Minutes later, Legion's audio sensors picked up Taylor-Jacob and Solus-Mordin conversing as they approached from the corridor. Jacob also sounded tired. "I hope this is quick. There's just not enough hours in the day."
"Indeed," Mordin replied. "Everyone backlogged. Shepard is aware. Must be important."
"I guess. Hey, Tali, Legion." Jacob said when he saw he and Mordin were not the first in the room.
"Hello, Taylor-Jacob," Legion said. The sleeping quarian did not respond.
Mordin walked to the side of the table and leaned over Tali. Reflections from ambient light sometimes made it difficult to tell, but up close, the characteristic glow of Tali's eyes were absent behind her faceplate. "Hmm," he looked back at the Cerberus operative. "Out cold. Exhausted."
"No doubt," Jacob replied and joined Mordin in standing over Tali. "She's been busting ass since we got back on board, on top of being on the assault team back at the base." A strange look crossed the human's face and he broke into a quiet laugh.
Mordin stood straight. "What?"
Jacob held a finger to his lips but couldn't stop himself from laughing. Fatigue was taking its toll on everyone on the ship. "Let's black out her faceplate. When she wakes up, she'll freak out."
"Immature. Juvenile." The salarian's eyes rolled back in his head, but then he cocked his head and made for the door. "Have just the compound! Will be right back."
Legion looked over at its
unconscious companion. Using its internal transmitter, it broadcast a low
power, high-frequency pulse of interference. Inside of Tali's helmet, a burst
of static erupted in her ear. She startled awake, sitting upright in her seat.
Disoriented, Tali failed to notice the looks of disappointment worn by Jacob and Mordin. The rest of the staff was nowhere to be seen. The chronometer in her HUD showed only two more minutes until the start of the meeting. She brought up her omnitool and fired off a nervestim routine for her suit and inhaled sharply as a ice cold pinpricks braced the skin all over her body.
"Mornin', sleepyhead," Jacob said, walking around the table to take the seat opposite of Tali, feeling slightly guilty at his nefarious plot. As tired as he was, he would have kicked anyone's ass for interrupting what sleep he could get. Mordin took his seat next to Tali, also feeling ashamed about what he and Jacob had been contemplating. While funny at the time, taking advantage of someone who had passed out from exhaustion was cruel. Not to mention unsporting.
Tali yawned behind her mask. "Huh. If I don't get at least five minutes every two days I'm worthless. Does anybody know what this is about?"
"No clue," Mordin said. "Miranda, long on request, short on details. Anticipation... waning."
Jacob swiveled back and forth in his chair. "Gonna be good news, I can feel it. Collectors have been taken care of, propulsion's been restored, and we got A/C again. We're on a roll here. And here comes the man who can confirm it!"
Garrus walked in and circled the table to the right. "Confirm what? That Shepard is going to authorize three days' liberty for the whole crew as soon as we get back?"
Everyone in the room except Legion sat upright in their chair. Jacob slapped the table in front of him. "Hell yeah! What did I tell you?"
Mordin smiled, and Tali clenched the air with her fists. "Keelah! I'm going to sleep for three days straight!"
Garrus' mandibles flared widely in a turian grin. "Right after we report to the Citadel for a parade in our honor. Let me know how that goes for you. You're a gullible bunch, aren't you?"
The other organics in the room stared at Garrus, mouths agape.
"I have no idea why Shepard called this meeting," Garrus said and sat next to Jacob, looking very pleased with himself. The room was silent as his comrades looked upon him with dead eyes.
Jacob shook his head. "Not cool."
"Well it is now," Garrus said, holding his arms around himself and giving a mock shiver. "Thanks to our friends in engineering. Personally, I thought the ship was finally at a reasonable temperature. Why'd you have to go and ruin it?"
"Don't listen to him, Tali," Jacob said, still giving the turian a dirty look. "The ship is fine as-is. Maybe still a little too warm, huh?"
Tali narrowed her eyes and nodded. "I think we can bring it down a few more degrees."
Garrus leaned back with his arms behind his head. "You know I always appreciate extra effort on my behalf. Makes me feel special. But in all seriousness, you've done an excellent job, both of you."
"Thank you, Vakarian-Garrus," Legion responded.
Jacob pointed at the geth, then to Garrus. With the work of saving humanity behind them, they could concentrate on more important business. "Now, this is what I was talking about. You're still Vakarian-Garrus. I'm Taylor-Jacob. But not Tali. Anybody else notice that?"
"It started just after she put him back together." Garrus leaned forward on his elbows and looked Tali in the eye. "How'd you do it? You do a little reprogramming while you were in there?"
Tali shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Legion," Jacob said. "Who is sitting on your right?"
"Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."
Jacob pointed a finger at the geth. "See? Right there. Not 'Creator-Tali'Zorah,' not 'Zorah-Tali.' How'd you get him to say your name right?"
Tali smiled innocently. She honestly didn't have an explanation as to why Legion started calling her by her given name, though she did enjoy the frustration it caused her friends. Jacob was right. Every other member of the crew it addressed lastname-firstname, and it still referred to all other quarians as 'Creator-'. Sometimes she wanted to ask, but was always afraid it might take offense and start calling her by her old title. They were right about one other thing as well. It started soon after she rebuilt Legion after its near destruction on Clobakas. "I don't know. Why don't you ask him?"
"All right," Jacob said. "I'll bite. Legion? Why do you call her Tali'Zorah vas Normandy instead of Creator-Tali'Zorah now?"
The geth's head flaps did a complete cycle around its face. "That is her name."
"What's my name?" Jacob asked.
Mordin covered his mouth and cleared his throat, not quite covering a poorly suppressed grin. Tali similarly tried to keep still so as not to give away the laugh she had muted from within her helmet. Garrus drew small circles on the table with his talon. That Legion always reversed peoples' names didn't bother him so much as Tali had somehow figured a way around it and wasn't sharing.
Jacob sighed and looked over at Garrus. "Guess I walked into that one, didn't I?"
"This is not over," Garrus advised Tali, who batted her eyes in return.
Just then, Commander Shepard entered, followed closely by Miranda. Gone were Shepard's decorative boxers, replaced with his familiar Cerberus uniform. "What's not over?" he asked.
"Just playing the name game with Legion," Jacob said. "And Tali's been cheating."
"Well, Shepard-Commander has learned to live with it, so you can too." Shepard said. Grilling Tali over her secret control of Legion would have made for a much more entertaining day, but there wasn't time to waste. "All right... Everybody here? We ready to go?"
Miranda took a seat next to Mordin at the head of the table, her traditional spot. Unlike Shepard, she didn't make eye contact with anyone else in the room, instead concentrating on the electronic display in her hand. That everyone seemed to be in a good mood only made things worse. She waited for Shepard's inevitable attempt to soften the blow of what was coming.
Shepard looked around the table at the circle of weary, exhausted faces watching him. After everything they had been through, days of relentless combat and stress, their victory over the collectors should have meant a well-deserved period of rest. The crew of the Normandy already had its fill of crises. They'd done their duty, for their species and for each other. How could he ask them to do more? He knew If he ordered them back to the Collector base to do it all over again they'd do it in a heartbeat. But they didn't deserve that, or what was about to come. It was as Shiala asked during their brief reunion on Illium. "Isn't anything ever just fixed?"
"First," Shepard began, "I have to beg Tali's and Legion's forgiveness because what I have to tell you violates a promise of confidentiality given to both of them."
Tali perked up immediately at the mention of herself and the geth. If Shepard were making their dealings common knowledge, it couldn't be good news. It had been barely an hour since they had talked below decks and everything seemed fine. What could have changed, this far away from Citadel space? And why was he telling everyone about it?
Even if he had a day to prepare, Shepard wouldn't have known where to start. "If anybody had told me three months ago there would be a geth on board my ship I would have said they were delusional. If they said he'd become part of my crew, I'd have to change my diagnosis to batshit insane." He looked at Legion and Tali, sitting side by side at the table. "And if they said I'd owe my life to him, and that he'd be working as a quarian's assistant engineer... Hell, I should have recruited them because that's the kind of crazy we like on this ship."
The assembled crew smiled and laughed, even Miranda. Shepard smiled too, but his expression quickly grew more solemn. "How far we've come, especially Legion and Tali, is nothing short of a miracle."
Garrus and Jacob shared a worried glance before nodding in agreement. Mordin also nodded, his finger under his chin as he considered Shepard's words compared to his tone. What should have been a wonderful affirmation of tolerance now had the air of dire warning.
Shepard continued. "After what happened on Clobakas, I passed word along to the Alliance and through them to the Admirals of the Migrant fleet. Call me crazy, but a quarian and a geth striking up a friendship seemed like big enough news that shouldn't have died with us if we didn't make it back."
Tali glanced over at Legion. The geth sat immobile, watching and listening as always. Moments like this always made her wonder what would have happened if they had perished without anyone knowing what they had learned from each other. The same moments always brought tears to her eyes. She turned back to the Commander.
"I thought, I hoped maybe this could open the door for dialogue," Shepard said. "And happily, the Admiralty Board agreed and were open to the idea of talking to the geth for the first time since the uprising."
"Okay, but this is good news, isn't it?" Jacob asked, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "I mean, no offense, we've been kind of expecting it."
"That's right," Garrus added, an uneasy feeling building in his gizzard. "We've actually got a pool on it. Why the theatrics?"
Shepard licked his lips, formulating an explanation. His eyes fell on Tali, who sat forward in her chair and gripped the edge of the table with both hands. "In order to provide a neutral meeting ground, the Systems Alliance offered to mediate the negotiations. And at the request of both the Admiralty Board and geth collective, the existence of these talks was to be kept secret until their conclusion."
Garrus and Jacob again exchanged confused looks. Mordin's eyes, however, were wide with shock. "And the Alliance contacted geth directly?"
Shepard nodded. "That's correct. They've been in communication for almost a week."
"Council not notified?" Mordin said. It came out more of a statement than a question.
Shepard shook his head. "No."
Mordin sniffed deeply. "Unwise."
Tali, who had been on the brink of collapse now found herself newly energized. Outside interference was something she dreaded, and Shepard was openly inviting it. "This is not a Council matter. If they wanted to get involved, they were free to do it any time over the last three centuries. They recused themselves of that privilege when they cast us adrift. The humans are the only Council species we'll deal with."
Legion, who had been silent throughout the entire exchange, finally spoke up. "We concur. Humans were not a spacefaring species at the time the Morning War. Of all current Council factions, they have the most influence, and greatest capability for impartiality and objectivity. Based on prior interactions between creators and other Council governments, the we judged the Systems Alliance the most capable of successful arbitration."
"Not taking sides," Mordin said quickly. "Agree wholeheartedly for peace. Logical. Necessary for quarian survival and for normalized relations between geth and other species." He turned back to Shepard. "But politically unsound. As Council member, humanity not allowed to engage in independent negotiations with warring factions. Illegal. Provocative. Reinforces negative stereotypes of humans. Dismissive of diplomacy, authority."
Garrus leaned forward, his talons interlaced before him, the scope of the situation finally becoming clear. "I didn't even think about that. The turians are not going to be happy when they hear about this. You know how they can be."
Tali pointed a claw at him. In spite of his obvious attempt to distance himself from his people, she could tell he was getting ready to voice an opinion she didn't want to hear. "It's none of your business either, Garrus."
"Woah, woah, woah," Jacob said, scowling. "Hold up. Stereotypes? Like the one of humans actually getting things done when the Council just sits on its ass? If they've got their panties in a bunch because we're cleaning up their mess, to hell with them. Need I remind all of you the base we just took out was a direct result of humans disregarding their authority."
Tali's grip on the the edge of the table grew tighter. "This is not about humans, either. This is about the future of quarian and geth-"
Mordin cut her off. "Geth are universal concern for whole galaxy. Not just quarians. Or humans. Affects future of all. Council should have been informed. Perception of humanity overstepping boundaries inevitable-"
"And the Collectors weren't a universal concern?" Jacob asked incredulously. "They may have come after us first, but you know who was pulling their strings. If the Council was capable of taking care of business, we wouldn't have had to come here in the first place, would we?"
Garrus held up a hand. "That's true, Jacob, but the geth are a threat well known in the galaxy. The Collectors are a myth to most. This will have tremendous impact on your political standing."
"Only because those jackasses on the Citadel buried the truth!" Jacob shouted.
Legion raised the volume of his vocoder to be heard above the din. "We are not a threat!"
At the head of the table, Miranda watched with a worried expression as the Illusive Man's words were given substance by the different species all angling for position around the table. Only these weren't strangers or diplomats, but crew mates who previously had been celebrating a great victory for all. She looked to Shepard, who calmly worked the keyboard in the table's control console. He didn't seem concerned at all about the growing feud erupting all around him. Then, out of thin air, holographic faces of newscasters and commentators filled the void in the middle of the room, all talking over each other as they rambled into their cameras.
"Stock markets around the galaxy tumbled for a third consecutive session as investors went running for cover with news that governments throughout Citadel space are leveling sanctions against the Systems Alliance, even as Alliance ports threatened work stoppages in response to the censure of the human member of the Council, David Anderson..."
"Hundreds of thousands of people of all species turned out in the Presidium today in support of Joram Talid, outspoken opponent of the growing human influence on the Citadel. 'If they don't hear our voices now, they'll face all of us later when we will be armed with more than words!"
"For years, the batarians were seen as the aggressors in the Skyllian Verge. Tonight, on a special report that you'll only see on Eye on Sur'Kesh, what you see may shock you... Cerberus: the Hound of the Devil."
"Humans want to go it on their own? I say we let them. Let them find out what the geth are really capable of. And when the survivors turn to us for help, I say we tell them to hitch a ride with their new quarian friends. The Migrant Fleet could use some new blood."
"We took out the geth at the Battle of the Citadel when everyone else ran away. I think it's great they want to negotiate with us now. They understand who's in charge..."
"...after the disappearance of six entire human settlements, colonies of all species are jamming communications lines to the Citadel with requests for protection after the geth suddenly withdrew from negotiations earlier today..."One by one, the crew's voices stopped as they heard their own sentiments echoed back at them in high definition. Shepard lowered the volume on the recordings, but allowed them to keep playing. His concern for the developing diplomatic crisis was second only to the disappointment at having his own people join in the fray. "We can forget trying to settle this with a civil discussion among friends," he told them. "Because it looks like the people back home have already decided the time for talk is over. So everybody pipe down, and let's figure out what started this mess because it's obvious we're going to have to clean it up."