The Measure of a Man
Shepard stood at the opening to Normandy's mess, empty and quiet, with the only noise coming from Sergeant Gardner in the galley as he rattled his pots and pans. Most of the crew took advantage of the stand-down to get some much needed rest. Miranda's office door indicator showed Do Not Disturb, and the shades had been lowered in the infirmary since their return from Dashta to give the handful of patients recuperating there some privacy. Whatever Gardner was serving actually smelled quite good, smelling of pastry and cooked meat, causing a low growl in Shepard's stomach. He took a step in but stopped short when he heard a voice come around the corner from the aft table. At first he didn't recognize it, until he realized it was Mobile Platform Two using its quarian simulating synthesizer.
"Geth interactions with Jack were experienced through Legion," Blue was explaining. "While her treatment of our mobile platform was generally negative, it was in line with the relationships she had with other members of the Normandy crew. That is to say, she treated it no differently than anyone else. But she was a capable biotic and a valuable asset in battle."
Garrus sighed. "That's basically what I'm hearing from everyone on the ship. Good fighter, sorry she's dead, but..." his voice trailed off.
"Unclear on how this relates to Shepard," Mordin said.
"Well," Garrus said. "When Thane and the others died, it was just bad luck. But I think he believes that Jack's blood is on his hands."
Blue's artificial voice might not have been able to convey sympathy even if it meant it, but its words made its thoughts clear enough. "Jack was given every opportunity to stay with the ship, or depart with the rest of the crew. She chose to go it alone. This is not the Commander's fault."
Garrus sighed. "I... would recommend keeping that observation to yourself the next time you talk to him, Blue.. You see, it turns out Jack could have gotten away unnoticed. But instead of running, she holed up to send us the warning, and that's when they caught up to her. Shepard couldn't get to her in time."
"Oh my," Mordin said. "Had not heard that."
"Neither had I," said Blue. "But the fact remains that Commander Shepard was not responsible. Jack's actions got her killed, not the Commander. I still don't understand why didn't she stay with the crew."
"Suffered from severe attachment disorder," Mordin said. "Personal relationships nearly impossible to build. Progress with Normandy crew slow but definite, especially with Commander Shepard. Believe she would have made significant strides, especially considering shared experience of victory at collector base, had she survived. Regrettable."
Shepard stared at the deck. The last actual conversation he had with Jack replayed in his mind, the bitterness in her voice, the betrayal in her eyes when she found out Shepard was still coordinating with the Illusive Man. It was no attachment disorder or the disdain for the crew that made her run away. No one else may have known it, but Shepard did. Jack was dead because of him. All of the sudden, he wasn't hungry any more. He was about to turn back for the lift when a hand touched his shoulder and it made him jump.
"Hey, Shep," Kasumi said as she peered around him into the galley with a grin. "Getting good dish?"
Shepard closed his eyes and willed his heart rate back below one-hundred twenty. The conversation in the galley stopped abruptly. He glared at the thief. "I swear... one of these days I'm going to put a bell around your neck."
"Come on, I wasn't even trying." Kasumi walked past. "I was just going to grab a bite. Care to join me?"
"Actually I was just heading back to CIC."
"Right," Kasumi said as she walked backwards into the galley. "Come on. Get some food. It actually smells edible."
"Hey," echoed Gardner's voice from the kitchen. "I'm old. I'm not deaf!"
Kasumi grimaced beneath her cowl and covered her mouth. "As usual, I was about to say," she called over her shoulder, which got her a disbelieving grunt from the cook. Mordin, Garrus and Blue sat at the aft table, empty plates and glasses in front of the organics. Blue of course needed no food, but sat anyway much like Legion did whenever the crew gathered to engage in conversation. The three of them looked up upon her arrival.
"Hey guys," Kasumi said. "Mind if Shep and I join you?"
Mordin and Garrus looked about with panicked looks on their faces. Kasumi waved to Shepard around the corner, who shook his head and sighed. "Come on," she beckoned, "It's not like you can keep evesdropping now. That's my schtick, anyway."
Shepard flashed the thief a wane smile and walked slowly into view.
"Commander," Garrus said. How long had Shepard been listening? Though none of them had said anything that could be construed as remotely disparaging, he still fidgeted as though he'd been caught in the act.
"What's on the menu tonight?" Kasumi asked to fill the ensuing awkward silence.
Garrus pointed to his empty tray. "Well I had some leftover casserole. There's still some left in the fridge, if you like. Made it myself."
"Tempting," Kasumi contemplated the dextro's offer to poison her. "But I'd rather not spend the next week in the can. What did you have, Mordin?"
"Turkey pot pie," Mordin said. "However, DNA analysis of the meat shows no relation to the flightless fowl of Earth. In fact, genome present unlike any in known galaxy. Mess Sergeant Gardner has discovered new life form, or kitchen is in dire need of decontamination. Possibly both. Unsure which."
Gardner's voice drifted through the air once again. "Why does everyone act like I can't hear 'em?"
"Well," Kasumi said to Shepard. "Mystery meat is still meat as far as I'm concerned. What do you say we fight our way to the front of the line and find out?"
"Lead on," Shepard said with a wave, and followed Kasumi to the deserted serving station.
Garrus watched the two of them go. Kasumi was her usual, bubbly self as she talked to the cook, simultaneously berating Gardner and making him laugh at the same time, while Shepard stood by and waited patiently to get his food before returning to the table. They sat, and Kasumi and Mordin engaged in pleasant chit chat, with Garrus adding color commentary as necessary. But Garrus kept focused on Shepard. He watched the Commander pick at the pot pie without saying a word. Other than the occasional tired smile, Shepard didn't react to any of the conversation.
How many months did Garrus spend brooding after Shepard rescued him from Omega? In spite of all of the Commander's pep talks, bottles drained to the bottom, the bars they closed down, he hid in the forward battery because it was easier to face those goddamn fire control systems day after day than his shipmates. The machines, at least, had some hope of repair. If Kasumi caught Shepard skulking around the common areas of the ship, was only going to get worse if they didn't do something. In his own case, it just took time... and heroic levels of patience and understanding from his friends to snap him out of it.
Time hadn't yet had a chance to ease the pain, but under the circumstances time wasn't something for which any of them could wait. The rest of the ingredients were available, though. He tapped at the messenger on his omnitool. You busy?
Hey! Tali wrote. I've got something you HAVE to see! :) Can you come up to the Armory?
Can it wait? Garrus replied. We're down in the galley. Shepard could use some company. And you're way better at cheering him up than I am.
Tali's reply was almost instantaneous. Dropping Shepard's name was always the best way to get action out of the quarian. What's wrong? Is he okay?
Feeling bad about Jack. I think he needs to see some friendly faces.
I've got just the thing, Tali typed. Don't let him go anywhere! He's going to LOVE this! Be there in a minute!
See you in a few, Garrus typed and closed the holo interface. He wasn't sure what could have Tali in such a boisterous mood, but it was just that kind of positive energy Shepard needed right now.
Minutes later, Jacob rounded the starboard hall from the main corridor. He stood at the head of the table and held up a hand until conversations stopped and all eyes were focused on him. "May I have your attention, please," he said, "It is my sincere pleasure to introduce to you, in his exclusive Normandy SR-2 debut:" he stepped aside and held his hand out behind him with a flourish. "Legion 2.0!"
From around the bend, a geth platform walked stiffly into view, Tali on its left, her arm intertwined with the machine's. Shepard, Garrus and even Mordin did a double take at the sight of the chief engineer parading around with one of Blue's support platforms, painted stark white and polished to a mirror shine. Except this one sported a wide red stripe on its left shoulder and an N7 emblem on its chest, complete with the red accent.
Shepard's brow furrowed with confusion. He saw similar expressions from Mordin and Garrus, and Blue's head flaps expanded and contracted slightly. While her friends wrestled to get their brains working again, Kasumi stood with a loud gasp and sidled next to Legion on the left, fanning her face. "Hubba, hubba! Who is this handsome devil?" She wrapped her other arm around the geth's waist and hiked one leg over its shin plate. "I declare, I may faint!"
"Identification failure," Legion intoned. "We have not been recognized. We are Legion. Our hardware platform has received external modifications. We are running unrevised software on our existing chassis but with upgraded armor components." It looked towards Tali. "Suggest immediate restoration of original components."
Garrus and Mordin smiled at the sight of the newly-repaired geth, and for the first time since coming back from Dashta, life seemed to return to Shepard's eyes as he finally figured out what he was seeing. He leaned back in his seat and looked Legion over from head to toe, adorned with two of his crew clinging to it as if it were a super star.
Kasumi tapped on Legion's arm so it turned back to her. "Don't you dare! You look great, Legion!"
"Back off, Goto," Tali winked and snaked her own arm around Legion's waist. "He's mine!"
"Hush now," Kasumi gave Tali a dismissive flip of her free hand before rubbing all over Legion's breast plate. "He's big enough for both of us, aren't you, Legion?"
Legion flapped its head plates as it was prone to do when confused by organic behavior.
"Now why doesn't this ever happen to me?" Garrus asked from the table.
Shepard stood and walked close to examine Legion's new armor. Everyone around the table, especially Legion, awaited his assessment. He pointed at the N7 emblem, his face a devoid of expression. "Decided to go with the same motif?"
Legion looked down at its chest, then back to Shepard, its headflaps widening slightly. "Yes. It is comprised of new composite, fabricated with the original armor components as part of its matrix."
"Huh," Shepard looked thoughtful. Tali stiffened. Should they have asked his permission? She hadn't given it much consideration in the armory, but Legion had used the old armor as a field-expedient repair after the Commander had been declared dead. Would Shepard have wanted it back, given the option? He kept his old helmet on the desk in his quarters, for some reason. We should have asked, she thought.
"Why?" Shepard asked. Legion's limbs tensed, and its face plates contracted. Shepard held up a hand. "Right. 'No data available.'" He reached out and gave Legion a pat on its red-striped shoulder. "Doesn't matter. You earned it," he smiled and returned to his seat at the table.
Accompanied by a loud buzz, Legion's face plates expanded and contracted and it's camera whirled around. "Thank you, Shepard-Commander."
Standing next to the geth, Tali could almost hear 1,183 tiny voices inside cheering in unison. She watched Shepard return to his seat and go back to picking at his dinner and she leaned her head against Legion's arm. After such a subdued reaction, she knew Garrus hadn't been exaggerating about Shepard's condition.
Garrus was watching as well. He knew he had to keep the Commander talking if they were going to succeed. "I like it, but it's kind of... flashy, isn't it? I mean, as far as tactical armor goes. I can see myself in it from here."
Jacob shook his head. "No worries there. Gave him an active matrix crystalline finish on every plate. Check this out... Legion? Woodland."
Instantaneously, all of Legion's armored surfaces turned a mottled brown and green pattern, and the shiny finish turned matte before their eyes.
"Nice!" Kasumi's eyes widened with delight.
"Urban," Jacob said. Legion's armor plates turned to bands of fragmented slate and steel. "He can do almost any subtractive color to blend in with his surroundings and adjust reflectivity as needed."
"Polka dots!" Kasumi shouted. The geth's armor plates turned white once more, with gumball sized red dots arranged neatly all over each surface. "Oh, this is going to be fun!"
"Figured we'd give him a little extra something while we had him in the shop." Jacob said. "Not as good as a full cloak, but it uses almost no power. Of course the chassis and tubing underneath don't change color, and they can always just take aim at that big-ass headlight of his, but it should help keep him from catching sniper rounds in the future."
Legion's armor plates returned to their neutral, pearly white condition.
"Impressive," Garrus bowed his head slightly. "I wondered what was going on in the armory after I left. How'd you do it so fast?"
Tali patted Legion's arm. "The geth brought aboard spare parts to repair themselves after the boarding action, and Jacob fabricated anything that else we needed." She looked at Mobile Platform Two, still seated at the table, silent throughout the entire display of Legion's upgrades. "I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not," Blue responded in its synthesized female quarian voice. "Legion is a vital member of the crew and should be maintained accordingly. I think you did a very nice job."
Tali bristled at the sound. As Jacob showed Mordin and Kasumi the improvements in Legion's superstructure, she worked her way around the table to where the blue geth sat. "Um, I'm sorry... I thought we agreed you weren't going to use that voice any more."
Garrus smiled. "It gives her more personality, so I asked her to restore it. I like it."
"Only because you know I hate it," Tali glared at him. "This isn't like changing the presets on your visor, you bosh'tet!"
Across the table from them, Shepard sat back in his chair with a sigh and waited for the inevitable call for the referee.
Garrus looked at Tali, but addressed the geth. "What was it you called yourself, Blue?"
"Chil'Darre vas Normandy," the blue geth said, bowing its head to him.
Tali stamped her foot on the deck. "Garrus! Don't encourage it!"
"I know what the vas Normandy part means," Garrus said, "But where did you get the rest? Did someone name you?"
Blue's head flaps undulated as it spoke. "It's a descriptor. Many quarian names are based on family traits, going back generations, or traits the parents hoped their children might one day possess."
"Some humans do that too," Shepard said. The opportunity to learn something about their guest was too hard to pass up. "Hell, actually most of our names mean something if you look back far enough."
Tali sighed. Mordin, Kasumi and Jacob now huddled around the table, listening to their previously private conversation. And now that Shepard had joined in, there was no containing the damage. She was glad to see he had engaged, but wished it had been for some other reason. Only Legion stayed out of it, observing from behind.
"Yeah, okay then," Jacob shrugged. "So what does yours mean, Blue? I mean... Chil'Darre."
Tali still stood rigidly with her arms crossed and tried to keep from flinching with each word the geth spoke.
"It's a combination of Chil, 'blue', and Darre," Blue explained. "A common substitution used by quarians for geth adopted into their households. A geth you know, as opposed to one you don't."
"Fascinating," Mordin rubbed his chin. "Literally, Blue Geth of Normandy."
"Correct," Blue responded.
Shepard's eyes darted between Tali and the geth seated at the table. He'd seen that look in the quarian's eyes before. "That's a mouthful. Mind if we just keep calling you 'Blue'?"
"You may address me however you feel most comfortable, Commander."
"And maybe you should switch back to your regular voice. At least for now."
Tali unclenched her hands. "Thank you, Commander."
"Come on, Tali," Garrus tried to sound sympathetic, though he was clearly enjoying Tali's discomfort. "I think you're overreacting. She's making an effort here. It's an excellent idea. A person's voice, if you'll pardon the expression, is one of the first things someone notices. Don't you think?"
"And what about EDI? You don't mind how she talks, do you?"
Tali's entire body tensed up. "It's not the same."
Garrus propped his elbow on the table and swiveled his chair to face the geth next to him. He rested his cheek on his hand as if chatting up Platform Two at a bar. "Definitely not. It's much sexier. Be a shame to let it go to waste. I say she should be allowed to keep it."
Tali's hands clenched at her side. It was bad enough that the rest of the crew thought the Blue's diplomatic protocol was cool, but Garrus wasn't just engaging Platform Two out of some sense of intellectual curiosity or enjoyment. He was doing it just to piss her off, and as usual he was succeeding. But she also knew that blowing up now might get Shepard to put a stop to it, but Garrus always played the long game and would come circling back on her later only ten times worse. All she could do was wait and hope someone changed the subject. If you're lucky, maybe the reapers will show up and put an end to this, she thought.
Garrus' voice filled with a deep bass purr, one Tali had heard countless times when the turian had been on the prowl in clubs and bars throughout the galaxy. Other women swooned when they heard it, but it just made Tali think he had something caught in his throat. "You know," he said, "I swear I've heard it somewhere before. Are you someone famous? A singer, perhaps? Have you done anything I've heard?"
Blue cocked its head at Garrus. "It's quite possible. My voice is an exact reproduction of Lyella'Lassina nar Altensi, star of 'Fleet and Flotilla.'"
Garrus's smile froze.
"Are you familiar with the show?"
Like a bubble bursting, all the tension left Tali's body at once. She set her hand gently on Garrus's shoulder as she leaned over to look Blue in the eye, directly the turian's line of sight. "I take it back." She turned her head so she could stare the turian in the eyes, close enough for him to see the wicked smile behind her faceplate. "It's perfect. Please, continue to use it."
Around the table, smiles dawned on the faces of the squad members present. Even Shepard couldn't prevent a wide grin from spreading across his face.
Across from him, Mordin wore an expression of unbridled, insincere enthusiasm. "Should ask for autograph. 'To Garrus Vakarian, my number one fan! XOXOX'"
Jacob grabbed the turian's shoulders from behind. "Aww, no! This can't be right! My man here just likes the music!"
Kasumi reached underneath Jacobs arms and gave Garrus a hug, all through which the turian kept his face buried in his hand. "I knew it!" Kasumi squealed. "Garrus is Team Lyella!"
In spite of being shaken by Jacob and squeezed by Kasumi, Garrus kept his posture and slowly opened his eyes to see Tali beaming back at him.
"Thank you, Garrus," Tali said. "Thank you so much for helping me to be more understanding. I will treasure this moment forever."
Amidst the laughter that ensued, Garrus leaned past the gloating quarian to look at Blue. "I know you didn't choose that voice at random. By any chance, did someone in this room suggest it? A certain quarian standing very close to me right now, perhaps?"
Tali smacked the turian on the back of his head below his fringe. "Oh right, it was totally my idea. Idiot!"
"It wasn't Tali," Blue confirmed. "But thank you for convincing her to change her mind."
Garrus rubbed the spot where Tali cuffed him and looked at the faces surrounding him. Most of the likely suspects were here. "Then who was it? I need to start working on an airtight alibi."
Blue turned its head towards the other geth in the room. "It was Legion's idea."
All eyes turned to the white geth who stood alone at the head of the table.
"Query," Legion asked. "What is a 'man card?'" Even after living with the geth for months, sometimes its inquiries still seemed random and incomprehensible to the organic crew who now looked at each other with confusion. But before any of them could answer, Legion turned its camera-eye squarely on the turian. "And why does Vakarian-Garrus no longer possess one?"
"Oh shit," Shepard whispered. He stood, took a step away, then turned back and to point at Legion, all while laughing uncontrollably. "Holy shit. He set you up. Legion set you up!"
"Affirmative," Legion's head flaps rippled.
The laughter in the galley had been loud before, but Garrus's ears now rang with the exaltation of his friends as they celebrated his humiliation at the hands of the geth. Tali clapped her hands and bounced over to her mechanical champion to give it a giant hug as Mordin stood upright from his chair and applauded as if at the theater, soon to be joined by everyone else in the mess. Though hard to hear over the ensuing noise, Garrus could make out quite clearly Kasum's hummed rendition of "Fire in the Courtyard."
Blue, however, just sat in its chair. Its sensors recorded all of the interactions, registered bio stats of all the crew and logged them for future upload when it was able to resume contact with the network. Of most interest was Mobile Platform One. Its behavior had become increasingly erratic during its stay on the Normandy, and had it now used subterfuge to create conflict amongst the Normandy crew. But instead of reacting with hostility, they embraced it. Blue cocked its head in an imitation of confusion as Tali hugged Legion, as she and the other organics at the table ignored the platform whose sole purpose was to provide an interface between them and the geth.
"You know," Shepard said, leaning against the table after managing to stop laughing. "I've never actually seen it. We should have a screening sometime."
"Oh, yes!" Kasumi exclaimed. "Movie Night!"
Shepard looked thoughtful. "If only we knew someone who had a copy. Garrus? Can you hook us up?"
"I..." Garrus clenched his mandibles and slowly peeled Kasumi's arms from around his waist. "...will be in the battery if anyone needs me. Excuse me."
Tali waved to Garrus as he left, but he did not acknowledge her. When she looked back at Shepard, he was up as well and on his way to her. He smiled at the sight of the quarian engineer with her arm around the geth's waist. It was the kind of smile that always made Tali weak in the knees and her mind turn to mush, and the ventilator in her helmet gave a brief whine as it stepped up to compensate for her rising body temperature. She was ecstatic that Garrus had gotten his comeuppance, but nothing made her happier than seeing Shepard happy.
"Legion," Shepard said, holding out his right hand palm up. "Gimme three. Didn't know you had it in you." The geth slapped its hand into Shepard's, then held it out so Shepard could return the gesture.
Tali blinked. She wasn't sure what the motions were all about but had seen it many times amongst the human crew. "When did you teach him that?"
"Wasn't me," Shepard said. "Don't know where he got it, but I saw him high-fiving Ken last week. Always picking up new things, aren't you, Legion?"
Tali glanced over to Jacob, who smiled and grinned back. If she tried to explain what she and Jacob saw in the Armory, Legion's reaction to his own reflection, would Shepard believe her? Her eyes then fell to Blue, still seated at the table. Even with its advanced communication protocols and ability to imitate quarian body language, the blue geth still seemed as cold and devoid of feeling as the standard platforms accompanying it on the ship.
But Legion? He ambled about like a budget model LOKI mech and used a vocoder that was outdated centuries ago, but ever since the day she brought it back online in Mordin's lab after it sacrificed itself to save the Commander she couldn't think of it as anything less than a person. If they're all the same, she wondered, why didn't they act like it? She trusted Legion with her life and the safety of the ship. Blue fought alongside her and Commander Shepard through Dashta's corridors, and the standard platforms were instrumental in repelling the boarding attempt on the ship. So why didn't she think of them the same way?
A hatch whooshed open behind her somewhere. It barely registered with Tali, still focused on the difference between the geth platforms, until she saw Shepard look behind her as well. The bright sparkle in his eye disappeared, as did the smile on his face. She turned to follow where the others were looking.
"You find something?" Shepard asked.
Miranda walked from her quarters with a datapad in her hand. Behind her, Enlea T'Vari stood close to the door, trying not to look at the gathered crew. "Commander," Miranda said, her expression dour. For some reason, her eyes kept flitting back to Tali as she approached, who scowled back at her every time. "It wasn't the asari that hit us at Dashta. Even though we were being tracked, they didn't have any advanced knowledge of where we would be."
"Then who was it?" Shepard asked.
Miranda's eyes locked with the quarian next to him. "We need to talk to Kal'Reegar."
Tali crossed her arms. She and Miranda had made great progress in their mutual antipathy, partially through having saved each others' lives a dozen times over, but mainly by staying out of each others' way. But every now and then something would still put the two on a collision course. And when it came to her friends, there was no way Tali would ever give up ground. "Concerning what?"Miranda did not shy away from Tali's angry stare. "Whether or not your people led us into the ambush at Dashta."