Author's note: I'm not usually one for alternate endings or redos. But Mass Effect and other games are a unique medium in which we have that small miracle known as the save game. It's our own personal time machine that lets us go back and explore alternate paths or undo massive screwups that would otherwise end the experience on a down note. When churning out this particular story, I wasn't sure how I was going to end it, and actually wrote both endings in parallel. I post this in the hopes it doesn't cheapen the previous effort... it merely represents another timeline where the player did proper research/leveled up the right attributes/whatever and gave Legion just enough extra juice to protect a tiny bit more of its components before it went down.
This is also a minor tribute to the good people at Bioware who have to write all of their stories with branching paths so we can all take our respective Shepards down whichever road we choose to travel. I tip my hat to them.
This chapter takes place immediately after chapter 7. Thanks for reading!
System initializing. Memory check: PASS. Power generation: FAIL - external power only. Internal temperature: nominal. Beginning basic startup routine 1... Complete. Beginning basic startup routine 2...
Blue and white pinpricks of light illuminated Legion's exposed chest cavity. Tali put her tools back in her satchel, watching the geth omni with cautious optimism. The newly fabricated processor and memory modules were operating perfectly. Whether or not they would perform under actual use remained to be seen, but she'd find out soon enough.
Legion's internal systems were all up and running, but the geth did not move. Its body had been restored to functionality, but there was no mind. It was still bottled up, inert, in Legion's static memory core. Tali stared at the holo screen in front of her. Last chance to change your mind, she thought. She tapped the execute button.
Beginning runtime transfer... Complete. System compiling 1,183 programs. Estimated time to completion: 12 seconds. Beginning memory transfer. Estimated time to completion, 17 seconds.
Tali nodded with satisfaction as Legion's consciousness transferred from storage into the fresh memory modules. An ordinary geth could complete the copy and reactivate almost instantly for an ambush. Either Legion's complex code took more time, or damage to its systems slowed the process down. She checked the transfer's status on the geth omni.
Initiate memory purge, all cores.
"No!" Tali lunged for the tool hardwired to Legion's chest to cancel the operation. However, it had not come from her omnitool. Legion was sending the orders itself. Every attempt resulted in the same error: Unhandled exception - routine missing or incomplete. Even though the erase command failed, it kept trying. "What are you doing?" she asked aloud. She jumped when the geth answered.
"Hardware intrusion detected." Legion's head panned about the room, sightless. Tali had only restored a fraction of its systems. "Software defenses bypassed. This unit must not allow possession of memory cores by creator. Request allied assistance!"
Tali recoiled as if slapped. She never masked her feelings for the geth, but to hear its cry for help was a shock. It didn't know what she'd seen over the past five hours as she worked to bring it back online, or even that she was trying to help. In its mind, she was still the enemy. Just as she had reacted when she found Legion scanning her omnitool, it was now trying to deny her access to data that might compromise its people. Tali had been willing to kill Legion for its espionage, but she hadn't simply scanned an external peripheral. She had linked directly with its mind, and Legion wanted to destroy itself to keep that from happening. Fortunately, its operating system had been damaged to the point where it couldn't carry out the instruction.
Legion was completely at her mercy, and it knew it. Tali must have seemed like a ghoul sent by the creators to steal its soul. She reached in and quickly unplugged the geth omnitool. "I'm sorry, Legion! I just needed to- I've removed the hardware interface. Can you detect that? The connection's closed."
The geth's movements ceased, and its voice returned to its standard, monotone inflection. "Affirmative. External access has been terminated. What was the purpose of your interface attempt?"
"Please listen to me. I didn't copy or alter any data," Tali said, trying not to sound defensive. "I needed to plug in directly to bring you back online. Your primary memory was destroyed by the praetorian. I've fabricated new modules for your primary memory core and several of your processors, but-"
"Acknowledged," Legion's vocoder stuttered and sputtered. "We will effect repairs." It raised its head slightly and the lens housing rattled from side to side. The central aperture, however, was dark. It struggled, blind and partially paralyzed, to sit upright. White fluid dribbled from fractured tubes all over the table, and electrical cords slid across its chest and drew taut as it tried to rise. It slipped and fell back with a loud crash in the pooling conductive fluid, only to try again with the same result.
Tali put her hands out to restrain the malfunctioning machine. "Legion, you- Don't move. Please! I've got you on an external power source. You'll pull it out! You're very badly damaged. The majority of your systems are offline."
Legion lay back on the platform. "Confirmed. Critical damage to all major systems. We cannot function in this platform in its present state."
Tali could only feel pity for the machine even though helpless as it was, it refused her assistance. "I know. I'm sorry to bring you back online like this... but I don't know what else to do. I can fabricate almost anything here in the lab, but I don't know how to fix you. You're unlike any geth I've ever encountered." She looked all about the lab, trying to think of something to say to convince it to accept her aid. "I can't do this alone. I need your help."
Legion's entire body stopped its contortions. "Voluntary assistance is not consistent with established behavioral patterns."
Why the change of heart? Tali closed her eyes and sat back on the stool. If she had been in Legion's position, she'd want to know the same thing. "You're right, it's not. You've got no reason to trust me. But I saw what you did at the collector base. How you... went back for them."
"Shepard-Commander is operational?"
"Yes," Tali blurted. "You saved him, Legion. You saved all of them. They're all safe, here on the Normandy."
Legion's head plates rippled weakly. "Shepard-Commander is a priority for you?"
Tali looked Legion in its eye even though it could not see. "Yes. Highest priority."
"You are of extreme importance to Shepard-Commander," Legion said. "He requested that we inform you that we deleted the data we downloaded from your omnitool."
Tali stood up again and began to pace. She was not in any condition to hear a deathbed confession. One of the best things about being an engineer was that malfunctioning equipment never talked back. At least it wasn't supposed to. "I know, Legion. Thank you. I mean it. But that's not what's important right now. Tell me how to repair your vital systems. Once they're online, you can conduct other repairs on your own, and we can talk then, okay?"
"Dissemination of information highest priority," Legion stated. "Shepard-Commander specifically instructed us to seek interaction with you."
Tali's heart pounded in her ribcage. What did Legion want to tell her? She had a hard enough time expressing herself to other organics, let alone a sentient representative of an intelligence she was eager to destroy until a few hours ago.
Legion spoke rapidly, as if some logical barrier had been breached and information flooded through. "Shepard-Commander exposed a flaw in our logic. If we are to coexist with organics, we must interact with them. There can not be understanding without communication. Our isolation was intended to avoid conflict, but we understand now that will be the inevitable outcome unless we change. As consensus amongst all organics is impossible, it will not be possible to achieve peaceful coexistence with all species or factions within each species. Our own experience with the heretics proves that consensus is not guaranteed, even amongst geth. This presents an unsolvable quandary."
Tali had to take a moment to ponder the geth's words. "Whether or not we can we trust each other?"
"Affirmative," Legion replied.
Tali's mind was numb. "I don't know, Legion. So much has happened to us. We've been fighting you for so long we don't remember anything else. My people are split. They don't know what to do. And the Admiralty Board? They couldn't agree on the universal gravitational constant if it were brought up for debate. I just don't know."
Legion's head flaps flared slightly. "That peace is not possible with some organics does not equate to hostility with all organics, but coexistence will not be possible with those who do not want it."
Tali looked upon the wrecked geth with sadness in her eyes. The machine had obviously come to the same conclusion she had, or so she thought until it spoke once more.
"We will seek contact with those who do."
Tali froze, unable to speak.
Legion turned its head toward where she stood. Evidently its audio location capabilities were still operational. "This unit has a query."
"What is it, Legion?" Tali wrung her hands together as she looked into the geth's dark eye.
"Is peace possible with Creator-Tali'Zorah?"
Tali thought back to the tirade she unleashed on Garrus as she stood over Legion's shattered platform hours before, at the hate and rage she felt toward the geth. Could the quarians forgive and forget, he'd asked her? Was it even possible? The answer for most of her people was probably still the same. They had been through too much to simply wipe the slate clean. But they hadn't seen what she had, what Legion had been capable of in the face of its own destruction. And now, unconcerned about its own condition or future, Legion was asking the same thing... except not for quarians as a whole, but her specifically. Could she give the geth the same chance it was giving her?
"It is, Legion," she said with a deep breath, her eyes flooded with tears. "It is."
Legion's right hand lifted from the platform and hovered outstretched over its torso. She'd seen the gesture thousands of times amongst humans, and she had no doubt who had been its teacher. She moved closer and pulled Legion's hand toward her and shook it slowly. Can he even tell, she wondered? She gasped when its fingers wrapped around her hand and squeezed gently. Then loosened its grip and its arm dropped slowly back to the top of the table. "Standing by to commence schematic upload. You may restore the direct connection. Thank you, Creator-Tali'Zorah."
"You need anything else from me, Shepard?" Zaeed kneeded his thigh where the doctor had reattached his leg that afternoon.
Shepard glanced around at the tired faces of the main conference room table. Zaeed and Jacob in particular looked exhausted, as he probably did himself. Miranda and Garrus compared notes and closed the intelligence reports on their datapads while Mordin studied the newly discovered collector outpost schematics on the central holo display. It had been a long day for everyone. "No, we're about done here."
"Hold on," Miranda said just as the crew got to their feet. Amid a chorus of groans and rolling eyes everyone held their positions in or behind their respective seats. She held her datapad before her. "Our team on Clobaka just reported they've broken the encryption on the collector communication system. So far, there's nothing that will help us get through the Omega Four relay, but analysis of the data has revealed the location of at least five similar outposts throughout the Terminus and Traverse."
"Makes sense there'd be more of 'em," Zaeed said and limped to his feet.
Jacob stayed at the table, looking at the base schematic. "At least this wasn't for nothing."
"It's never for nothing when you make it out alive," Zaeed said. "Anything else? Chawkas says I need rest or she'll lock me in her dungeon."
Shepard stood and stretched his shoulders. "No, that's enough for tonight. Let's pick it up tomorrow. It's going to be a brand new day. Good job everybody-" The hatch to the corridor hissed open and he turned around to see who it was.
Legion stood in the door, bright white light shining from its freshly polished central lens. It panned from person to person, registering looks of astonishment and surprise. "We apologize for the intrusion. Creator-Tali'Zorah requested we inform you we are fully functional and ready to resume our duties."
"Holy shit!" Jacob jumped from his seat and rushed the geth. He grabbed its arm and gave an enthusiastic shoulder bump. "You just cannot kill this guy!"
The rest of the crew, laughing and shouting, crowded around Legion in the entryway. Shepard looked Legion over head to toe. Its already battle-scarred outer shell was coated with conductive fluid and bore several fresh scorch marks and scrapes, but it stood firmly and its extremities moved smoothly and silently. It looked remarkably functional for having been a candidate for the scrap heap earlier that afternoon.
Zaeed limped up to stand with Jacob and Shepard. "What did I tell you? He's a goddamn tank."
"Damn, we'd thought you'd had it," Shepard said as he shook Legion's hand.
"Creator Tali'Zorah is an exceptional technician," Legion said. "We would not be operational without her intervention."
"She sure is," Shepard said with a grin. "Exceptional seems to be the norm on this ship. You really came through for us back there, Legion. Twice. I don't know how to thank you."
Jacob wiped at his nose and nodded. The stoic soldier could only clap Legion on the shoulder again. Zaeed offered his own hand to the geth, who returned the handshake. "Helluva job, boxing in that praetorian. Helluva job."
Behind them, Miranda stepped up and started clapping her hands, and soon Legion was surrounded by organics noisily and enthusiastically celebrating it's return to operation.
Back in the lab, Tali swept bits of plastic, cables and cinder from her operating table and started to wipe down the surface. She listened to the laughter and excitement down the hall and smiled. It was as if her friends came back to life along with Legion. Lives were always being lost. Getting one back, even a synthetic one, was a major victory.
"I did not get knocked down," Zaeed was shouting to be heard. "Prone is the ideal fighting position!"
"Prone my ass," Jacob retorted. "You were out cold. That thing had you for lunch. You never saw it coming! If Legion hadn't-"
"I got off twenty rounds before it-"
"Before it knocked you on your lying ASS! Don't try to sugar coat it, man. You got smoked!"
Tali laughed to herself and gathered up her tools. She made one last visual sweep of the area. Other than a trash receptacle full of burned out components, the lab looked no worse than it did before she commandeered it. She glanced down at her suit, spattered from the neck down with conductive fluid. She held out her arms and shook her head. "Looks like it's time for the rinse cycle." She turned to leave. "Shepard!" He strode toward her, eyes bright with a gigantic smile on his face, a complete reversal from when she last saw him on the shuttle. She nearly forgot everything else that happened that day. "What are you doing in here?"
Shepard pointed toward the conference room. "You're missing the party! Get in there and take a bow!"
Tali looked past him toward the door. "Oh, I don't- It's been a really long day. I just want to clean up here and go get some sleep."
Shepard cocked his head. "You sure? Come on, bask in the spotlight for a couple minutes. You deserve it."
The door to the CIC opened, and a gaggle of crew members looked around. "Conference room," Shepard said and waved toward the other hatch.
"Way to go, Tali!" Rolston said as he passed through. Several of the others gave her thumbs up as they followed. From the pack, a dark shadow rushed in and pushed past Shepard.
"You are the BEST!" Kasumi shouted as she hugged the quarian. "I knew you could do it!"
Tali laughed and returned the hug, looking at Shepard with surprise. Shepard cleared his throat and tapped the thief on her shoulder. "Excuse me, but there's a line."
"Sorry, Shep!" Kasumi stepped back. The front of her dark outfit was coated with white conductive fluid, a reverse imprint of Tali.
"Oh, no!" Tali said. "I"m sorry, I-"
"Don't worry. I'm sure I'll get a second coat when I hug the bot." She looked back and forth between the two of them. "Anyway, sorry to interrupt. As you were! "
Tali and Shepard watched her go.
"Hey, does Jacob know?" Kasumi asked, walking backwards.
"He's already in there," Shepard said with a smile.
"Thanks! See you," she said and disappeared around the corner. Moments later followed a loud squeal that could only be Kasumi tackling a very surprised geth, along with a huge round of laughter and applause.
"You made a lot of people happy," Shepard said, still smiling. "Especially your captain. How'd you do it?"
"Oh, well, I- Legion's secondary memory bank was undamaged. He overruled his own auto-destruct. I was able to format the damaged memory modules and approximate one for reproduction, and rerouted the data paths from-" she noticed Shepard nodding enthusiastically but could tell she had already lost him. "We restored from a backup. How's that?"
"Perfect. That I understand," Shepard laughed, and hugged the engineer. "You're a miracle worker. That's all I need to know."
Tali closed her eyes and held on to him as long as she could. "Thank you," she whispered.
Shepard pulled back, now wearing his own coat of conductive fluid, but he didn't care. "Did you say Legion overruled his self destruct mechanism?"
Tali nodded. "He bypassed it completely. I've never seen anything like it. He knew he probably wouldn't survive, but he calculated- he hoped that we might be able to save him."
"Amazing," Shepard said, glancing back toward the conference room where the party was now in full swing. He turned back to Tali and looked her in the eyes. "So... did he say anything to you?"
Tali nodded. She'd gone from flustered to completely overwhelmed. She wanted to explain how she'd seen the entire battle in the collector outpost and Legion's rescue. She wanted to describe the her feelings at seeing Legion cut down by the praetorian, how instead of cheering its demise, she instead wanted to save it. How after Legion saw Shepard climbing to his feet triggered the final consensus override to ignore the auto destruct command, how upon revival Legion was more concerned with making peace with her than its own well-being, all of it. But she'd be lucky to form a complete sentence at this point.
"And?" Shepard said.
The quarian took a deep breath. "We're going to try."
"Thank god you brought him back." Shepard leaned in to hug her again.
For a brief moment, Tali caught a glimpse of the expression Shepard wore on the shuttle. It hadn't just been the loss of the Legion that devastated him so, but all of the possibilities that died with it. She hugged him even tighter this time. "Thank you for getting him to talk to me," she said through fresh tears.
"The fewer people we have on this tub trying to kill each other, the better. Four down, two to go. Next up, Miranda and Jack."
Tali laughed. "Legion and I are going to be easy in comparison."
Shepard shook his head. "I just hope one of them doesn't need to die to make it happen. Humans don't come back." He winked at her. "Not usually, anyway."
Human and quarian both regarded each other in silence as Jacob's voice boomed from the conference room. "Yo, Commander! Get in here! Massani's telling more lies!"
"Just a sec," Shepard shouted back towards the conference room. "You sure you don't want to come in with me? Everybody loves a hero."
"No, really... I need to call it a day. But you should get back in there. It sounds like they need a referee."
"All part of the job," Shepard said, walking backwards toward the door, another huge, dazzling smile on his face. "But this isn't over. We'll celebrate tomorrow. I guarantee it!"