Tali's eyes fluttered open as a gentle cascade of bells rang in her earpiece and her faceplate gradually returned to its normal opacity from pitch black, allowing her eyes to adjust to the light. Part of being quarian was the ability to sleep anytime, anywhere. In the Fleet, that meant in vent shafts, on top of cargo modules, crammed inside storage lockers if one was available, wherever one could. Being able to cut off most external stimuli was a tremendous help.
On the Normandy, though, she had her own bed in her own room. By quarian standards, she lived like a queen. But even sleeping in a chair like the one in which she was currently curled up was considered luxury.
The chime that awakened her was not a standard timed alarm signaling the beginning of her regular shift, but a custom trigger she set up to fire upon any network activity coming from the Commander's quarters. Shepard was up and active on his terminal, and would soon be on the move. She always liked to be one step ahead of him. So, accompanying the the alarm was a rendered display of all of Normandy's systems on the inside of her visor providing complete ship status.
The geth had made incredible progress in the hours she'd been asleep: propulsion, 100%. Reactor outputs: 100%. Life support, 100%. Flight controls: 100%. Cooling systems: 85%. Electrical systems: 83%. H-Cell capacity, 79%. Considering the damage done to the ship, the that last three were operational at all was a miracle.
That any of us are still alive is a miracle, she thought. If only people could be mended like machines. She shifted in her chair and tilted her head to the right. Gabby still lay on the bed adjacent, with almost every centimeter of exposed skin covered with white gauze over a thin layer of medigel. The bandages even covered her eyes and surrounded the respirator over her nose and mouth. Fortunately, Gabby had not regained consciousness the entire time Tali had been by her side. If she had, the pain for her would have been excruciating.
The rest of the med bay was quiet as well. All of the beds were still occupied with casualties from the explosion and fire, with the exception of the one closest to the door on which Doctor Chakwas slept. Unlike the others, she had been felled not by injury but sheer exhaustion after coming off of hours of surgery and tending to the wounded. She had been awake and operating when Tali arrived. Tali was glad the doctor now had some chance to recover.
"No change," Mordin whispered from her left, looking up from his patient on the next bed over upon seeing Tali stir. He walked around to where the engineer sat, pulling up Gabby's chart on his omni. "Still unconscious. Lung inflammation arrested, organ failure averted. Responding well. Prognosis good."
Tali nodded absently, watching Gabby's chest expand and deflate slowly. Images of Gabby and Ken flashed in her mind, their constant bickering and fighting, all covering a deep affection for each other that went beyond a normal friendship. What was in store for Gabby when she found out would make the physical pain mild in comparison. "Thank you, Professor."
Mordin's oversized facial features always made him seem more expressive, so the concern in his eyes was especially evident. "Sorry for Donnelly. An excellent crew member. Always liked him. Regrettable."
"She doesn't know yet," Tali said and stood. "When she comes to, let me know."
Mordin nodded. "Will call you. Tali?" He smiled warmly. "Complete recovery almost certain. Only requires time."
"I know. Thank you." Tali said and stepped gingerly around him. Shepard was undoubtedly heading to engineering for an update. She needed to get there before he did. She tiptoed past the other patients and Doctor Chakwas, who snored softly, oblivious to her passing. Beyond the infirmary's hatch, the main crew deck was empty. Most of the ship was still asleep. As she waited for the lift to arrive, she continued to scroll through repair updates logged by the geth. She wanted to be informed - but more importantly, she needed to concentrate on what could be fixed rather than what could not.
The lift door revealed Shepard leaning against the back wall, supporting himself against the rail, his head tilted back, eyes closed. His hair was pushed up oddly on one side, and from the rumpled appearance of his uniform, he still wore the same clothes as the day before. She couldn't say she looked any better. She'd rinsed in the shower and decontaminated her suit after the fire, but her fabrics were dingy and stained. Ordinarily, this would have bothered her, but now she didn't care what she looked like.
"Oh, hey," Shepard stood straight when the door opened. "Just coming to see you."
Tali stepped in and leaned against the the starboard wall. "Repairs are almost complete. We should be fully operational, minus the frame damage, in an hour."
"Good morning to you, too," Shepard said. Tali shrugged at him. The mute response from Tali made him uncomfortable. She always had something nice to say when she saw him. Looks like Garrus wasn't the only one with an axe to grind, he thought and cleared his throat. He didn't feel like going through it again his chief engineer, but knew it needed to happen. "You know Garrus dropped by before I turned in last night."
"Yeah, apparently he thought I was behaving like an ass for not standing up for Legion."
"He's usually right when it comes to things like that."
The subtle swipe caught him off guard. He expected it from Garrus. Hell, he counted on it. But Tali? That pretty much confirms who sent him to my door, Shepard thought. She and Garrus had a very subtle way of working together without ever appearing to do so, especially when one or both of them disagreed with what he was doing. Their motives were different, though. Garrus was disappointed he'd let one of the squad down. But with Tali, it was something more. She wants peace as bad as the geth do now. Everything that's happening is taking her further away from that.
When the elevator opened, he followed her into the deserted corridor. He put his hand on her shoulder as she took a step towards engineering. "Hey." She turned toward him, but didn't look at him. "I know this mess isn't Legion's fault. But we still have to clean it up."
Tali sighed and nodded. "I know."
"Once we get the Alliance and Council back on speaking terms, we'll get you and the geth to the Migrant Fleet. I promise."
"Yeah?" Tali's glowing eyes finally found Shepard's.
Shepard shrugged. "I mean, I don't know if we can smooth it over completely, but they're still willing to talk, and that's what's important, right?"
Tali's eyes softened visibly behind her mask. "I guess. But I have to ask... Why didn't you take his side?"
Shepard slumped against the wall. He felt a surge of anger at being questioned, again, about his motives and being forced to explain himself. At the same time had to remember this wasn't a random crew member who was hounding him. There was a handful of people who always deserved a straight answer. "Wasn't thinking, I guess. Fatigue? Stress. Losing Thane and Ken after taking out the collectors without a single casualty... Two more dead, six wounded." The look in Shepard's eyes conveyed more hurt than anything Tali had ever seen. "Then we finally make it back," he continued, "and everyone we've been busting our assess trying to save is at each others' throats now. And I'm apparently the reason. So I guess I was a little angry. But you're right. I should have stood up for him."
In that moment, Tali wished she could take everything back. The entire crew was past the breaking point, and Shepard was no different - except that everyone expected him to keep from falling apart. Before she could apologize, Shepard gave her a wane smile and disappeared through the hatch to engineering, on his way to fix yet another crisis he didn't create, but for which he was now responsible.
"Shepard-Commander, Creator-Tali'Zorah," Mobile Platform Two said as it turned from Tali's console to face the organics entering the compartment.
"Good morning, Platform Two," Shepard sounded as cheerful as he could muster.
"Did you successfully complete your recharge cycle?" the blue geth asked, looking between the two of them.
Shepard shrugged. "Most sleep we've had in a week. And I have to say, what you've done while we were out is impressive. I don't know how to thank you."
Tali stepped next to the geth, examining her console. As she requested, all of the geth platforms on board routed their feeds to her station. She flipped through the displays as Shepard and the blue geth talked, taking in the live video from the different sections where they worked as well as sensor data and diagnostic information. Working in coordination, the geth had done in five hours what would have taken the organic crew days to achieve.
The blue geth focused on Shepard, its polished blue flaps framing the bright light from it's main aperture. "It is our pleasure to assist. We are in debt to the Normandy Collective. Reconciliation with the creators would not be possible without your intervention. We must not waste this opportunity."
Shepard tried to smooth down his hair but was only partially successful. "Yeah, well, we've still got some work to do on that front. Before we can get you to the Migrant Fleet, we need to assist with the reconciliation between the Citadel and the Systems Alliance first."
"Acknowledged," the geth said simply.
Shepard sighed. "Don't worry. We'll get you in front of the Creator-Admirals, one way or another. That's a promise."
The geth's head flaps expanded slightly. "Shepard-Commander's veracity since first contact with Mobile Platform One is is well established. Verifiable statements have been one-hundred percent accurate."
The statement of absolute, mathematical belief in him by the geth made Shepard smile. "Good to know I've still got credibility with somebody. So, since you're going to be part of the Normandy collective, what should we call you?"
Mobile Platform Two's plates rippled. "Geth."
Shepard rubbed his eyes. Not this again, he thought. "Right. Let's save that discussion for later." He looked past the platform to Tali. "How are we looking, Chief? As soon as you give me the green light, I'm making the call."
"Looks good here," Tali said without turning around. "Other than damage to the frame, we're almost completely repaired. EDI and Joker have all the information they need to restrict high-gee maneuvers. Other than that, I'd like to make a quick visual inspection of the core but I think we're good to go."
"Good enough for me," Shepard said with a nod. He activated his comm unit. "Kelly? Go ahead and initiate contact with Alliance Command and the Citadel Council. I'll take any responses in the order they come. If you can get them both at the same time, great. Find me wherever I am, no matter what I'm doing."
"Aye, Commander," came the yeoman's reply.
"Okay," Shepard told the quarian and geth in front of him. "Next up, let's talk about Legion." He looked around engineering, noticing for the first time that the Normandy's orignal geth was not present.
"Specify," Mobile Platform Two said.
Shepard held up a hand. "Hang on, let's get him in here. EDI, have Legion report to Engineering, please."
"Legion is not active on his normal channel," EDI said.
The blue geth's flashlight eye closed to a pinpoint. "Mobile Platform One has terminated its runtimes."
"What?" Shepard scowled. "What do you mean?"
"Mobile Platform One was extraneous. The platform has powered down and its constituent runtimes are suspended. They are awaiting transmission to geth prime."
"EDI," Shepard shouted into the air. "Lock down the shuttle bay and restrict all access to the network. Now!"
"Shepard-Commander," the geth said, watching the human carefully. "Only the platform has been deactivated. The runtimes are suspended pending re-integration with the collective."
"I thought you said that wouldn't be possible?" Shepard began to pace angrily. "Where is he? Take us to him. Right now. I want to talk to him."
"The platform is in the cargo bay of the shuttle. We will take you there."
"Do it." Shepard wasn't able to look either the quarian or the geth in the face as the trio marched back to the main lift.
Tali followed wordlessly behind, trying to digest what the geth had told them. Mobile Platform One was extraneous, the blue geth said. Without connectivity to their network, the programs inside of Legion shut themselves down. Could a machine have a sense of purpose? Did Legion, cut off from the consciousness of the geth collective, decide it could not exist without them? Her thoughts were interrupted by Shepard muttering angrily to himself as the elevator descended to the hangar deck.
"Damn it," Shepard's eyes were clenched shut. "I meant to talk to them last night. I fell asleep on the goddamn couch..."
In the hangar deck, the three of them paused at the base of the shuttle's loading ramp to let one of the basic geth platforms carrying a cargo pod pass. Before they reached to top, Shepard and Tali knew they were boarding no ordinary shuttle. There was no internal light source, no crew or passenger accommodations, not a cubic centimeter of wasted space inside. Modular cargo pods filled the open space in the hull from floor to ceiling, and the only open space left was from equipment and materials that had already been transferred to the Normandy.
The light at the end of the blue geth's face focused on a waist-high, rectangular cargo pod standing by itself next to the wall. It pressed a release on the top and the front panel fell away, revealing a compact metal frame folded over itself: Legion, dark and deactivated, in a fetal position in the container.
Shepard knelt next to Legion's collapsed body. "Why did you do this?"
"The hardware platform is insecure and will be harvested for components," Mobile Platform Two explained. "As soon as we reach a location where network communication can be re-established, the resident programs and archival data will be uploaded to our network and upgraded to the new revision."
"What about the programs?" Tali asked. "Will they be loaded into a new platform?"
"Negative. They will be re-purposed and distributed throughout the network as dictated by necessity. But they will no longer operate together as a unit."
"You're killing him," Shepard said.
"The runtimes will still exist in our network. The experiences gathered by Mobile Platform One will be shared by all. Their existence is not threatened."
"But Legion will cease to exist."
"We are the same. We are all geth."
Shepard pointed a finger at Legion's right shoulder, where chipped red paint was still visible in the dim light. "Why is Mobile Platform One wearing my armor?"
Just like Legion used to do when asked this question, Mobile Platform Two's head plates rippled and contracted and it's main aperture whirled in circles.
Shepard stood up and walked slowly towards the blue geth. "I don't want to hear 'no data available.' I want an answer." He pointed to the quarian. "Why does he refer to her as Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, when the rest of you call her 'Creator-Tali'Zorah?' If you're all alike, why don't you act the same?"
The blue geth lowered its head. "We do not know."
"It's his consensus override function," Tali said quietly. "Legion was the only platform that had it. They wanted him to be able to operate independently, to come to its own conclusions when not in contact with the collective. The rest of them share in every decision that's made and have to abide by it because of their programming... but not Legion. That's why they'll take back his runtimes but not as a group."
"They gave him a free will," Shepard looked back at Legion, sadness in his eyes. "Then cut him off because he used it."
"This was not done with malice," the geth said. "The ability to act against the consensus of the entire collective was deemed too dangerous for a mobile platform."
Shepard sounded indignant. "Which is exactly what Legion was trying to prevent when he leaked the quarian comm protocols: a minority taking action without consulting the majority."
"We understand the reasoning for exposing creator communication protocols. However, should this platform's programs become corrupt or compromised, the ability to override consensus could have dire consequences for all geth. Shepard-Commander?"
"The runtimes of Mobile Platform One agreed with these conclusions. We did not force them. Deactivation and dispersal was their choice."
But did they know they were still welcome here? Shepard stared at Legion's immobile chassis. Had you stepped in and supported him before, would Legion have opted to eradicate its own identity?
Kelly's voice broke over the intercom. She sounded a little nervous. "Commander Shepard? I've got Alliance Fleet Operations on the line. Admiral Hackett himself, sir. He seems very eager to talk to you."
"I'll take it in the briefing room," he told her. He stood in front of the blue geth. "Listen, don't take Mobile Platform One off the ship or transfer its runtimes anywhere. We need to discuss this further. Okay?"
"We will comply, Shepard-Commander."
"Good," Shepard said, relieved. "Continue with your repairs, please." He gave Tali a weary look. "If there's anything you can do..."
All Tali could do was nod.
Shepard descended the ramp back to the hangar deck, with Mobile Platform Two close behind, leaving the quarian alone in the darkened shuttle with a single opened cargo pod and its contents.
Tali knelt in front of it as Shepard had. Thane's death at her console still haunted her. Losing Kenneth and Gabby was almost more than she could bear, but now the sight of Legion like this caused her to drop her head in despair. It wasn't concern for the peace negotiations, the short-sightedness of the admirals or even the geth collective that weighed on her.
She just couldn't bear to lose another friend.
A buzz-click sound from behind made her turn on her toes. A standard geth platform stood patiently at the top of the ramp, watching her.
"Oh, sorry," Tali said and stood. "I'm in your way, aren't I?"
The geth buzzed once more and waited for Tali to rotate her position around, allowing the geth a clear approach to the wall of supply pods. It bent over briefly to pick up the panel from Legion's container, sealing the mobile platform inside before turning its attention to the next pod to be off-loaded.
"Excuse me," Tali said. The machine turned toward her, anticipating instruction. She pointed to Legion's box. "I'd like you to take Mobile Platform One to the AI core, please."
Wordlessly, the geth leaned over and picked up the heavy container. The weight caused it to have to re-calibrate its center of gravity, but other than moving slightly slower, the machine did not seem too badly taxed by its cargo. She followed it down the ramp and to the elevator, silent and lost in thought. Though even if she had shared what she was thinking, neither of the geth accompanying her would have been able to articulate a response.