The main lift opened onto the operations deck where the ship's personnel bustled hastily about, preparing the ship for their next jump. Tali stepped out and spotted Yeoman Chambers at her station. "Legion's being sent to the lab," Tali said. "Would you please let Mordin know I'm going to be working there?"
"Hi Tali," Kelly scribbled on her datapad. "Commander Shepard has already cleared it. It's terrible what happened down there, isn't it?"
Tali looked up to the swirling galaxy map above them, her voice carefully neutral. "Hopefully his leg can be reattached."
"Oh, I meant Legion," Kelly said. "Zaeed'll be fine. Dr. Chakwas already halfway through the procedure. He's a tough old bastard. Guess we'll have a new war story to listen to tomorrow, huh?"
"Mmm," Tali said and turned back to the lift.
"Wait, Tali," Kelly called after her. "Do you think you can fix him?"
"For the last time," Tali shouted loud enough for everyone in the CIC to hear. "Legion is not a he. It's a machine. I don't know why that's so hard for you people to get that!"
All eyes turned to Tali at her sudden outburst and the room fell silent. Kelly looked particularly stunned at the response.
Tali returned her stare with narrowed eyes. "And no, I don't think it can be fixed." She returned to the waiting elevator and descended to the engineering deck. She wished she hadn't yelled like that. Kelly Chambers was always kind to everyone on the ship, and didn't deserve that kind of treatment. She would have to apologize later.
She made a quick stop in engineering to make sure everything would be under control in her absence. Gabby and Ken were both quick to offer their help, but in spite of their good intentions they didn't have the experience working with geth constructs to be of use. Ken's offer of a massage did make her laugh, though, as did Gabby's smack on the back of his head. At least in her own department, it was business as usual.
After that, her next stop was her own quarters. The Normandy's shop had one of the finest collection of tools in the galaxy, but she would need specific items designed to work with Geth technology. She pulled a dusty satchel from beneath her bunk, opened it and inspected the contents. Everything was where she left it when she came aboard the ship from Haestrom. When Legion was first brought aboard, she never got to to examine it in depth before Shepard reactivated it. She wouldn't miss this opportunity. Maybe she could convince Shepard to release Legion to her when she was done, to send back to the fleet.
Doubtful, she told herself. Cerberus will likely grab it first. Besides, Shepard doesn't want to ruin the balance of power between us and the geth. That last thought stuck in her mind ever since the Commander intervened when she caught Legion scanning her omni tool. Tali had the defenseless geth dead to rights at point-blank range. If Shepard hadn't stepped in, she could have solved all of her problems right then and there. She shouldered the bag and headed back to the lift.
No one in the CIC paid Tali any attention as she turned toward the science lab. She avoided making eye contact with any of them. Kelly stood at her podium, furiously manipulating the virtual interface. Tali walked quickly through the hatch to the lab, thankful no one tried to talk to her. The last thing she needed was another confrontation.
The hatch to the science lab opened, revealing a small crowd surrounding the research table. Mordin, Kasumi, Thane, Jacob, and Garrus all hovered over Legion, sprawled on its back in the middle of them.
"Come on bot-buddy," Kasumi wiggled one of Legion's fingers. "Wake up! Where's your reset button, huh?"
"I doubt he can hear you," Thane said. "There is no power in any of his systems."
"Of course he can hear me," Kasumi leaned close to Legion's central lens aperture. "He's just sleeping."
Jacob's expression remained dour. "Shepard said he was down for the count. That's what Tali told him, anyway."
"Unfortunately that's correct," Tali said. The group around the table all turned and said hello or nodded. No one seemed interested in the usual polite small talk, except Kasumi.
"Hey look, Legion!" Kasumi shook Legion's wrist. "It's Creator-Tali'Zorah! You'll be just fine. She can fix anything."
Tali winced at Kasumi's use of Legion's title for her, as well as the thief's grating attempt at bedside manner for a geth. It was getting out of control. "I'm going to have to ask all of you to leave. I need to concentrate."
The assembled group looked at one another. Garrus waved toward the door. "Alright everybody, let's let her work. Why don't we go see how Zaeed's doing."
They started milling toward the hatch. Jacob gave Legion's shoulder a thump with his fist as he walked by and Kasumi gently placed Legion's arm across its chest and patted it lightly before walking away.
"It can't be fixed," Tali said as Kasumi passed. "I'm just recovering data."
"I know," Kasumi whispered and glared at Tali, nodding her head towards Jacob. "Would it kill you to at least pretend that you're trying?"
Tali turned away sharply and continued toward the table. Garrus watched her approach Mordin. Word traveled fast about Tali's earlier exchange with Yeoman Chambers. Tali was one of the most easy going people on the ship. But not today.
Mordin's fingers massaged the air before pulling a tray of probes and drills from a nearby drawer. "Never examined geth. Brand new exposure. Very stimulating! Where to start?"
"Thank you, Doctor," Tali said tersely. "But I would really prefer to work alone."
Mordin looked back and forth between Tali and Garrus. His huge black eyes blinked rapidly. "But... it's my lab."
"She needs to borrow it," Garrus said, "just for a little while."
Mordin clutched the tray of tools close to his chest. "Was here first!"
"Come on, Professor." Garrus beckoned with a talon. "Please?"
"Fine," Mordin said with a loud sniff, replacing his instruments one at a time in the cabinet. "Clearly not welcome. Will be in engineering then. Plenty of important things to occupy time there. Perhaps the Commander will drop by to play poker."
The salarian stalked out the door. When the hatch closed behind him, Tali breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks," she told Garrus. "I don't want an audience for this."
Garrus nodded. "You going to be okay here?"
"Definitely. Mordin's setup is much more appropriate for data operations than what we've got in engineering."
"That's not what I meant. Are you okay?"
Tali set her tool bag on the table next to Legion's feet. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You used to drag people in to watch you tear down one of these things. It was almost a spectator sport."
"Was it?" Tali searched through her satchel for nothing in particular.
Garrus leaned against the wall. "Look... We all know how badly damaged he is. No one's going to think any less of you if you can't bring him back."
Tali slammed her hands down on the table and whirled around to face the turian.
Garrus felt the temperature in the room drop twenty degrees. "Ah, I guess that's not what you're not worried about. What is it, then? What's bothering you?"
"What's bothering me?" Tali's eyes burned behind her faceplate. "Everybody treating Legion like its a damn person! Calling it 'he.' 'How's he doing?', 'Can you fix him?', 'It's terrible what happened to him!' Even giving it a name in the first place!"
"People treat machines with affection all the time," Garrus said calmly. "It's natural when you work with them in close proximity. Just ask your little friend Chik'tikka. I'm sure she would agree."
"When was the last time any of you held a vigil for my combat drone?"
Garrus shrugged. "Never, now that you mention it. But I don't recall the last time she engaged me in meaningful conversation, either. Look, Legion was special, I'll admit it. I didn't particularly like him when Shepard powered him on, but he grew on me. He grew on all of us."
"Well then, all of you can go to hell."
Tali's tone grew louder and harsher. "These things wiped out my entire civilization, drove us from our homeworld, and the entire galaxy turned their backs on us. You, the asari, the salarians...you banished us from civilized space for creating artificial intelligence, and called it genocide when we tried to fight back! We have been completely on our own for three hundred years!"
Garrus folded his arms across his chest and watched her as she paced around the table. This obviously ran a lot deeper than nicknames and the proper use of pronouns.
Tali stared down at Legion as she circled around. "They sided with the reapers. They attacked the Citadel. They've killed who knows how many of my people, my friends, my father..." she choked back her tears. "They've brought nothing but death and destruction wherever they go. And in spite of it all, the quarians are still the villains. Most systems would rather see the geth show up rather than the Migrant Fleet. And not once has anyone given us the tiniest bit of sympathy or help."
Garrus stared at the floor. Quarians were viewed as a plague by most civilizations, even among his own kind. Untrustworthy, disloyal, deceptive... everything Tali was not. And collectively, over the centuries, the entire galaxy quietly learned to ignore them.
Tali gripped the edge of the table, looked down at Legion's dark lens and shook her head. "And even here, on the Normandy, amongst friends... When Legion said the geth can be trusted but I said they were still dangerous, who did you all believe?" She glanced back at Garrus who still looked at the floor. His silence seared her heart worse than anything the turian could have said. She turned away again. "That's what I thought."
"For what it's worth," Garrus said softly, "I trust you more than anyone else on this ship. Shepard does too. You know that. It's not that we like Legion more, we just see the whole situation from a different perspective." He crossed the room and leaned against the table next to the quarian. "It's a lousy excuse. It's easy to forget someone else's past. I'm sorry."
Tali sniffed loudly and settled next to him against the platform, their backs to the geth. "Thank you for that. I'm sorry I lost control. It's just that... ever since Legion came aboard, everyone expects me to just get over it. But nothing has changed. For the quarians, anyway."
They sat side by side for a few moments in silence, until Garrus spoke again. "Do you think you ever will? Get over it I mean."
"No," Tali said. "I know that's not what everyone wants to hear, but it's the truth."
Garrus put his hand on Tali's shoulder as he stood up to leave and was rewarded with a tired smile from his friend. "You know, humans and turians fought when we first encountered one another. A lot of us still hate humans to this day."
Tali shook her head. "Do you really think it's the same?"
"No. Not even close. But the hate was just as real. The point being things did change, eventually. We don't have to hate humans anymore."
"I'm happy for all of you."
"So am I," Garrus said and walked toward the forward hatch. "Otherwise I wouldn't be serving under the best commander I've ever had, with the best friends I've ever known. Let me know if you need anything."
Tali watched him go. Once the hatch closed, she let out a long, heavy sigh and tried to collect her thoughts.
What would have happened if Garrus had not joined the crew two years ago? Would she and Shepard ever have met? Would they have stopped Saren, or even known about the reaper threat at all? Garrus never failed to surprise her. For such a cocky bastard he was always direct about what was thinking, at least with her. His attempt to equate his species ongoing reconciliation with the humans was a heartfelt sentiment, she knew. But in reality it just didn't apply to the her situation.
Their war was over. Hers was not.
She didn't want to think about it anymore. It was time to get to work. She reached into her tool kit and produced a small omnitool with an interface designed specifically to integrate with geth systems. She pulled an optical lead from its base and felt around inside the hole in Legion's chest - a convenience that made prying off a panel unnecessary - until she found what she was looking for. She plugged the lead into a recessed socket and the holographic instrument pulsed to life.
In ten seconds, you'll either be on your way to dinner or chaining together data fragments for the next six hours, she thought. The virtual displays sparkled to life as connections spread through Legion's dormant circuitry. It's primary memory was gone, no two ways about it. She switched to the secondary non-volatile memory core used to keep geth memory intact when they deactivated themselves for ambushes. Undoubtedly the self destruct protocol had scrambled it as well.
But all at once, the displays glittered before her eyes with a cascade of raw data and code. Exabytes of perfectly preserved information still resided in the secondary memory bank. A surge of excitement shot through her. The stolen omni-tool data was immediately forgotten.
She jumped around to the table's main console. Mordin had often bragged about how he'd cleaned the lab of the electronic eyes and ears Cerberus planted throughout the ship. She was reasonably sure she would not be observed. With a push of a button the holo displays on the doors into the lab switched from green to red and the hatches sealed shut.
Tali's hands trembled as the omnitool continued to fill with data. No quarian had ever captured an intact geth data core. If she found what she was hoping for the geth war could be over before they found a way through the Omega Four relay. She just had to get it back to the fleet.
Her only worry now was that she had enough time.