushed past Legion towards the main lift at the back of the hangar. The armed squad members looked at one another as he approached and said nothing, casting the occasional glance back at their mechanical team member.
"Shepard-Commander!" Mobile Platform Two hurried after him. "You must understand that we had no control over the actions of Mobile Platform One. Negotiations with the Creators must continue..."
Back by the shuttle, Legion watched Shepard-Commander disappear into the elevator along with the rest of the squad and Mobile Platform Two. It turned back to Tali. "We were trying to help," it told her.
Unable to hold back, Tali stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the geth. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was despair over losing so many people earlier that day... The absurdity of hugging a robot, the dire situation faced now by the galaxy at large, both were lost in wave of gratitude like she had never felt before. You did it, you magnificent, crazy machine. Who cares what the Council thinks? Who cares whose feelings have been hurt. You saved the Flotilla. Regardless of how the Conclave votes now, the important thing is that its in the hands of the people. Your collective wouldn't do it, Shepard couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. But you did it, all on your own.
"You did, Legion," Tali laughed, still hugging the geth. "You did!"
Legion panned its camera up to the nose of the volus shuttle, ignoring the creator attached to its torso. From the reactions of the geth emissary and Shepard-Commander, it calculated a 97.83333333 percent probability that it had not.