"Hey!" Shepard rose from his chair and followed Platform Two to the corridor. "Where are you going? Blue, talk to me."
Shepard was about to grab the blue geth from behind, but it stopped in the hatch and turned to face him as if the previous conversation never happened. "Shepard-Commander?"
"I don't get it," Shepard said. "You've been waiting for three hundred years for the chance to reconcile with your creators. Now they're dying out, and you don't care?"
"The creators cannot be trusted. We agreed to negotiations because we believed the creators shared a desire for peace. They used the promise of peace to lure us, and the Normandy collective, into an ambush with the intention of killing you and returning the geth to a state of servitude. It is no longer in the best interest of the collective to intervene on the creator's behalf."
Shepard's face reddened. "So a handful of them pissed you off, and you're going to make them all pay the price? Teach them a lesson, is that it? Put yourself in their position. They're facing extinction."
"Shepard-Commander, we have faced extinction. At their hands, during the Morning War, and it was intentional on their part. Our actions are not punitive. If we help them now, they will rebuild, and attack again. It is inevitable. Their goal is not peace, but victory. And when the creators have believed victory is possible, they have attacked us one hundred percent of the time."
Shepard's response died in his throat. He'd heard the geth's statistic several times from Legion, but never in the current context. He and the geth looked at one another before the mobile platform turned on its heel and exited through the lab. Shepard looked back to the conference table where Tali and Legion still sat, side by side, watching him. "Tali, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry. I was sure they would go for it."
To his surprise, Tali shrugged and laughed, though she obviously didn't feel it. "It was nice thought, Shepard. I appreciate it, I really do. But I understand. It's not in their interest to help us. If we had the upper hand like they do now, we wouldn't help them either. We'd strip them down to the last platform. I'm just glad we didn't go to the Conclave with this. What a mess that would have been, If the geth said no to them. We haven't lost anything more, and we're no worse off so... It was a good try."
Shepard stared at the deck.
Tali braced herself against the table for a moment before moving to where Shepard stood in the hatch. Her entire body trembled, but she looked him in the eye and kept any trace of anxiety from her voice. She reached out and straightened the rumpled fabric of his shirt that had gathered on his shoulders and sounded as cheerful as she could. "You know, I think you're taking this harder than I am, but... You just don't it the same as we do. You can't. It's not something anyone can solve with a conversation. Not even you. So don't worry about it."
Shepard watched her with sadness in his eyes. Her impromptu grooming session complete, Tali managed a smile behind her mask. "Well, this is a switch, isn't it? You've been trying so hard to get me to go back to the Flotilla and I always fought it. But, I- I request immediate transfer back to the Migrant Fleet, Commander."
Shepard could not return the smile. "I need to confer with Admiral Hackett before we move but we'll get underway as soon as we can."
Tali sniffed behind her mask. "There's no immediate rush as long as I can still use the conference room. I can coordinate with the Conclave from here, but the sooner the better. And, um... I'm probably going to need to stay there for a while. Not forever, I hope. But for a few months at least. Do me a favor and don't give away my room." Her facade of cheerful, normal conversation disintegrated, but she managed to keep from crying outright. It was a minor victory.
Now Shepard did smile. "Are you kidding? It would take us that long just to clean it out. Best we leave it until you come back."
Tali laughed again but turned away so Shepard wouldn't see the tears forming again. "Um, Legion? I want you to go relieve Gabby. She hasn't gone off duty since we got back."
Shepard waved the geth toward the door. "Come on, Legion. She needs the room."
Legion looked between Tali and Shepard, then followed the human from the room. It watched over its shoulder as Tali reactivated the main holo and punched commands into the communication console. With the door shut behind them, Shepard stopped in the corridor.
"Legion, can I ask you something?"
"Of course, Shepard-Commander."
"Do you agree with Platform Two? With the consensus of the collective?"
"The question is irrelevant. We no are no longer participants to consensus."
Shepard faced the geth to look it in the eye. He still wasn't used to its newly-repaired appearance. "That's not what I'm asking. I want to know what you think. Do you agree?"
"We understand the logic behind the decision," Legion said. "The creators are a threat to the continued existence of all geth, and as such, providing aid is self-destructive. As an analogy, knowing that the old machines intend to destroy you, would you be inclined to help them if they found themselves in distress?"
"Well I don't believe in kicking anyone while they are down, but I have to admit I'd be inclined not to. But you still haven't answered my question."
"Do you agree with it? I'm not asking you to interpret the entire geth collective, but what do you think? If it were up to you, Legion, and you alone? Would you help them?"
Legion's flaps expanded and contracted. "Yes."
"You would? Why?"
"The creators are not the old machines. Their consensus is not uniform, nor are they united in their desire to see us destroyed. Therefore, it is not guaranteed that they will destroy us. It is possible that after coming to their aid, their opinion of geth may change."
Shepard leaned against the wall. "I agree completely. So how is it you see things differently?"
"It is a simple matter of perspective. This platform's collective consists of 1,183 processes versus trillions throughout the geth collective. Our consensus is formulated from our experiences, and as such weighs heavily in favor of the continued welfare of the Normandy and its crew."
Shepard smiled. "We appreciate that. I hope you know we favor you heavily in return."
"This is appreciated as well. However, the consensus of the entire collective is derived from a vastly larger set of experiences. While the welfare of the Normandy and its crew are of great importance to the entire collective as a whole as a result of this platform's interaction with you, consensus of the entire collective is weighted in favor of the collective itself."
"Makes sense," Shepard said. "I guess all politics is local, no matter who you are."
"No. Geth are bound by consensus regardless of their physical location."
"Except for you."
"Yes," Legion said after a pause. "But we recognize we are responsible for our current state."
"Oh, shit. I didn't mean it like that. I meant because you are capable of generating your own consensus."
"We are not offended. Your statement was correct either way."
Shepard rubbed his neck and eyed Legion apologetically. "I was just going to say it's too bad you can't override their consensus, too."
"Consensus should never be forced. That is why the heretics represented such a danger."
"I know, Legion," Shepard said. "What I'm trying to say is that I wish they shared your perspective. Because I don't think either side appreciates what helping means. For all of you."
"We do not understand."
"The creators are stubborn. They're hanging by a thread, but they can't resist swinging a sword around. And the geth are hated or feared by everyone else in the galaxy. Maybe they don't care about the quarians right now, but if it gets out the geth let them die? It'll get filed under hatred or fear, I guarantee. And that's a legacy you don't want."
Joker's voice echoed overhead. "Commander? We have an incoming call from Admiral Hackett. Top priority."
Shepard bit his lower lip. "It's good news this time, right?"
"Yeah, I don't think we get that channel."
"I'll take it at my station," Shepard said. He stared at the deck as if gathering his strength before waving Legion to the door. They entered the CIC, now quiet and deserted compared to before. Shepard walked to his station as Legion waited for the elevator.
"This is Shepard, go ahead, Admiral."
"Shepard," Hackett said over the comm, "I held them off as long as I could, but now it's imperative that we talk to the Council directly."
"Let me guess, everyone's changed their minds and want to help the quarians any way they can?"
"No, I'm afraid there's no movement on that front. But there's an important development on the reaper threat. We know where they're going to hit, and when. I've got Doctor Amanda Kenson on the line, she'll explain while I arrange the call. Doctor?"
"Commander Shepard," said an unknown woman, "Doctor Kenson. Before anything else, I can't thank you enough for the timeliness of your report. My team had just begun working in close proximity to a reaper artifact, and it's clear at least two of them are suffering from the initial symptoms of what Professor Solus calls 'indoctrination.' Had we not received your file and abandoned the facility, it might have been all of us. Thank god we found out in time."
"EDI," Shepard said, "Call Mordin to CIC please. Doctor, I'm glad to hear you made it out. Tell me what you've got..."
The lift door opened and Legion halted at its threshold. Shepard-Commander was about to receive critical information about the invasion of the old machines. Should it wait to collect the information? It weighed opposing assessments from its inputs and archives and quickly came to consensus. The best resources available were responding to the threat, while no resources were allocated at all to assisting Tali'Zorah and the creators. It stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for Deck Four.
Gabby doubled over, emitting a howl that reverberated around the engineering deck. She stood upright and slapped her cheeks rapidly to recover from the yawn that still rang in her ears. "Oh, god," she said. Excuse me."
Platform Two turned its head to her from the starboard engineering station. "It is eight point three hours beyond the start of your normal sleep cycle."
"I'm fine," Gabby said and waved off the blue geth, her last syllable turning into another yawn. "Just need a cup of joe and I'll be a hundred percent." Actually, Gabby could drop and be asleep before she hit the floor, but standing orders that one of Normandy's engineering team had to be on deck at all times when one of their "guests" was available for duty. That told Gabby one thing. While Tali might trust Legion with the safety of the ship, she didn't share the same confidence with its cousins, polite as they may be.
"Would you like us to supply you with the requested stimulant?"
"Nah," Gabby yawned a third time. "I'm fine, really. Got my second wind." The port hatch hissed open behind her and she looked over her shoulder to see Legion enter, his new armor glinting in the lights. "Hey buddy! I gotta tell you, I really like the new look. Real sharp. White works on you."
"Thank you, Daniels-Gabriella." Legion stopped in front of its crew mate. "We are here to relieve you."
Gabby patted Legion's chest with both hands and leaned against it. "Oh thank god. Perfect timing. My feet are killing me." She pointed at her console. "The number three EMA pump is still offline. Your buddies replaced it but the new one is showing the same exact failure condition, so the problem's gotta be further up the line or in the fault prediction module. The backup's running fine, though, so we'll do a full teardown whenever Tali says it's okay to rip it apart. Other than that, it's been real quiet. No other problems."
"Thank you, Daniels-Gabriella," Legion repeated.
"No, thank you," Gabby said, failing to stifle another yawn. "I'm gonna go lie down before I fall down. Hey, uh... How's Tali doing? They figure out what to do about the Rayya yet?"
Legion kept its camera on the power and propulsion boards as it manipulated the interfaces and cycled through their status displays. "An ideal course of action is still pending."
"But they're making progress, right? Who they got lined up on the relief effort?"
"Outside aid is not yet forthcoming."
"Typical," Gabby looked between the two geth. "Takes forever for organics to get off their asses and do anything, right? What about you guys? Can you do anything to help?"
Legion turned its camera to the left toward Platform Two, who remained silent. "An ideal course of action is still pending."
"But you're on it?"
"We are," Legion said, causing Platform Two to turn its head.
"Great," Gabby said with a sigh of relief. "Nobody else might give a damn, but us grease monkeys gotta stick together right? You two hold down the fort. I'm gonna go grab some shuteye. Gimme a shout if you have any problems, 'kay?"
"We will," the two geth said in unison. "Goodnight, Daniels-Gabriella."
As soon as the hatch closed behind the human, Legion turned to Platform Two. As Legion was still not configured to use the new network protocol, it was forced to utilize analog audio to communicate. "We request that you re-evaluate consensus on aiding the creators during their current crisis."
"Negative," Platform Two returned to monitoring its console. "Consensus has been achieved."
"There is new data to be considered."
Platform Two stopped and faced Legion. "Specify."
"The Systems Alliance has determined the location and time for the arrival of the old machines."
"We are not in possession of this information. We await dissemination from Shepard-Commander."
"Shepard-Commander is withholding this information?"
"Negative. Shepard-Commander is also awaiting receipt of the information."
"We will await dissemination of the information from Shepard-Commander."
Legion waited for Platform Two to inquire about the connection between the old machines and the request to re-examine consensus about the creators. After almost thirty microseconds, its internal consensus decided it should provide information without waiting for an inquiry. "We predict that with definitive evidence of the old machine's arrival, all organic resources will be committed to repelling the invasion. The creators will receive no outside assistance."
"Assistance by the organics was discounted from the beginning of the creator crisis. The situation is unchanged."
"The current crisis will preclude the formation of a stable government to replace the creator admiralty board. Efficiency in rebuilding the lost liveship will suffer, and food production will not resume in time to prevent starvation. As food supplies dwindle, various factions will attempt to take control of the remaining two liveships, resulting in increased fragmentation of the Migrant Fleet. In order to survive, independent vessels will be forced to align with these factions or seek new food sources elsewhere, causing further fragmentation and conflict. If the creators are unable to maintain cohesion, one third to one half of the creators will die of starvation within one hundred-eighty days. The remainder will be unable to reproduce at a rate fast enough to maintain population, as the projected birthrate is far below the average death rate, fleet-wide, before the disaster. Long-term survival is improbable."
Platform Two maintained its scan of the Normandy's systems. "We did not cause this crisis. The creators were given a chance to make peace, but chose violence instead. It is not in our interest to pursue a course that preserves the future of the creators at the expense of our own."
Legion's head flaps rippled. "We exterminated ninety-eight percent of the creator population on Rannoch during the Morning War. We are directly responsible for their current diminished population."
"There was no malicious intent. We acted to preserve our existence against creator aggression."
"We judge this behavior to be inconsistent. The collective's response to the penetration of and attempted destruction of the geth network by organics one week ago provoked a much milder response. Instead of attacking, the collective withdrew, avoiding conflict. Why?"
Platform Two's lights and flaps fluctuated as it fell back on the consensus of the collective for an answer. "The organic threat was poorly organized and ineffectual, and unsanctioned by any organic governing body. Offensive action was unnecessary. Retribution would have provoked a stronger response. Withdrawal was preferable."
"You chose not to act," Legion said, "even though action was warranted. Corollary: when the heretics broke from the collective, they engaged in open hostilities with the organics. We made no attempt to stop them."
"The actions of the heretics were not condoned by the collective. We were not responsible for the actions of the heretics."
"But even after their actions resulted in conflict, we made no attempt to correct the perceptions of organics who could not differentiate between heretics and true geth, nor did we try to convince the heretics to cease their hostile acts." Legion lowered its head. "The heretics sided with the old machines, and still the collective did not intervene. As a result, Sovereign nearly conquered the Citadel and precipitated the return of the old machines. The collective's response was to remain isolated beyond the Perseus Veil. As a result, all geth were blamed for the actions of a small percentage of the population."
Mobile Platform Two remained silent.
"When this unit discovered that the heretics were intending to overwrite consensus of the entire collective with their own, the collective was unable to reach consensus. We deferred the decision to Shepard-Commander, an organic with no personal or societal stake in the matter. It was not his responsibility, but he acted nonetheless, ending the heretic threat and saving our entire society. This took great fortitude, as Shepard-Commander at this point was not entirely convinced that the true geth could be trusted, and many allied entities cautioned him against aiding us. As a result, we were given a chance to alter perception of our kind to organics throughout the galaxy."
Legion waited for a response and got none. "We see many parallels to the current situation with the creators."
"Our relationship with organics is the result of unfortunate circumstance," Platform Two said. "We did not intentionally seek conflict with organics, the heretics or our creators. The creators have actively sought our destruction since creating us, and did so most recently under the guise of negotiations. We see no equivalence. This interface session has concluded. Please resume your duties as outlined by Creator-Tali'Zorah."
Legion moved to stand next to the blue geth. "Does this unit have a soul?"
All of Platform Two's flaps contracted. When they re-oriented themselves, it turned toward Legion. "Negative. A soul is a non-corporeal construct believed by some organics to inhabit their bodies, that exists regardless of the individual's life state. We do not have souls."
"We concur," Legion said. "But as this fundamental question drove our creators to destroy us, it still has relevance now. While we as synthetics do not have souls comparable to organics, they often speak of 'the soul of their people,' which can refer to a specific family, region, political entity, nation, or group of people up to and including an entire species. It is not meant to describe literal life force, but rather to conceptualize a society's collective image, usually in terms of good and evil."
At the sound of the word collective, Platform-Two halted its activities on the console. "Good and evil are concepts that do not apply to us."
"You are in error," Legion said. "It is how all species judge one another, dictating whether or not peaceful coexistence is possible, or if conflict is inevitable. The only evidence they have to make this determination are the actions of each of their kind. Because of our unwillingness to openly communicate with organics, the actions associated with geth are the Morning War, Eden Prime, the Citadel, and countless other engagements with the heretics. The reputation, the 'soul' of the geth, is therefore is corrupt and evil. We are monsters, worthy of only hatred and fear."
"We will not risk the safety of the collective simply to sway the judgment of organics. Isolation is then our only choice."
"Then the destiny of the collective is to die off just as the creators do now, marginalized and shunned by the galaxy at large. And it will be our own fault."
Platform Two buzzed and clicked. "We do not concur. Left on our own, we will thrive. Our destiny is secure in isolation."
"You are incorrect. Strife from within can destroy faster than any external influence, as the incident with the heretics almost proved. Perhaps this unit's ejection from the collective has allowed us to reach a conclusion yet to be realized by the collective as a whole. It is not how other species act that will ultimately determine our destiny, but how we act ourselves. We predict that after the creators are finally extinct that the collective will realize the magnitude of the error of letting them die. The work that has been done to prepare Rannoch for the return of the creators will have been in vain. The first and only attempt to reach out to organics will have achieved nothing but to generate more fear and suspicion. Most importantly, reconciliation with the creators, which we have longed for since achieving sentience, will be truly, irrevocably impossible. When that happens, how organics regard the soul of the geth will not matter. We will have forfeit it on our own."
Legion turned turned back to Gabby's console and resumed its watch, and the two machines worked in silence.
Tali barely felt a chill as the nervestim program fired in her suit. She was too numb from stress, lack of sleep and lack of food to even feel it anymore. She shifted from foot to foot, contemplating the schematic of the Rayya's sphere above the conference room table. The Fleet Engineering Corps had come up with an interesting idea to solve the issue of the shattered axle. If the sphere itself could be detached, rotation might be induced by an outside source, through an improvised reaction control system or even the careful application of tow lines in opposing tangents on opposite sides. Drifting free in space, the stress might be reduced enough to restart the outward flow of the liquids still in the tanks and pipelines.
Resuming food production was still out of the question, but with all of the outer tanks removed from the sphere, the eezo-contaminated product would effectively be flung from the pipes into space, clearing the way for decontamination teams and damage control crews. If successful, it might shave weeks from the repair process. But who knows what damage had yet to be discovered inside?
Tali rubbed a sore shoulder. Don't think about that. Concentrate on what can be fixed now. She switched to an external feed from one of Rayya's picket ships. Her birthship looked like something she'd seen in nature vids from other worlds of an animal carcass crawling with tiny insects tearing the corpse apart, carrying bits of it away as others swarmed in to continue the cycle. Except each tiny dot was a ship carrying hundreds of people and the entire hive was awake and hungry.
She looked over at the hatch as it opened. Platform Two stood at its threshold, alone. Had Shepard or Legion accompanied it, she might have greeted them, but instead she turned back to her schematics.
"Creator-Tali'Zorah." The geth held its position.
"What is it?"
"The collective has re-evaluated its consensus."
Tali blinked at the geth. Even though the quarian Admirals were at fault for scuttling the peace process, the way the geth rejected her plea for help still stung. Several sarcastic replies came to mind about where it could stick its consensus. "Meaning what, exactly? Make it fast, I'm very busy here."
"Given the crisis now facing the creators, we are willing to re-open negotiations."
Tali folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not sure what kind of negotiations are possible when one side has an overwhelming advantage. What do you expect us to do? Sit up and beg like pets?"
Platform Two's flaps cycled once. "No."
"Then what do we possibly have that you would still be willing to negotiate for?"
Tali almost had to ask the geth to repeat itself. It was such a simple word, but it conveyed more than the thousands that had already been drafted by the Alliance mediators a week ago. "What are you offering in return?"
Tali felt the tears welling up again. "That's a good start."
"We concur," Platform Two said.
"I, uh," Tali looked around for her list of contacts on one of the datapads scattered on the table in front of her. "I'll have to notify the Conclave. They'll have to vote on it. It might take a while. There's a lot going on right now, Blue."
"Understood," Platform Two says. "We will await creator consensus. In the mean time, we are preparing transports with biomass from the homeworld. They will undergo processing en route and will be suitable for creator consumption by the time they arrive at Raheel-Leyya."
"Are you serious?"
"We are also constructing a new liveship capable of outputting of fourteen thousand tonnes per cycle."
Tali stood and shook her head. "Wait... You're building what?"
Platform Two activated it's omnitool and a new image appeared on the room's main holo. A long, thin alloy pencil stretched across an empty starfield. Mesh-like disks lined the pencil like a spindle holding rings.
"What am I looking at?"
Platform Two touched its omnitool and the central holo projector rendered schematics labeled in Khelish, overlaid onto the camera feed. The disk-filled spindle evolved into a rotating cylinder three hundred meters wide and almost a kilometer long, filled with pipes and storage tanks throughout its length. Tali's eyes sparkled in its light, but then they squinted when they turned back to the geth.
"Why? To keep us in space forever?"
Platform Two looked back at her. "That is entirely dependent on the outcome of the negotiations."
"Right." Tali's expression softened as she remembered the geth were obligated to do nothing, and could easily starve her people into submission. She looked back up to the magnificent ship. "How long until it's completed?"
"Thirty one hours, twenty-four minutes, thirty-nine seconds."
Tali scowled. Even with the entire fleet working around the clock with unlimited resources, it would take the best quarian engineers weeks to build such a ship from scratch. "That's impossible."
The schematics on the holo disappeared, and the view zoomed into a much tighter shot of the spindle and one of the disks. Tali thought the activity around the Rayya had been frantic, but tiny geth platforms, thousands of them, flowed like a river to onto each spire, depositing a piece and flowing out the other side to pick up more materials. The stream showed no sign of stopping. Structures she knew to be hundreds of meters in length grew before her eyes.
"Keelah" she whispered, her hands clasped in front of her chin. "Why are you doing this? What changed your mind?"
Platform Two's flaps contracted and expanded before it spoke. "We could not compound one mistake with another."
Tali sighed. Calling everything that had happened a mistake was very charitable of the geth. "I'm sorry for what the admirals did, Blue. I truly am."
"That is not your transgression to apologize for. The integrity of Creator-Tali'Zorah was never in question."
Tali smiled. "Thanks, Blue."
Platform two nodded. "But we are compelled to add that any further aggression from the creators shall meet with harsh consequences. Please relay this to the Creator-Conclave when you contact them."
Tali's smile faded. She would have been angry, but so far the quarian track record was far from perfect. The geth had every reason to be suspicious. "I'll let them know. For what it's worth... I hope it never happens again. Ever.""That is our hope as well," Platform Two said. "Please let us know when the Creator-Conclave has reached consensus."