"Here we are, guys," the pilot's voice buzzed over the comm links in their helmets. "Welcome to Clobaka. Weather today is mostly cloudy, winds out of the south-southwest at ten to fifteen kilometers per hour, with a temperature of five degrees. Chance of a nice hydrocarbon sliming, fifty percent. Nitrogen/methane atmosphere with an oxygen content of zero percent. So bundle up!"
Shepard opened the hatch and extended the shuttle's ramp. A ring of water vapor puffed around the edges of the door and was quickly swept away by the cold wind outside. The thick, misty atmosphere bathed the crew compartment in a drab orange glow. A rocky brown wall five meters away filled their view.
Legion waited for the organics to proceed before following them down the ramp. Shepard tapped his helmet. "Comm check, everybody reading? Everybody breathing?"
Zaeed stepped out and surveyed the surroundings. Rolston had put the Kodiak down in between two stony ridges, suitable for preventing the shuttle from being spotted assuming anyone was around to see it. "Roger, read you, pressure's good."
"Read you loud and clear, Commander. All green here," Jacob replied.
"Confirmed, transmit and receive," said Legion. "Respiration not applicable." Behind them, the shuttle ramp retracted and the hatch sealed shut.
"All right, let's move out." Shepard waved and led the squad on the short walk to the end of the ridge. "Tactical column once we reach open ground."
"Not much to look at, is it?" Zaeed said as they rounded the bend. Before them, a rusty brown volcanic plain stretched into the distance, the horizon obscured by low hanging mist that rolled across the ragged hills and between dark igneous columns that jutted up in scattered clusters. The ground underfoot glistened with an oily, wet sheen.
"Any of you been here before?" Jacob asked, looking about from side to side as he walked.
"Not me," Zaeed said, also watching the surroundings carefully.
Jacob laughed. "What? Come on, you gotta have something to say about this place. Didn't you take down some batarian merc cell here, or break up a hanar dance company or some shit?"
"I don't go places I don't got any business going to, kid," Zaeed didn't sound too annoyed at the prodding. "Nobody wants to do business here."
"There's more to life than a paycheck, my man," Jacob said. "What about you, Commander?"
Shepard kept his eyes on the path ahead. "We took the SR1 to this system a couple years back. Garrus had to take care of some old business. But we didn't stop here."
"Never pass up a second chance, right?" Jacob said.
"Yeah, lucky for us we got to hit it this time around. I'm sure this planet is renown for something, though I couldn't tell you what it is."
"Biggest, useless rock in this arm of the galaxy, maybe?" Jacob suggested. "Legion, what do you think?"
At the rear of the column, Legion followed behind, watching and listening. All of its sensors were operating at full capacity, registering atmospheric and environmental data at every level. "We have not made an excursion to this world. It is unremarkable."
"All right then," Jacob said. "No race to plant the flag here."
Twenty minutes later, the three humans and one geth stood atop the low plateau mapped during Normandy's orbital scans. Just over two hundred meters in diameter, it neatly surrounded the sunken caldera that housed the pirate hangar with a wall of volcanic rock twenty meters high. The retractable dome set into the far wall had borne the brunt of a massive attack. What was left of the skeleton had caved in almost completely, cracking the plastiform camouflage that once shielded the hidden base from prying eyes. Debris of all sizes radiated out in all directions for hundreds of meters.
Shepard magnified the image in his visor. Up close, the destruction was even more complete. "Doubt anybody walked away from that."
"Any sign of the ship?" Jacob asked.
Zaeed looked about on the ground then bent down to pick up a twisted, torn piece of metal plating the size of a playing card. "Here you go."
"I think we can write this off as the source of the attacks," Shepard said. "Looks like it's been out of operation for a couple years at least."
"That's what I said back on the Normandy," Zaeed leaned his rifle back against his shoulder. "So what's the plan, Shepard?"
"All right, save the I-told-you-so's for when we get back tp the ship," Shepard said. "Let's be sure it's as dead as it looks, see if we can find out who these guys were. Legion, you and your Widow find a good spot up here on the rim. You see anything, let us know. I want an ID on any target before firing. Taylor, Massani... Let's see what they've got in the gift shop."
"Acknowledged," Legion said and performed a quick scan of the caldera's lip as Shepard and the other humans started a slow descent into the crater, sending small cascades of rocks down in front of them. Legion moved to a pile of jagged rocks a few meters to the left of their departure point which provided good cover and an excellent view of the crater floor and dome. The geth lowered itself prone between the boulders behind the massive sniper rifle and gauged the distance to the base of the dome to be 123.5 meters. At this range, its pulse rifle would have been just as accurate, but nothing could match the Widow for single shot destructive power. Motion detectors and the peripheral cameras on Legion's head would detect any approach from the sides or rear.
"Gonna have to climb back up you know," Zaeed said over the radio. "Taylor, you wanna see if you can find an escalator? Hate for you to get winded."
"Ha ha," Jacob responded. "Watch out you don't fall and break a hip, now."
Legion's position gave it a clear vantage point of the dome and the team's advance up to it without putting them in the line of fire. The three humans reached the bottom, then spread out in a wedge formation with Shepard in the lead as they walked across the the rocky floor. Legion listened for communications and scanned for targets, but was rewarded with neither. It watched as the squad approached the base of the dome and shouldered their weapons. Peering through the holes in the wall, they worked their way across the front to the largest hole blown through on the left. Shepard looked inside, then motioned Zaeed across, then together they wheeled around their respective corners and disappeared into the wreckage. Jacob watched to their rear.
"Clear," Zaeed said.
"Clear," Shepard responded. "Nobody's home. Jacob, on me."
Outside, Jacob waved at Legion, lowered his rifle and followed his comrades through the hole.
"Visual contact lost," Legion reported.
"Roger," Shepard said, "This'll just take a minute. Sit tight up there, Legion."
"Acknowledged," Legion replied and continued his scans. Other than the clouds drifting across the sky, nothing moved. Legion watched and listened.
Jacob's description of the scene was succinct. "What a mess."
"Watch out," Zaeed said. "We're missing some floor here. Mind the crater."
"Watch your heads, too." Shepard advised. "Don't go anywhere you can't get back out of. Any idea who these guys were, Zaeed?"
"Don't see any markings. Could be any two bit operators looking to make a quick credit. Hang on, got a door over here." A pause. "It's clear. Found their quarters it looks like."
"On my way." Shepard said. "Anything in there?"
"Been trashed, but not obliterated like out there. Got some remains here, Shepard. Been dead some time. Picked over, too. We're not the first to come looking in here. Taylor, you got your omni?"
"Right here," said Jacob. "What have you got?"
"Data pad and a workstation."
"Looks like we got a wall safe in here, too," Shepard said. "As soon as you're done over there, bring-"
Shepard's transmission cut out suddenly with a burst of static, then silence. Legion switched to a wide angle view of the caldera and waited.
Tali scowled at the seemingly frozen video frame. The clouds in the sky continued their march from left to right, so the feed didn't lock up, Legion had. "Bosh'tet. You lose contact, and you just sit there?"
The frame zoomed in tight on the dome's wall where Shepard and the others had entered. Four glowing circles appeared in the darkness, then pulled back out of view - a collector. Seconds passed, and Legion still did nothing. The display on the geth omnitool filled from top to bottom as it had done during previous interrupts. "Here we go again," Tali grumbled. "Perfect time for a siezure, Legion." She paused the feed on the display and scrolled back to the beginning of the mess to see just what the geth had been thinking. Trying to sort it out was probably a waste of time, but she had to be thorough. Besides, the compiler had been running the entire time. Maybe it had some new information for her.
A growling buzz from the video playback interrupted her search. She turned back to the display to see Legion had climbed to its feet. It walked slowly but steadily down the steep caldera wall directly into the open toward the dome. The geth made no attempt to seek cover or move at any pace other than a slow trot. It would be an unmissable target.
Tali cringed at the harsh electronic growl. She'd heard it too many times in her life. Always it meant the slow, steady advance of Geth infantry, with mindless programming to close with and destroy their enemy. They represented the very bottom level of geth AI, with barely enough intelligence for targeting and obstacle avoidance. In great numbers they were a substantial threat. Alone, one would last only seconds in battle.
This last interrupt must have reduced it to that level, she thought. When all of its programs became overwhelmed, it fell back on the most basic code in its system. For all of Jacob's noise about saving their lives, Tali knew that a geth following this program could not best any alert, armed organic. As she watched the video of Legion's approach, she already knew what the outcome would be.
A bright dot flashed from within the hole Shepard entered. Legion's shield blossomed with light, covering the screen with glittering static. As it continued its approach, a second, then a third flash flared in the darkness... then the video screen and all other sensory inputs went dark. Legion had fallen. It didn't even fire back.
"So much for our hero," Tali said aloud. She was not surprised at Legion's failure. She was even a little happy about it. This was what her friends had grown so attached to that they had given it a name and treated it like a pet. She would have to pull it up at the next staff meeting, let them all see what their wonderful new friend had done for them.
Tali looked down at the inert geth and sighed. Whatever spurred Legion to go on its suicide run, it provided Shepard enough of a distraction to thwart the collectors and save the rest of the squad. For that, she was thankful. But was this what Shepard was so desperate to see? There was also that nonsense about the geth wanting peace, but she wasn't as naive as Shepard or the others when it came to Legion's ramblings. They had no idea what treachery the geth were capabile of.
Still, the whole situation with Shepard, the devastation he showed when they returned made no sense. But she'd found the data from the previous day as he had asked. All she needed to do was copy the data to her omnitool to give to him, yank Legion's static memory core, and she was done for the day. She powered down her omnitool and leaned forward against the table. What the hell caused Legion to revert to its basic programming? She had the logs... It wouldn't hurt to spend a few more minutes looking them over.
Tali turned her attention back to the geth omni, just prior to the last interrupt event starting with the loss of communication with Shepard. It was a lot of information to digest, but at the speed of an AI the instructions were processed instantaneously. What took a minute to read took only a fraction of a second in real time.
> Alert: Communication lost with allied squad. Attempting handshake with squad secure net: timeout. Attempting handshake with allied shuttle secure net: timeout. Communication diagnostic check: pass.
> Alert: EM sensors registering sustained interference in standard communication wavelengths.
> Assessment: Intentional disruption of communication from unknown source as allied squad entered outpost.
> Assessment: Status of allied squad - unknown. Status of allied shuttle - unknown. Probable hostile entities in area.
> Directive: Exfiltrate to last known position of allied shuttle. Inform allied organic entity of interference and loss of communication with allied squad. Inform allied base ship of probable hostile presence. Request reinforcements. Return to current position and continue observation.
> Alert: Visual contact, bearing 065, 126.45 meters. Infrared profile indicates biological entity of collector origin.
> Assessment: Enemy contact at last known location of allied squad. No weapon discharge detected. Time between loss of contact with allied squad and enemy occupation, twenty-two seconds.
> Assessment: Allied squad combat ineffective.
> Archive retrieval: Collector objective - capture homo sapiens in stasis for transport to unknown location for unknown purpose.
> Assessment: One or more allied squad members alive but incapacitated. Probability 93.34%.
> Directive: Evade detection, exfiltrate to allied shuttle per existing directive.
> Assessment: Total estimated transit time from current position to arrival of reinforcements from allied base ship - one hour, twenty-three minutes, eighteen seconds. Estimated return to current position by mobile platform alone - twenty-two minutes, ten seconds.
> Assessment: estimated probability of recovery of allied squad after ten minutes, 85.55%. Twenty minutes: 40.12%. Thirty minutes: 0%.
At this point in the log, the interrupt hit. Legion's thought process had been very lucid up until this point. Now it was lost in a digital snowstorm. However, the geth omni beeped, indicating it had identified something new. From start to finish, the entire block of data interrupt had been marked as one single, massive process with thousands of individual threads. The omnitool still could not display all the functions within, but it had given it a name.
> Consensus Override
And after that, a new command that originated somewhere outside of the geth's standard instruction pipeline. But Legion wasn't in contact with any other geth processes. How was it possible?
> Directive: Execute immediate extraction of allied squad.
New processes created from the cloud of the Consensus Override spread through Legion's independent programs instantaneously. The usual command paths were almost devoid of activity, giving the impression none was occurring at all. Yet new instructions were being received and acted on throughout the rest of the system. Legion's programs, acting in concert, had had circumvented its own core code. Tali couldn't believe what she was reading. Instead of escaping back to the shuttle, Legion was consciously attempting a rescue. But by utilizing the basic geth attack routine, it had doomed itself to failure.
> Directive: Begin frontal assault procedure, hostile contact 1
> Alert: Target acquired, bearing 065, range 125 meters.
> Directive: Close and engage hostile contact.
> Alert: Incoming projectile weapon fire, bearing 065, range 102 meters.
> Alert: Additional hostile contact, bearing 066, range 101 meters.
> Alert: Multiple projectile impacts. Shield power reduced 4.5%
> Directive: Continue closing distance to target until shield power reaches 50%
> Alert: Multiple hostile contacts, bearing 064, 065, 066, range 89 meters.
> Alert: Shield power at 50%
> Directive: Engage shutdown procedure, all systems. Exception: system monitor - accelerometer, five second interval, passive restart protocol enabled.
And with that last directive, Legion's trace went from the utter chaos of tracking 1,183 programs to a single one, running in a low power state. It's chassis would have appeared to collapse in front of the collector position, the result of the hail of incoming fire. Without a direct connection to Legion's systems, even a quarian would have had difficulty detecting the activity of a single program. To the untrained observer, the felled geth with the gaping cavity in its chest would be unquestionably out of commission.
The log file showed forty seconds of inactivity before the accelerometer registered a delta, then another. Something was trying to move Legion.
> Directive: System Powerup, passive restart enabled.
> Directive: engage passive EM sensorsDirective: engage passive audio.
> Directive: engage inertial positioning system and tracking
Tali tapped her wrist and her personal omnitool sparkled back to life. She reconnected the AV file and indexed the time indicated in the trace log. The holo screen showed only blackness, then pixelation, then the view from Legion's eye. The frame was upside down, skewed low to the ground as it bounced along across the crater's rocky floor, swinging uncontrollably in all directions. It caught an occasional glance of two collector drones dragging Legion's arms towards the entry point in the crumpled scaffolding of the dome.
The pair of collectors wrenched their heavy cargo over the lip of the ruined wall. Metal scraped against metal as they dragged it into the dim recesses of the collapsed hangar, past their sentries, past their defenses, unaware the "dead" geth was watching them.