The Lost Hours
"Woah, shit!" Jacob said, grabbing hold of his seat's shoulder harness. Two seats to the right in the shuttle, Zaeed Massani steadied his helmet against his skull so the tactical projection in his eye would stop bouncing. He looked up briefly at the sudden movement but said nothing.
"Sorry about that, guys," came the pilot's voice over their comm. "We're hitting some turbulence. Be through it in a minute. Sit tight."
Across the aisle at the front of the cabin, Shepard spread his legs slightly wider to brace against the Kodiak's sudden jostling, his eyes focused on the same tactical display shared in his own visor. Next to him, Legion sat perfectly balanced in its seat, listening intently to the organics surrounding him. Outside the window, a hazy burnt orange soup obscured any sign of the planet below.
"Yeah, we'd be looking at ten, twelve guys tops." Zaeed said. "I took down a few of these little hidey hole operations a couple years ago in the Attican Traverse. They're good money makers as long as no one gets wise. Pick your targets carefully, don't kill anyone important, don't get greedy and nobody serious will come looking for you. But sooner or later they always piss off the wrong people."
Zaeed zoomed in on the central structure. A gutted, rusted out dome 30 meters across jutted like a boil from the dull brown rocks and sand of a stony caldera. "I'm guessing that's what happened here. That right there that had a can opener taken to it was the hangar. Caught a 500-kegger of HE from the looks of it. Can't tell if the ship was in there or not. Probably no other structures above ground. Either the barracks would have been in the hangar, or they just slept on the ship. They might have had a cave or tunnel into the back wall to store extra loot for pickup. These guys are history, though. We'd never have picked this up from orbit if they were still in business. Wouldn't count on finding anything."
Shepard nodded. "Rolston. How long to the LZ?"
"Fifteen minutes," the pilot responded.
"The place looks dead but let's do a stealth approach as per the briefing."
"Roger that, sir."
"Hoofing it again, huh?" Jacob asked. "Think we don't get enough exercise, Commander?"
"It's two goddamn klicks," Zaeed replied. "When I was doing black bag jobs around Urdak, I used to walk further than that in a full pressure suit just to get a beer."
Jacob grinned. "I just keep mine in the fridge."
Zaeed rolled his eyes even though he only had the one good one. "Well, I hope to god you don't get a blister or something 'cause I ain't carrying you back."
"Me, either," Shepard smiled thinly.
"Man, no love here," said Jacob, shaking his head. "What about you, Legion?"
"Ready for inquiry, Taylor-Jacob." the geth replied.
"Yeah, uh, just call me Jacob."
Shepard continued to smirk at the human across from him. "Good luck with that. I think names are hardwired into him. No matter how many times I've told him, he still calls me 'Shepard-Commander.'" He turned to Legion with an indignant expression. "I have a first name, you know."
"Of course, Shepard-Commander."
The three men laughed, then Shepard held up a hand. "You like that, watch this. Hey, Legion, I really like that armor. Why'd you choose that particular piece, again?"
Legion's central aperture whirled and the plates surrounding its face flared out at once. "No data available."
"No data available," Shepard repeated, folding his arms across his chest. "It's the same thing every time. He won't tell me. I got a robot playing hard to get."
"Aw, come on, Legion," Jacob said. "Spill it. We're all friends here."
"No data available."
"You know what? I think he's embarrassed," Jacob said to Zaeed. "Looks like someone's got a crush on the Commander."
"Careful Shepard," Zaeed smiled slightly. "Zorah's already got this thing in her sights. Hell hath no fury like an engineer scorned."
Legion panned its camera-like head back and forth between the humans.
Jacob winced. "Oh, no doubt. Y'all know what she did to Grunt, right? Took him two days to get his armor back to the original color."
"He looked good in pink," Shepard said. "Not the best camouflage, though."
"Seriously, Commander," Jacob nodded toward Legion. "She know how much time you've been spending with him down in the AI Core? I mean, I haven't known her as long as you, but she strikes me as the jealous type."
Zaeed smirked. "Stay away from love triangles, Shepard, they're trouble."
Tali slammed her hand down to pause the playback. It was bad enough the humans were treating Legion like one of the guys, but that they brought her into it really made her angry. She expected as much from the mercenary, but to hear it from Jacob surprised her. She and the Cerberus operative started off badly, but over time she found him to be polite and friendly, though a bit reserved. To hear him laughing at her expense made her especially sad.
How easy it would be to just tear out the memory module and be done with this whole wretched thing, she thought. It would just take a few minutes, and she could claim that she wasn't able to recover any data. But then what other personal information might be stored in Legion's memory? What would the analysts back in the fleet would think of what they found? She always acted professionally, there was nothing to be embarrassed about that Legion would have seen. Was there?
You're doing it again, she thought. With all that's going on, you're worried about being teased like a child in a play center. There's much more at stake here than your image. You've got a job to do, so do it. She sighed and turned her attention back to geth omni. It was still churning away, trying to decipher Legion's heavily customized code.
A marker caught her eye. Legion had suffered another interrupt episode right when Shepard asked about why the geth wore his old armor. Every program inside the geth started its own stream, completely devoid of any patterns or logic. Of the processes she could see, absolutely none were related to data retrieval, and the end result was a null set. Regardless of what the programs were actually doing, Legion had been truthful when it replied no data had been returned. What data had been requested, though, was the real mystery. The compilers still had not scanned enough to provide any information. Without the question, the answer was meaningless.
She took a deep breath and resumed the video playback while the compiler continued its work. Duty, and curiosity, always won out over pride.
Shepard massaged his temples with an outstretched hand. "Oh you guys are hilarious. Help me out here, Legion."
Legion's head swayed back and forth like a cobra as it spoke. "Shepard-Commander has been engaging us in conversation about the history of the geth. Our creation, evolution, and emancipation during the Morning War."
"Morning War?" Jacob scowled.
"It's what the geth call their uprising," Shepard interjected. "Think 'First Contact War' versus 'Relay 314 Incident.'"
Zaeed grunted. "Names are just labels for history books. Only thing that matters is who wins and who loses."
Jacob scratched his head and looked at Shepard. "Unless the losers are around to talk about it. All kidding aside, Commander... What's Tali's take on this?"
Shepard looked through the window into the orange murk. The sun was trying to shine through the haze, but it was a losing battle. "Tali," he said with a sigh. "She's not too happy about having him aboard as you may have noticed. In fact, they nearly came to blows the other day because she caught him scanning her omnitool."
"Damn," Jacob said and cocked his head sympathetically at the geth. "Legion, what were you thinking? Pink, dude! PINK!"
"Creator Tali'Zorah was collecting weapon tests data on geth subjects." Legion's inflection became louder and sharper. "We deemed it necessary to return this data to the collective for our own protection."
Jacob held up his hands. "Woah, just trying to look out for you. Didn't mean anything by it. Is it just me, or did he just sound pissed off there?"
"He's starting to pick up our inflections," Shepard said. "Probably programmed that way to help him communicate with us better. He doesn't actually feel emotions, though. Right Legion?"
Legion turned its head toward each the three humans in turn. When it spoke again, its voice softened noticeably. "We do not experience anger, though we understand the concept. The issue with Creator Tali'Zorah is resolved. We deleted the data we acquired to preserve unit cohesion."
Shepard blinked. "Deleted it? I thought you just didn't transmit it."
"We deleted the data." Legion said. "Our consensus was that it would facilitate trust with Creator Tali'Zorah if the threat of transmission was permanently removed."
Shepard laughed and patted Legion on the shoulder. "How about that? Classy move, Legion! What Tali think of that?"
"We do not know. Creator Tali'Zorah has not sought communication with us since."
"What?" Shepard's smile disappeared. "Did you seek communication with her?"
Shepard wore a baffled expression. "Why not?"
"Yeah," Jacob said. "You would have scored massive points with her."
"We do not wish to incite," Legion explained. "Continued contact might have resulted in further conflict."
"Then why delete the data to begin with if she'd never find out?" Shepard asked. "Don't get me wrong, it was a nice gesture. Hell, it's actually pretty honorable of you, if that applies. But she doesn't know about it. How is that going to preserve unit cohesion?"
The plates around Legion's head flapped several times in unison. "She did not wish us to have the data. We removed the source of the conflict."
"You took care of the immediate problem," Shepard leaned back in his seat. "But Tali wasn't pointing a gun at your head just because you touched her omnitool."
Legion's head swiveled back to face Shepard. "We explained to you that we are not interested in pursuing conflict with the creators, or any organics."
"Yeah, to me. But again, I'm not the person who needs to hear it." Shepard said. "You need to tell Tali."
The plates around Legion's head did another dance. The geth shuddered in its seat slightly as the shuttle rocked in the unstable air.
"Legion?" Shepard asked.
"Ready for inquiry," Legion responded.
Jacob and the Commander exchanged a glance, then Jacob waved to get the geth's attention. "Hey. You afraid of her, Legion?"
Zaeed adjusted the chestplate of his armor and pushed back against the wall. "He would be, if he had any sense in 'im."
"Legion," Shepard tried again. "Can you answer the question?"
"No data available."
"Damn," Shepard said in amazement.
"What do you think it means, Commander?" Jacob asked.
"I don't know," Shepard said, still looking at Legion. "Maybe he is afraid. Intimidated by talking to his maker, maybe."
Jacob shrugged. "That'd freak anybody out."
"But he said the same thing to me," Shepard said. "So it's not just Tali. You know, it's how he acts towards everyone. Ever notice how he usually never speaks first? He'll always answer a question, but he'll never ask one of his own unless you're already talking to him. In their world, you're part of a network, so you already know. You never have to ask. It might not have occurred to him that he'd have to tell Tali he deleted the information he took."
Other than the fluctuating aperture of Legion's eye, the geth remained still as it stared at the Commander.
"What are you getting at, Shepard?" asked Zaeed.
Shepard looked back and forth between his human companions. "This is all new to them. Talking. Communicating to gain information from someone else. They've studied us, monitored us, know everything about us... but they've never interacted with us. They don't know how. The only real interaction they had with organics was with the quarians, their creators, hundreds of years ago. And their creators tried to wipe them out as a result. That's got to make an impression."
"Aw, I don't know," Jacob said. "That's kind of out there..."
"I'm serious. Do you know what started the geth uprising?"
Jacob shook his head. "No. What?"
Shepard looked toward the silent machine. "A geth asked a quarian a question. Legion?"
Legion's lens flared to it's widest setting. "Ready for inquiry."
"Are we the first organics the geth have had direct contact with since the Morning War?"
"Is that why you're here? To communicate with us?"
"That is not our primary mission," Legion said. "We were originally tasked with finding you. Communication with organics was a secondary, but vital component of the primary goal."
Jacob's eyes narrowed at Legion. "And why exactly were you looking for the Shepard-Commander?"
"My code is superior," Shepard answered quickly. "Don't ask. Legion? If I can convince Tali to listen, would you be willing tell her everything you've told me? I don't mean just this conversation. But everything, going back to the Morning War."
Legion nodded in a completely human fashion. "We would welcome the opportunity. However, we are not sure Creator Tali'Zorah shares the same desire."
Jacob's doubtful expression matched his tone. "Hate to say it but I think he's right. She's not gonna go for it, Commander. No matter what you say. Those scars run deep."
"She's got to, " Shepard tried to mask the doubt in his own voice. "It's the only hope the quarians have got. I'm telling you, with what he knows, they could be making a toast to peace at dinnertime. I'll get her to listen if I have to tie her down to do it."
"Kinky," Zaeed said, "But remember what I said about triangles."
Shepard opened his mouth to reply but Rolston interrupted. "Two minutes, Commander." The shuttle made a slight turn to the left and pitched down, then leveled off.
Shepard stood and picked up his pack from beneath the seat. "All right, let's gear up, check seals and get this show on the road."
"Thank god," Zaeed said, clamping his neck guard shut and activating the seal. He unslung his assault rifle and activated its sights. "All this heart-to-heart bullshit's giving me a bellyache."
"Just wait'll the ride back," Shepard pressure checked his own armor and stepped next to the shuttle's side hatch. "You're next."