Tomorrow's Dawn

All Programs Terminated

"Shepard, MOVE!" Zaeed stood to the left of the door and fired down the wall as Jacob fired from the opposite side. Shepard leaned forward and pulled Legion by its shoulder with all his might. Momentum more than anything else kept him moving. Particle beams sliced the air around him, making his shields flare brightly.

Zaeed's rifle belched out a concussive round from its launcher. The collectors at the other end disappeared in a white flash as the shockwave blasted back towards them. Jacob and Zaeed recoiled behind cover. Propelled by the blast, Shepard dragged Legion across the threshold and collapsed on the floor. Zaeed reached down and yanked Legion's legs through with a mighty tug.

"Close it!" Shepard yelled and let go of Legion, rolling on his back and bringing his rifle to bear. He fired a second concussive round through the opening as Jacob ordered it shut. Another explosion thundered against the now sealed door.

Shepard gasped for breath climbed to his knees, sweeping the room for targets. Legion clanked and writhed on the ground, electricity arcing along its frame. The light in its eye flickered uncontrollably.

"We're clear in here!" Zaeed shouted and pointed at Legion. "The bot's in trouble!"

Jacob slid to his knees next to the fallen geth. "Disruptor round! It's still in him!"

"Zaeed, cover!" Shepard shouted and squatted next to Jacob.

"I don't see it," Jacob said, peering into Legion's chest cavity.

"Me neither," Shepard said he looked up and down Legion's extremities. A silver jewel of light shimmered in Legion's left shoulder. He pried at it with his gloved fingers, but could not get a grip. "Son of a bitch!"

"Look out, sir," Jacob's fingers fluttered over his omnitool and he held it over the impact point. A yellow spark jumped from his wrist to the round lodged in the joint. Legion's spasms halted immediately, and the sparks cascading over its surface disappeared. The geth's main lens still jerked from side to side, but the aperture held a steady glow.

"Thank you, Taylor-Jacob," Legion intoned, "Shepard-Commander."

Jacob slapped Legion's shoulder and rose to his feet. "No charge. You still got credit. You all right?"

"Assessing damage."

Shepard looked around the quiet room. He could still hear rounds ricocheting from the other side of the solid metal door. He jerked his head toward the outer wall and Zaeed and Jacob fanned out to search the nearly empty chamber. He glanced back down at the prone geth. "Can you move?"

"Multiple systems offline," Legion said. "Physical damage to superstructure and actuators. Attempting to recalibrate."

Shepard looked directly into Legion's main camera. "Guess you couldn't hear me back there with all that gunfire, huh?"

"Audio reception is one hundred percent functional," Legion reported.

Shepard looked back toward the closed door to the hallway. The attack had stopped, at least momentarily. The collectors had evidently given up on trying to blow their way through. He turned back to Legion. "Don't ever disobey my orders again. No matter what the reason. You hear me?"

"Affirmative, Shepard-Commander," Legion said quietly.

Shepard grabbed Legion's arm and pulled the geth upright. "It's bad for my image if you keep rescuing me. How are you doing?"

Legion climbed shakily to its feet, but the disruptor round had done its damage. The geth software was in most respects self-healing, but hardware would require more extensive repairs. Its main aperture fluctuated narrow to wide, and still shook from side to side. Its left arm jerked uncontrollably and it swayed on its feet as stabilizers coped with sporadic data dropouts. Its pulse rifle left behind, Legion unslung the massive Widow sniper rifle it carried. "Estimate operational capacity at thirty seven percent."

"Hang in there," Jacob's voice echoed throughout the chamber, "We're almost out of here."

"He'll make it," Zaeed's voice reverberated in the darkness. "He's a goddamn tank."

Shepard looked about. "Find anything?"

The empty room was roughly twenty meters square with a ceiling a third as high. The far wall and ceiling were chiseled from the mountain's granite instead of the cold black metal of the rest of the chamber. Hooks suspended from mobile rails crisscrossed the ceiling. The floor was completely barren. In the rough-hewn rock wall, the outline of a massive door ten meters wide was barely visible. A control panel glowed red two meters to its left.

"Just our way out of here," Zaeed said, pointing at the door mechanism. "I love it when I'm right. Week's pay."

Jacob snorted, but sounded happy nonetheless. "I'm salaried. And didn't you say this place would be abandoned?"

"You seen any pirates here?"

Shepard walked toward the loading bay door. "Rolston! Do you copy?"

"Roger, Commander. Read you loud and clear!"

"Pick us up fifty meters east of my position. What's your ETA?"

"Ah, sixty seconds, sir!"

"Patch me through to the ship."

"Aye sir."

Shepard motioned everyone toward the door as he talked. Zaeed and Jacob trotted towards the exit and Legion stumbled along behind, the whine of its hydraulics audible even through the humans' helmets. "Normandy, do you read?"

"Lawson here," Miranda said. "Rolston advised us of the situation. What are your orders, sir?"

"Make sure nothing gets off this planet," Shepard said. "Garrus, you online?"

"Standing by, Commander."

"Anything other than us dusts off, fry it. And keep an eye out for anything coming into orbit."

"Roger, Commander. We're on it. All scans negative."

"Good. And Miranda, contact your people. Tell them what we've got here."

"Already done, sir," Miranda said. "The Illusive Man has ordered a Cerberus strike team from Attican Beta. They'll be in-system inside of an hour."

"That's what I like to hear," Shepard said. "Rolston, approach when it looks clear."

"Inbound now, Commander! Negative contact. Touching down in ten seconds!"

Shepard looked around at his squad mates. "Covering positions. Legion, get the door. Zaeed, you're with him. Jacob, with me on the right."

Legion approached the control panel to the left of the door at a slow gait. Zaeed positioned himself low at the corner, while Jacob stood behind Shepard on the right. Legion activated the override code, and the giant door creaked up into the recesses of the mountain wall. The dull orange glow of Clobakas filled the room as the door raised, revealing a featureless plain of gritty brown stone. Wind buffeted through the widening opening, flooding the loading bay with a dull fog. From above, the Kodiak's vectored thrusters cast a blue glow on the hydrocarbon-soaked ground as it floated gently to the surface twenty meters beyond. Its ramp was fully extended even before it touched down.

Zaeed and Shepard spun around their respective corners. Jacob followed immediately behind Shepard, who waved towards the shuttle. "Go! Everyone aboard!"

Legion took a step and collapsed where it stood. Either the floor had become slick from the sudden exposure to Clobakas' atmosphere, its kinetic sensors failed, or a combination of both, but Legion crashed face first into the ground. It dropped the Widow as it struggled to compensate by clutching at the metal wall as it tried to push itself up.

"INCOMING!" Rolston screamed over the comm. The Kodiak reared back on its thrusters and peeled sharply away from the surface, its ramp flopping wildly in the air. Halfway to the shuttle, Shepard snapped his rifle to his shoulder, firing on full automatic almost directly above. Zaeed instinctively aimed where Shepard had lined up and fell on his back, firing straight into the air. An agonizing scream filled their headsets as the mercenary disappeared under a dark shadow that dropped from directly overhead like a truck-sized anvil. Zaeed's rifle thundered on automatic, joined by Shepard and Jacob.

The praetorian's massive bulk lay almost flat against the ground where Zaeed had been standing, spreading its razor sharp landing gear and tentacles in a sprawl over the ground. A hypersonic whine filled the atmosphere and for an instant the dull orange of the sky changed to a brilliant blue. Concentric shockwaves rippled out from the praetorian. Shepard and Jacob doubled over into the blast, then dropped to the ground.

Shielded from the energy surge, Legion looked around the frame of the loading dock's door. The praetorian drifted silently upward, it's appendages dangling loosely below. Zaeed lay motionless on his back with a deep gash across his left leg. Shepard and Jacob were also on the ground, moving their arms and legs without any conscious control. Heavy breathing and groans filled the comm channel. The praetorian's powerful particle cannon sparkled with energy as it spun lazily above them.

Legion climbed to its feet in the doorway, taking aim with the Widow and fired. In spite of the recoil and malfunctioning targeting sensors, the round hit its target. The praetorian began a slow orbit toward its new attacker.

Legion stepped back into the loading dock and fired another round, staying close to the wall. The praetorian drifted down to face the door. It's maw opened, revealing the dried out skulls of the unfortunate humans who died to form the construct. Legion fired once more and pushed back further along the wall away from the opening, out of line of sight. Giant, clawed appendages clanged against the loading bay's metal floor followed by the praetorian's bulk as the huge mechanoid pulled itself through the entrance, barely three meters away from the geth.

"Allied pilot," Legion transmitted, "Resume extraction. We will neutralize the hostile." It fired point blank into the praetorian's belly. The praetorian pushed itself from the floor, gliding toward the ceiling of the loading bay as it continued its slow circle towards Legion. The particle beam cannon buzzed with a full charge. The geth fired once more and the round shredded into the soft center of the beast sending a spray of sparks and fluid to the ground. Legion dropped the weapon and with the press of two digits on the control panel ordered the bay door to close as it staggered across the threshold.

A low thrum filled the air as the massive partition dropped from the ceiling. The praetorian turned to track the geth as it faltered through half-lowered door. No longer able to fit through, the praetorian dropped low, impacting the floor with a bang. Outside, half conscious, Shepard rolled onto his stomach and fired through the closing gap, careful not to hit the geth shambling towards him. The Kodiak shuttle bobbed into view, its jets creating swirling vortexes as it approached the ground.

Shepard, the shuttle, and the landscape outside were consumed by a brilliant glow. White conductive fluid sprayed from every seam and seal in Legion's torso, turning to superheated gas as the praetorian's particle beam sliced through from behind. The geth took a final step, then collapsed to the ground.

> Unexpected 'End of File' exception.
> All programs terminated.

Tali stared at the words for long seconds before she reached out and switched off the omnitool display. A cold, queasy burn settled in her stomach.

How many geth had she disassembled and destroyed? Every single one had brought her some kind of gratification, either through the examination of new technology, or the thought of bringing her people one step closer to home. Not once did she doubt she was doing the right thing.

If she'd just seen the video alone, she could have easily dismissed Legion's actions as simple programming. Legion had been coded by the collective to mimic loyalty. But having actually accessed Legion's consciousness, there was no way to deny it. After the collectors had jammed all transmissions, Legion had no contact with a higher authority, organic or synthetic. On its own, it made a conscious decision to rescue its allies then refused to leave them once the battle began. Its final diversion was intentional, to allow the rest of the squad to escape at the risk of its own existence. By any organic standard, Legion acted selflessly and died a hero.

But Legion was just a collection of programs, following set routines. Or was it? She always assumed Legion had been programmed to ingratiate itself with Shepard as part of some scheme to cloud his judgment, but now, she wondered, was it her own judgment that was clouded?

Tali stood and paced back and forth. Why hadn't she just ripped the memory core out and been done with it? The information it held was more valuable than what thousands of quarians had died to retrieve over centuries of exile in an attempt to find some way to defeat the geth. She felt as if they were all there, watching, wondering why she was wasting their sacrifice. That one geth platform had developed into something unique should make no difference where the fate of millions of her own kind was concerned, should it?

What if Legion had been telling the truth about the geth? All that incomprehensible nonsense about the heretics and true geth that the rest of the crew consumed without question... Lies, calculated deception, all designed to lull the other species into a false sense of security, to play on the universal hatred of the quarians. These machines wanted nothing more than the eradication of all life since their inception.

Or did they? Legion's actions weren't those of an entity designed purely to kill.

There was only one way to stop from over thinking the issue, Tali knew. She picked up the cutting torch and leaned over Legion's torso to make the first cut. She thought back to the collector who tried the same thing, only to become Legion's first kill as the geth rescued her friends. Holding the plasma blade centimeters from Legion's shell, Tali's eyes once again fell on the N7 logo on its right breastplate, scorched and pitted, but still easily recognizable.

"That armor didn't do either of us any good," Shepard said. Tali thought of him being blown into space, killed saving a friend, to be resurrected at the hands of his enemy because he represented something greater than just one life. She'd always considered Legion's selection of Shepard's armor a gruesome display of the geth wearing the skin of a vanquished foe. She realized now that couldn't be any further from the truth.

"I'm sorry," she said to the empty room and cut the power on the plasma cutter. She reached into her tool satchel, still stained with blood and covered with dust from Haestrom, to arrange the custom forceps, probes and pliers neatly on the tray table next to her. Only the ghosts of a thousand dead quarians heard the quiet sobs of a creator working to save their creation.

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