There Was a Hole
In the Normandy's armory, two geth platforms and a turian watched in silence as a quarian paced angrily back and forth along the aisle that ran through the middle of the room. "I've told Shepard from the start that the asari would do everything in their power to interfere with the negotiations. So what does he do? He invites one on board so she can wreck things in person!"
Garrus sat atop the starboard workbench with his legs dangling over the edge. While he kept his focus on Tali, he kept Legion in his periphery at all times. Tali's assaults on Enlea didn't catch him completely off guard, but the memory of Legion holding the struggling emissary in the air by her neck made his skin prickle. It was totally unexpected beahvior from the ordinarily logical, unfeeling machine, and as far as he could tell the entire fracas was unplanned so it wasn't acting on orders from Tali. Whatever spurred the geth to attack, at least it had been responsive enough to listen to Shepard and stop. But would that always be the case?
Legion had discovered the crates brought to the armory by the geth containing parts for repairs after the failed boarding action on the Normandy. It opened the first one and examined its contents, periodically looking at Tali as she paced. Garrus cleared his throat. "I thought it was the Council you were worried about."
Tali whirled around and stomped over to stand in front of him. "Council, asari, turian, it doesn't matter who! The bottom line is that it's happening at all! I'm not going to let it. We're too close!"
Just as with Enlea, Tali's finger was centimeters away from his nose. Garrus turned the scarred half of his face toward her and tapped it with a talon. "If you're going to hit me, aim for the right side. I don't want you to leave a mark."
Tali clenched her hand into a fist. "Oh, I should. I really should." If there was anything more embarrassing than losing control and jumping Shepard's guest in the briefing room, twice, it was being escorted out by Garrus, as usual acting as Shepard's unflappable babysitter. The way he calmly stared at her made the urge to punch him in the face even stronger, but the look in his eye told her he knew she wasn't going to do it, even before she did. She opened her hand and let it fall to her side, then flung herself about to lean against the table where Garrus sat. "Sometimes I really... fucking hate you, you ...fucked, fucking... bosh'tet."
Garrus' eyes widened he burst into laughter at the sudden attempt for Tali to talk like a badass. "That was pathetic. Have you considered taking lessons from Jack or Zaeed?"
"Doesn't Shepard need you in the briefing room?"
"Only if Miranda decides to have a go at Enlea, too. He'll call me if he needs me. Until then, you're stuck with me."
"Fine. Just shut up then. I need to think." Tali started pacing again.
Garrus held his hands up and looked again at the two geth across from him. Blue's head swiveled back and forth as it tracked Tali, but Legion seemed to lose interest as it rummaged through the geth storage containers. "How are you holding up, Legion?"
Legion turned a spare shoulder actuator around in its hands and scanned it with its omitool before placing it on the workbench with a growing collection of other small parts. It did not answer, which made Garrus even more uncomfortable. Ordinarily, he could at least count on an acknowledgement that he was heard, even if the reply was the infamous no data available.
Blue spoke up. "I am also concerned about Legion's stability."
Tali paused long enough to give the blue geth a dirty look. "Legion's doing just fine. At least I know which side he's on."
"That's not fair, Tali. We're both on your side."
With her hands clutching her head, Tali turned to face the geth. "Would you please stop talking like that? You. Are not. Quarian."
"Come on, Tali," Garrus said. "She's just trying to help."
"Oh, let's not go through this again..."
As if a switch had been thrown, Blue's fluid, lifelike gestures ceased, replaced with precise, purposeful stillness. When it spoke once more, it resumed the dull, synthesized monotone the organics had become accustomed to with Legion. "Creator-Tali'Zorah. We do not wish to incite conflict amongst the Normandy collective. We have suspended diplomatic protocol routines. Is this more to your liking?"
Tali breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes. Thank you."
Blue's head flaps expanded and contracted. "The geth collective remains committed to peaceful reconciliation with the Creators. T'vari-Enela's revelation of asari interference is presently unfounded, but given the severity of the accusation and the risk taken to expose it, is cause for concern and must be investigated. If the Creators are planning no hostile action, then the potential for asari aggression must be evaluated."
She wasn't sure if she had just had enough time to calm down after the incident in the briefing room or if it was hearing the geth talk like a geth once more, but Tali felt much calmer now. "I agree. But how can we find out? Commander Shepard has locked down all the transmitters on the ship."
Blue's aperture narrowed. "We have dispatched Mobile Platform Three to retrieve this information."
Garrus slid off the workbench. "How?" Garrus tried to look Blue in its eye. "How did you get around the lockdown?"
"We have been in continuous contact with Mobile Platform Three since our arrival at Xe Cha to facilitate the transfer of supplies and sharing of sensor information. This was done with the approval of Shepard-Commander."
Legion looked over its shoulder at the organics. "Presumably, Mobile Platform Two is referring to the MV Pollus Maskawa. The ship itself is a mobile platform for geth."
"Mobile Platform One is correct. Mobile Platform Three is not subject to Shepard-Commander's restrictions."
"Shepard's not going to like this," Garrus said.
Tali put her hand on Blue's shoulder, her eyes wide with excitement. "Can you have them transmit a message to the Admiralty Board? Tell them that we're okay and you're still willing to talk?"
"We cannot for three reasons," Blue said. "First, Mobile Platform Three is now out of reception range. Second, this would be counter to the directive given by Shepard-Commander that no faction be contacted until the source of the security breach at Dashta can be identified. Third, before we initiate further contact with the Creator-Admirals, we must know if the asari are telling the truth."
Tali turned away in disgust. "It's not us. It's the asari. They're up to something."
"Creator-Tali'Zorah. We need to be sure."
Garrus ground his teeth together and pulled up his omnitool. He hated giving the Commander bad news. "You really should have cleared this with Shepard, Blue. This is going to-" He read the subject line of the only new message in his queue.
Tali was just about to berate him for butting in, again, but stopped when he saw the turian's eyes slowly close. "What's wrong?"
"Jack didn't make it." Garrus opened his eyes and re-read the message again. "Damn."
"Oh no," Tali whispered.
Garrus closed his omnitool with a sigh. "EDI, where is Commander Shepard?"
"Commander Shepard is in the CIC at Yeoman Chamber's station."
"Come on, Blue," Garrus said. "We need to tell him what you just told me."
Tali leaned back against the workbench and watched Garrus and Blue go. Another one gone, she thought. While she was saddened by the criminal's passing, it didn't hit her nearly as hard as Kenneth's death. She and Jack had fought together several times, but outside of away missions, she never really spent much time with her. Jack's acerbic, sarcastic demeanor was very off-putting, and she often made snide remarks at Tali's expense. Which made her no different, really, than Garrus or Joker or some of her other ship mates, but in their case it was just friendly teasing, and she could always strike back. Jack deliberately aimed for soft spots like Tali's inability to live without a biosuit... or that Tali wanted to be Shepard's favorite pet alien. She always seemed to mean it, and any verbal retaliation might result in physical violence. Still, Jack was a capable biotic, and had served her ship and crew faithfully since she'd come aboard, and Tali could at least respect that.
She watched as Legion used a power driver to remove the bolts from its left shoulder plate and pulled the battered covering away. Dry white flakes fell to the floor, revealing a black, sooty residue on the shoulder joint underneath. "Keelah! You got hit?" She activated the visual enhancer in her visor as she walked over to the geth.
Legion looked down at her over its exposed shoulder, otherwise keeping perfectly still as she completed her inspection. "Damage is minor. We still register ninety-three percent capability in our left arm. However, the seals have been compromised and will continue to degrade. Estimate total failure within sixteen hours."
Tali leaned in close. "I don't think we'll need to take the whole thing off, but you do need a new actuator, and-" Legion held up the required component in his right hand. "Oh. Like that one you've got there. Do you want me to help?"
"We would appreciate your assistance."
"OK, this will just take a minute." Tali needed to get back to Engineering to check on Gabby and Kal, but she could spare a few minutes to help out a friend. She looked around the work area for tools and solvents to clean the damaged surfaces. Jacob always kept the armory clean and organized, and any time she used it she strived to keep it that way. Using a small hex driver, she twisted closed the tiny valves that joined the conductive hoses, then pried the damaged motor from its mount. Being modular in design, it popped out with a minimum of effort. She swabbed the empty socket and the area around it with a disposable wipe, checked the orientation of the replacement and snapped it into place. Tali re-opened the valves and took a step back. "How does it feel?"
Legion extended its left arm and rotated it in a circle while Tali watched the joint for conductive fluid or leaking lubricants. "Functionality restored, one hundred percent. Thank you, Tali."
She gave it a pat on its chest plate. She very much wanted to ask why it stopped addressing her as 'creator.' While it was unnerving to hear it come from Blue in its ersatz quarian voice, when Legion said her name it seemed more like a breakthrough, like the first time she was allowed to call Shepard by name without the Commander, at his request. She didn't want to risk Legion reverting to its old behavior, though, so she never asked. She liked it too much. That it drove Vakarian-Garrus crazy was a nice bonus.
Tali picked up the armor plate Legion had removed and held it in place to re-mount it but stopped. It had a centimeter-wide hole right in the middle, with spider-web cracks radiating in all directions. This close to the geth once more, she could see all of the scrapes and dents Legion had picked up over the years, some fresh from the assault on the collector base and Dashta, others going back before Legion joined the Normandy, during its mission to try and locate the Shepard-Commander. The most noticeable, of course, was the blast the geth took on Eden Prime from a high-powered rifle that left it with a ragged hole blown clean through its chest.
After being around Legion for so long, the gaping wound seemed perfectly normal, but having seen it along side the other geth it struck her how seriously Legion must have been damaged. Alone for so long, on its own, it did what it could to repair itself. She thought back to Blue as it primped and polished itself before it went in to meet Enlea for the first time, and how silly it seemed to her. The machines didn't care about how they looked to each other, she knew. But Blue had done it specifically because it knew organics judged based on appearance, and that did matter to the geth. Since Legion was no longer part of the collective, they didn't care how it looked.
The negotiations were going to go forward, she knew. And when they did, both Blue and Legion would most likely stand before the Conclave and Admiralty Board, Blue representing the geth, Legion at Tali's side representing the Normandy. While she didn't care at all what their opinion was of her, she knew how shallow and superficial her people could be and the thought of anyone deriding Legion in any way at all was not acceptable.
The hatch to CIC hissed open and Jacob walked in carrying a heavy crate before him. Following him were two of the standard geth platforms, each carrying an identical crate. "What's up, Deck Four?" he said as he set the crate down on the floor next to the weapon lockers.
"Taylor-Jacob," Legion said.
"Just set 'em down right here," Jacob instructed the geth and they stacked their crates on top of his. "Thanks. That's all I had for you. Check in back down at the hangar deck, see if they need anything else."
Tali didn't acknowledge the human. She reached out and ran her fingertips along the jagged edge of Legion's chest plate and looked up into its unblinking eye. Maybe it's time we did something about this after all. "Jacob? Are you in the middle of something? I have a little project in mind and could use your help."
When Garrus entered CIC and saw the Commander's station empty, his first thought was that he should head down to intercept Shepard at the infirmary. Upon hearing of Jack's demise, he regretted talking Shepard out of going in to see her, but since she never regained consciousness, would it have made any difference? But his anxiety abated when he saw Shepard hovering over Kelly's console. The Yeoman was nowhere to be seen.
He motioned Blue to follow him as he approached the Commander. "Warms my heart to see the captain of a ship finally pulling his weight."
Shepard shot him an irritated glance and went back to work on the panel.
"Don't tell me. We're downsizing and you had to let Kelly go?"
"Jack's death hit Kelly pretty hard. She needed some time to deal with it."
"Really?" Garrus said. "I didn't know they were that close. Hell, I didn't know Jack was close to anybody. I mean, she and Grunt had a cute little thing going where whoever had the most kills on a mission bought the booze. But other than that..."
Shepard shook his head and kept manipulating the holographic screens in front of him.
Garrus sighed. He was too late, he knew. No matter what he said or did now, Shepard was already blaming himself for what happened to Jack. She was the only lone wolf of the squad, pushing away anyone who tried to break through her barriers, all except for Shepard who kept going back again and again... "Let it go, Commander. I know it's wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I can't help but think if she'd stayed with the rest of us instead of running off, she'd still be alive. She didn't even file a departure plan. How could we have known where she would be when the shit hit the fan? You can't let yourself think-"
Shepard locked the screen and turned to face Garrus. "Think what? Think about how she could have gotten away without a scratch if she just walked away like she planned? She called in the ambush, Garrus. She was our warning. Instead of running out on us, she sought out the one working phone on the whole damn station with a whole pack of mercs on her ass trying to cut her off to give us a chance. You should have seen the bodies around where they cornered her. It wasn't quick. Kelly was on the line the entire time she was getting shot up. Heard the whole thing. Tried to talk to her, keep her conscious until we could get to her, but about all Jack could do by that point is gurgle blood. She saved you, she saved me, she saved everybody on this whole goddamn ship. Not bad for somebody who didn't make the top fifty percent of the bounty board, don't you think?"
Garrus stared at Shepard, stunned. The Commander turned back to Kelly's console. "So did you stop by here just to cheer me up, or did you actually have something to report this time?"
By this time, the half dozen of the crew still at their posts stopped what they were doing and looked over at Shepard and his closest friend. Other than the sound of circulation fans and the thrum of the ship's power plants, the room was silent.
"Actually, I do," Garrus said after a moment. "Apparently, Blue used her connectivity with the Pollus Maskawa to circumvent the communications blackout you ordered. The ship is on its way to Thessia to investigate Miss T'vari's story."
Shepard turned his gaze to the blue geth hands on his hips. He was surprised to hear the dull, synthesized voice instead of the quarian imitation.
"After evaluating the situation," Blue said, "we deemed it highest priority to ascertain if T'vari-Enlea's information about the Creators was accurate. Mobile Platform Three will not transmit to any entity other than the geth collective or Shepard-Commander."
Shepard's brow furrowed, but his voice was free of its previous venom. "How long do you think it will take to find something?"
The geth's head flaps cycled. "Unknown. Standard round-trip travel time barring relay traffic congestion, two-point-two hours. Time to penetrate asari secure network defenses, impossible to gauge with certainty, but existing models indicate twenty-nine to two-hundred forty minutes."
"Good," Shepard nodded. "Let me know the instant they find anything. Be nice to know what we're talking about for a change. Anything else?"
Garrus shook his head. "No, Commander."
"Sorry. I never thought I'd say this... but I'm going to miss her, too."
"No you won't," Shepard didn't look up from the console. He gave a sad laugh. "It's not your fault, though... She made sure no one would. Almost."
Prenna Rusi's boots squeaked against the deck every time she turned about, and considering the small size of the receiving bay on the Vellius, she was not so much pacing as turning in tight circles as she waited for the shuttle to dock. When the airlock indicator turned green, she whirled around to face the hatch. "Captain! I-"
The shuttle's turian pilot stood in the doorway and snapped a hasty salute. "Ah- Captain's still inside, ma'am. Request permission to-"
Rusi saluted and shoved her way past the pilot to the passenger compartment. She found Captain Artuis in the far seat, staring at a vid playing on her omnitool of a salarian giving some kind of briefing. Enlea T'Vari was nowhere to be seen. "Captain? Are you all right? Where's T'vari?"
Artuis paused the playback and stared at the floor with a hollow, stunned expression. "She's transferred to the Normandy until further notice. We are no longer bound by her authority."
"Oh, that's good news. Shall we make ready to return to the fleet?"
"Negative. We will stay on station here. Are we still observing radio silence?"
"Yes ma'am, as per your orders."
Artuis unfastened her safety restraints and detached the omnitool from her wrist and handed it to her XO as she walked past. "Maintain alert status and the department heads assemble immediately. I want all of you to see this."
"Yes ma'am. But what about the Normandy? What's going on?"
Artuis paused long enough to give Rusi a dire look over her shoulder. "Do you remember what happened at Sahrabarik? That was just a vanguard. Shepard's been right all along, and someone out there is trying to kill him. We're going to do everything we can to keep that from happening. Get moving."
"Ma'am," Rusi scowled. In her three years serving with Artuis, she'd never seen the captain so distracted and agitated. She looked down at the omntitool, frozen on a slide showing the galactic map and its relay points, yet there were dozens of lines in red leading to systems she knew were void of relays. Rusi didn't realize it, but her expression slowly morphed to the one worn by her captain when as read the title of the slide before her: Figure 53 - Plot of Potential Mass Relay Invasion Routes by Extra-Galactic Enemy Forces.
Tali bumped her head against Legion's arms as she pulled the geth's dilapidated chest and abdomen plates away from its superstructure. "Legion! Hold still! I swear you fidget as much as Grunt!' Detached circulation tubes dangled from its exposed frame and white liquid spattered the floor beneath where the excess conductive fluid had leaked out. Gritty, caked residue fell from Legion's exposed innards.
"Aw, dude," Jacob said as he pulled away the back plates and more debris dropped to the floor. "You're filthy in there!"
Tali sighed as she examined the hole in the plates in her hand. "It's been building up for who knows how long. We should have fixed this a long time ago. I'm sorry, Legion..." Having been relieved of its entire armor shell from head to toe, it was missing most of its bulk, and barely resembled a geth any more. Instead it was a tall, thin bipedal frame with a light pole where its head used to be. It clutched the remnants of Shepard's old N7 armor in its hands before it, having rescued it from the scrap pile on the workbench.
She reached out for it, but Legion pulled it away.
"Come on, man," Jacob said. "It's trash. We're gonna hook you up with a whole new set."
"We want to keep it."
Tali clasped the ruined shoulder pad in her fingers, but Legion tightened its grip and pulled it even closer. With its arms locked tightly in front of it, their ability to finish the repair job on the geth effectively ended. Shepard had queried Legion endlessly as to why it used the chunk of armor to repair itself. No data available, it always said. Tali had long wondered herself, but always dismissed the idea that the machine somehow developed an attachment to a physical object because it once belonged to someone it held in high regard. Now, there was no doubt in her mind. She slid her hand from the chunk of armor to Legion's claw and gave it a gentle pat. "Of course you can. It's yours."
Tiny pistons extended on the side of Legion's camera, pushing empty space once occupied by its head flaps, which made Tali giggle.
Jacob rubbed his chin and nodded towards Legion's prize. "You know that's 2183 issue, right?"
Legion turned its camera on Jacob and Tali cocked her head. "What do you mean?"
"Made from omni-gel. We could break that down, mix it in with new formula and fabricate it into new armor. It'd actually become part of you."
Legion turned on its heel to face the human and extended its hands. "We approve of this action."
Jacob grinned and lifted the armor chunk from Legion's hands and briefly wondered if any of Shepard's "residue" might still be left on the pieces, given Legion's lack of hygiene and where the piece came from. He quickly blocked out the thought, no wanting to ruin the moment. He set it down on the workbench next to the spare geth armor plates they had pulled from the crates. "You got it. Let's see what we can come up with."
"I'll take care of his insides," Tali said, reaching for a bottle of cleaning solvents, a rag and a sharp probe for scouring, "since we're in here. Hopefully we won't have to do this again for a while."
"Amen to that," Jacob said as he scanned the spare armor into the fabricator. Legion stood rigidly behind him, watching over his shoulder with interest. "Don't worry dude," he told the geth and patted the chunk of N7 armor. "I've done this a million times. You'll be able to see it the whole time."
Tali smiled as she worked, except when a particularly large chunk of debris hit the floor. They probably should have set down some kind of drop cloth, but in spite of his fastidious nature, Jacob didn't seem to mind. It took her a long time, but she'd finally come to like the Cerberus operative. He was far more stoic than Shepard or most humans she met, but as dependable as they came. She knew that if she or Shepard, or any of her friends ever fell in a firefight, Jacob would be the first one there to carry them out. How many people could she honestly say that about? "You hear about Jack?" she asked.
Jacob lined up both right and left leg plates on the bench for scanning. "Yeah. Damn shame."
"You don't seem too upset about it," Tali said, realizing her tone said the same thing about her, maybe intentionally.
"Well, she and I weren't exactly best friends."
"Yeah. Me, neither. I mean, it's sad she's gone and all, but... You know. I'm- gods... I should feel something, shouldn't I?"
Jacob shrugged. "I don't know. You see enough of people go down, you get lean with your feelings, save them for people who matter to you. It's natural. And unavoidable. I mean, Jack was good in a fight, but... never quite got the feeling she'd pull me up if I were dangling over an edge, know what I mean?"
"Yeah," Tali poked at a particularly stubborn piece of corrosion on Legion's hip. "You know, she used to scare Gabby and Ken to death. I'd send them below to storage to pick up some parts, and they'd make me go with them."
Jacob laughed. "That sounds about right. Can't say I blame them. She really did not care for the uniform. You're lucky Cerberus didn't make a suit in your size."
Tali poked her head from behind Legion to glare at the human. Had he said that to her when they first met, someone would be pulling her off of him like Shepard had done with Enlea. Now, her death stare was always accompanied by a smile behind her mask. "Like I'd want to look like Miranda."
"Better than Jack," Jacob shook his head as he processed another piece of geth armor.
"Oh, no doubt. Honestly, didn't she get cold at all? I know those tattoos couldn't keep her warm." Tali glanced up when she noticed the geth was looking at her. "What's wrong, Legion?"
"She was one of us," Legion said and turned its head back to watch Jacob work.
Both Tali and Jacob stopped what they were doing, if only for a moment. A heavy silence lingered as the organics resumed their tasks, having being rendered speechless by a machine.
Arawazi T'Lon clenched her teeth. It was involuntary any time she heard the raspy inhalation of a volus rebreather, a reflex by this time in her life. It was her duty, though, as a relay transit controller to deal with spaceships of all species making the jump into the asari home system... including, sadly, those belonging to the volus. Sitting in a clear dome atop Fellia Station with two dozen of her sister controllers, she cursed herself that this particular vessel landed in her queue.
"I show no record of your ship, Captain," she said, one finger on the mute button as she prepared to cancel out the horrible sound, but she always seemed to miss it. "Did you file a flight plan?"
She was too late, and the alien's wheeze ripped through her earpiece like static. "Affirmative, Parnitha Control," replied a nasal voice, followed by another infernal sniff. "We have followed all regulations..." Arawazi cringed once more, "And have all the proper visas manifests and permits for routing to Thessia." Again, the distorted wheeze. "We believe you are in error. Please check again."
"I've looked twice already, and-" Arawazi blinked at her screen. Where the transponder code once showed as unknown and the windows for manifest and flight plan were empty, detailed documentation on the ship now filled the display: travel history, ownership and registry, and a cargo manifest of high-end audio/visual equipment.
She scowled at her screen. Glitches weren't unheard of, but in her decades on the job she'd never seen an entire ship drop out of the system. She keyed her panel and sent the ship's ident through to Arrival Security. A split second later, she got a response from their independently maintained secured database. The records were a complete match.
"Huh," she muttered to herself. Just as well, she thought. You won't have to listen to that little rolly-polly catch his breath anymore. She keyed her mic. "My apologies, captain. It just came through. Transferring you to approach. Welcome to Parnitha."
She jabbed at the mute button, but released early and caught another earful of static. Why couldn't they build a filter into this thing, she wondered. "Thank you, madam. Switching frequencies to Thessia Approach. MV Pollus Maskawa out."