Commodore Rehme paused at the foot of the ramp of his shuttle, now suspended alone in the Normandy's hangar. He surveyed the port wall of the deck where a pair of geth platforms worked silently to weld replacement panels over what was once a gaping hole. "You know," he told Shepard, who had stopped just short of the ramp, "After Eden Prime, marines were giving bounties on the flashlight-heads. Had a corporal who wore a string of their eyes over his armor like a necklace. He wired it into his suit so they could light up for special occasions."
Shepard nodded. Memories flashed through his mind. Eden Prime. Therum. Antibaar. The Citadel itself... Virmire. The number of geth he'd dispatched had to be in the hundreds. "I had quite a collection myself at one time."
Rehme continued to watch the geth work. "Guess that'd be considered an atrocity now, wouldn't it?"
"Depends on the geth, I guess," Shepard said. "They're not all friendly. No different than us."
"Think we can trust them?"
Shepard shrugged. "Like I said, they're no different than us. But I think so. The big question is can they trust us?"
"I can see how that might be a hard sell these days."
"Well, cooler heads prevailed here. That's got to count for something."
"Isn't that the truth." Rehme looked at Shepard. "Before the Normandy came back, I gave us a fifty-percent chance of going to war with the Citadel inside of a week. When we jumped in and saw you surrounded by the turians, it went up to ninety-nine, and I was sure I was going to start it. Now I'm about to go meet their Commodore on his flagship so we can coordinate a combined support and security fleet on the other side of Omega-goddamn-Four."
Rehme held out an expensive-looking leather datapad case. Shepard had assumed that it belonged to Rehme as they rode the lift to the hangar, but now recognized it as Enlea's. "Miss T'Vari asked me to give this to you. Said it'd be better if you 'confiscated' it than if she turned it in to her handlers."
Enlea had been recalled with Lorian to the Selelucia during the call with the Council. Shepard took the pad and slid the it from its case. There was no password or biometric lock - all security had been removed. He found himself staring into his own eyes as his likeness and personal dossier flashed up on the screen. A digital annotation was stuck over the top: You might find this an interesting read. Sorry we couldn't say goodbye in person. May the goddess grace you in your journeys. - Enlea
"Must have made an impression on her," Rehme said, trying to stifle a smile.
Shepard scrolled through a few pages. Not only did the pad contain his file, but everything the Council had on his entire crew in addition to the audio, visual and EM recordings Enlea had been secretly making when she boarded the ship. After everything that had happened, she must have felt sending this information back would do more harm than good. He and Miranda would have to give the asari's gift a thorough inspection. "Guess I did."
"Damnedest freakshow I've ever been a part of," Rehme extended his hand. "But I'm glad I was."
"I am too," Shepard returned the handshake. "I appreciate all your help."
"Heh. You succeeded in spite of us. Just remember, if you need anything, and I mean anything at all... just go crying to Hackett again and I'm sure he'll send me running."
The two men laughed, and Rehme gave Shepard a final nod. "Good luck, Commander."
"You too, Commodore."
The ramp retracted and the shuttle's hatch sealed behind Rehme. Bright yellow lights flashed from the walls and ceiling. "Caution," EDI announced. "Shuttle departing. All personnel clear the hangar deck. Depressurization warning. All personnel clear the hangar deck."
Shepard walked back to the waiting elevator. Before the door sealed shut, he glanced at the two geth. They methodically continued their repairs, oblivious and impervious to impending loss of of air, sound, or heat in the hanger deck. He punched the button for the CIC. "All clear, EDI."
"Depressurization commencing," EDI said.
Shepard let out a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. He looked back down at his face on Enlea's pad. "EDI, tap into this and transfer everything to Miranda, and the two of you start going over what they know about us."
"Yes, Commander. I have a message for you. Legion is requesting your presence in main engineering."
Shepard stopped the elevator at the engineering deck. "Tell him I'm on my way."
"Right away, Comander."
Overlooking the hangar, Shepard watched as the Kodiak released from its clamps and drifted forward on its control jets into a starry black rectangle of space. The two geth ignored the vessel as they single-mindedly continued their task. He turned towards Engineering, leaving them alone in the vacuum to work.
Leaning back against her console, Tali watched the two geth mobile platforms in front of her argue with intense interest. Since Legion was no longer on their network, the pair communicated audibly which allowed Tali to listen in without having to resort to technical trickery. She looked on with fascination, then with disappointment when the starboard hatch hissed open with an interruption that might cause the geth to clam up. The geth, however, maintained their lively discussion despite the intrusion.
"Your actions are ill-considered and place the collective at risk," Legion said.
Platform Two stood face to face with Legion, its polished blue flaps flared. "Our actions will expedite negotiations with the creators. We have analyzed the potential for failure and regard the risk to be minimal. The potential for progress outweighs the risk. However, we see no intrinsic value in debating consensus with orphaned processes."
Legion buzzed loudly at the last statement.
Shepard walked slowly in, listening. He glanced at Tali, and for the first time since he'd known her, she looked away. He turned his attention to the geth that stood between them. "This sounds like the conversation we had on the hangar deck when you first arrived," he said. "Except the roles are reversed. What's going on?"
"Shepard-Commander," the geth said in unison. Their identical vocalizations then merged together in a cacophony of synthesized gibberish, all running together intelligibly as they both tried to explain their positions.
"One at a time!" Shepard held his hands over his ears. He pointed to his crewmate. "Legion?"
"Shepard-Commander," Legion said. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy has been contacted by the Creator-Admirals. They have sent a ship to collect the Normandy's mobile platforms for immediate return to the Creator Fleet to engage in negotiations."
Shepard's eyes darted to Tali, who looked down at the floor. Why hadn't he heard about this?
Legion's fish-eye lens tracked between the two of them. "Mobile Platform Two has agreed to return to the Migrant Fleet aboard this vessel, in contravention of the established provision that negotiations take place aboard a neutral Alliance vessel."
"Whoah now," Shepard held up hands.
The blue geth picked up immediately. "Mobile Platform One's data set is incomplete. It no longer includes current consensus. Its evaluation is therefore invalid. The opportunity for reconciliation with the Creators must not be lost given the current fragmented state of Creator consensus."
"Tali?" Shepard continued to stare at his chief engineer. "You want to fill me in?"
Legion's camera locked onto Shepard's face. "Heart rate and blood pressure increasing. Vocal stress patterns evident."
"Confirmed," Platform Two looked back and forth between the quarian and human. "We apologize. We did not intend to incite conflict. Unity amongst the Normandy collective must be preserved."
Tali tilted her head back, eyes closed. "I'm sorry. I just found out about this myself. I wanted to tell you, but you've been so busy dealing with the briefing, coordinating plans in the CIC, and then the Council called..." She opened her eyes, and Shepard looked back at her with quiet expectation. No anger or resentment, he just wanted to know what was happening on his ship. But she hated for him to find out like this.
She couldn't keep from rubbing her hands together. "Admiral Gerrel called me in person earlier. The Conclave is deadlocked. Ant the only geth available to negotiate is stuck here at Sarhabarik. And unless something happens soon, and I mean right now, they may give up on the talks altogether. This was the only way to get them there in person-"
Shepard pointed upward, towards his quarters. "You remember that email I showed you from Xen after the Alarei? If she gets her hands on our friends here, she'll have them disassembled and de-compiled faster than you can say 'no data available.'"
"Shepard-Commander is correct," Legion said. "Creator-Admiral Xen's goal is not negotiation, but to resume the subjugation of the geth."
"But Xen didn't send the ship," Tali said. "It was Admiral Gerrel."
"Shepard-Commander," Mobile Platform Two turned to face Shepard. "If Creator-Admiral Xen were to attempt possession of this platform, it will self destruct and its constituent runtimes will terminate. There is no danger of compromise. At worst, this platform will cease to exist, and another will be sent as a replacement. Negotiations will resume. However, as conditions continue to deteriorate, the willingness for Creators to negotiate decreases. This will eventually preclude a peaceful outcome beneficial to both factions."
Shepard shook his head forcefully. "Well I'm not going to let you go off by yourself, Blue. That's out of the question. We can set up communications from here-"
"Shepard-Commander," Mobile Platform Two said. "This is not your decision. If you are unable to provide transportation, we will seek alternate means. Negotiations with the Creators must go forward. We have waited long enough."
Shepard stared at the blue geth, hands on his hips.
"He's right," Tali said softly. "Shepard... My people face a decision which will decide our entire destiny... the entire future of my species. If they make the wrong choice now, we..." she shook her head and held her hands out in front as if to steady herself. "We won't make it. And the best option, the best chance we have to survive isn't available right now... It's stuck here on this ship, trapped by politics, just like you are. Remember before we went through Omega Four and you were going to send Legion and me back to the fleet?"
Shepard sighed and nodded.
"You knew that having us there would drive the process," Tali said. "You were right, Shepard. Because we weren't there, in person, it fell apart. If we don't get home, soon... This chance may be lost forever."
Shepard crossed his arms and exhaled deeply. The Illusive Man had already put this at the top of his agenda, and wanted to see him handle it personally for the future of humanity. The quarians needed it for their survival, and the geth for some reason wanted peace just as bad as the quarians seemed to. Only the Council was against it. Somehow that just reinforced the idea that it was the right thing to do. "Well..." he finally said, "I guess we need to get you back as soon as we can then."
The two geth buzzed in unison. Tali bounced excitedly on her toes. "Really? You'll take us home?"
"We're in the neighborhood. Just one jump away, right?"
Tali leaped between the two geth platforms and hugged her captain excitedly. It was probably a break of protocol and would probably result in an endless series of queries from the geth, but she didn't care. "Thank you! Oh, thank you!"
"We thank you as well," Platform Two said. "Calculated probabilities did not favor this outcome."
"On the contrary," Legion said. "We considered this outcome most likely. Shepard-Commander's integrity is one hundred percent."
"One hundred percent," Tali repeated, laughing. She thought back to when they were sitting back on the engineering sublevel in the sweltering heat, she covered with oxidized coolant, Shepard wearing nothing but snowflake boxers, a t-shirt and respirator. His quiet support for her through all of this was what kept her going.
Shepard gently extracted himself from Tali's grasp so he could look her in the eyes. "We just need to contact the Flotilla to get clearance, and I'll talk to Hackett to get us cleared through the Alliance patrols at Leyya."
Tali's happy smile faded and she turned back to her console, her hands going to her head. "Oh no," she groaned and leaned against it. "That's not going to work."
Shepard rolled his eyes. "Of course it won't. That'd be to easy. What's the problem now?"
Tali turned back to him, slumped against her control panel. In her excitement, she had forgotten what Admiral Gerrel had shared with her. "The Normandy is banned from the fleet."
"The Admiralty board, and the Conclave," Tali explained. "They won't let this ship approach the Flotilla."
Shepard rubbed his forehead. "Let me guess. Cerberus? The Council? Because I told the Admiralty Board to go to hell at your trial?"
"There are a lot of reasons. There are so many ships trying to get to the fleet right now... all of them are being stopped. They're not letting any alien ships near the Flotilla. And the Normandy is a Cerberus ship, not to mention we are dealing with the Citadel Council as well... They won't let us in. They don't want anything to jeopardize this, Shepard."
"Then we stop at the Raheel-Leyya relay," Shepard said. "And have the Shenyang come to us. Do the transfer there."
"But they've already a ship to Erinle..."
"Which you are not taking," Shepard pointed to the blue geth and to his engineer. "End of story. I don't trust those bastards any further than I can scan them."
Mobile Platform Two's head flaps rippled. "What if Shepard-Commander accompanied us aboard the creator ship at Erinle?"
"Yes!" Tali stepped back in front of Shepard. "That would be okay, wouldn't it? We'd get to go back to the fleet, and you could make sure that we dock with the Shenyang directly. That would be perfect!"
Shepard's mouth contracted into a strange shape. "I'm less enthused about this plan."
Tali clasped her hands in front of her chest. "It would just be for a few hours. You could come back right afterwards."
Shepard's gaze shifted between the blue geth and Tali, his mouth still screwed up tightly as he weighed his options. Mobile Platform Two had to get to the Flotilla, there was no doubt. Getting the Normandy there, aside from the Admirals banishment, would still be a challenge. Getting to Osun wasn't the problem... the problem was what the Citadel Fleet would do. Out in the Terminus, they had no real authority, but they would certainly try to follow the Normandy wherever it went, intent on trying to gather intelligence on Cerberus, possibly even trying to capture the Normandy once it was away from the protective umbrella of the Alliance fleet. And Tali's summation was correct... The Citadel Fleet would certainly follow the Normandy just on that pretext, if only for the purpose of grinding the peace talks to a halt with endless debate and legal minutiae. Add to that the presence of another, less friendly Alliance task force already patrolling near the Migrant Fleet and it was a recipe for disaster.
"All right," Shepard finally said, making Tali bounce once more. "Give me a few minutes to hash out the detals, and let Gerrel know we're taking him up for his offer of a ride."
"Absolutely!" Tali said, her eyes glinting brightly.
"But there's one condition I'm going to make, and you're going to follow it."
"What is it?"
Shepard's eyes were stern. "Don't tell him I'm coming."
"I mean it, Tali. Don't tell anybody I'm coming along. Anybody. Or that I'm bringing backup. I want to see how they react when we get to Gerrel's ship. If they don't object to me being there, no problem. We head off to the Flotilla. If they refuse, for any reason, I don't care if it's for quarantine, a violation of etiquette or a shortage of in-flight snacks, the deal's off, and we walk."
"You don't think they'd try to take the geth?"
Shepard nodded sharply. "Yeah, I do. In a heartbeat. Gerrel may be on the level here, but he's not the only Admiral in play. I don't trust any of them, singularly or as a whole. Not after what they did to my chief engineer. And you shouldn't, either."
Tali swallowed her objection. She had gotten so excited at the prospect of returning to the fleet with the geth, she forgotten the entire course of events that ended with her exile. Besides, it was an order. She would follow it. She bounced excitedly once more and hugged Shepard again. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."
This time Shepard returned the hug. "Well I can't keep putting this off forever, can I? But tell me something... after I leave, you're going to come back, right?"
Tali looked up at her captain with tears rimming her eyes. "Don't be silly. What's my name?"
"Tali'Zorah vas Normandy," Legion said.
"That's right, Legion," Tali said with a laugh. She looked back at the Commander. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."
Shepard's smile sent a jolt of electricity through her. "Just wanted to make sure."
"Shepard-Commander," Legion asked. "We request permission to join you."
"Negative," the blue geth interjected. "Mobile Platform One is no longer part of the collective."
"But he is part of my crew," Shepard said. "And I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have backing me up on this one. Legion, you're in."
"Thank you, Shepard-Commander."
"You okay with that, Blue?"
Mobile Platform Two regarded the two organics and the disconnected geth platform with a cocked head. After a split second of internal debate, it returned a consensus. "Acknowledged."