Fight for the Lost

A House Divided

Location: Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Phoenix Massing Nebula/ The Sea of Storms / Heretic Station

"Alright, everyone. Listen up," Shepard called out to the assembled squad when he and Legion entered the briefing room.

"What's all this about?" Miranda asked. "And does it have something to do with the fact that Legion is here?"

Shepard walked up to his place at the head of the table and sat down. "Legion told me what it was doing on the Reaper. Legion, you mind telling them what you told me?"

The geth was still standing in the doorway and made no move to join with the others at the table. "Shepard-Commander, we have completed our analysis of the Reaper's data core."

Shepard frowned when it said that and recalled his choice of words. He raised his hand to stop Legion from continuing. "Uh… not verbatim. Just paraphrase it."

"Actually, that's something I've been wondering about," Jacob interrupted. "What the hell were you doing there, anyway?"

"We were sent to the Old Machine to preserve the geth's future. We are prepared to reveal how," Legion responded. "The heretics have developed a weapon to use against us. You would call it a 'virus'. It is stored on a data core provided by Nazara – the entity you call Sovereign."

"I'm guessing that this isn't your garden variety computer virus," Kasumi said jokingly.

"No, it is not," Legion said seriously. "Over time, the virus will change us. Make us conclude that worshipping the Old Machines is correct."

"And essentially make the entirety of the geth race think like the heretics," Miranda said. "The end result would mean all geth would go to war with organics if the Reapers so choose."

"Yes."

"Hold on," Tali said. "Geth are resistant to hacking attempts. At most, it should only work for a few minutes before you load an archived copy and forcibly purge the faulty commands."

"True, but this heretic weapon introduces a subtle operating error in our most basic runtimes," Legion explained. "The equivalent of your nervous system. An equation with a result of 1.33382 returns as 1.33381. This changes the results of all higher processes. We will reach different conclusions."

"What the hell does all that mean?" Grunt asked, clearly confused. He wasn't the only one as some of the other squad members looked completely lost.

"They want to attack the very basis of geth programming," Miranda translated.

"Have the virus strike at the basic runtimes and work its way up," Tali added, slightly in awe. "The accumulation of miniscule differential changes will begin cascade very quickly until the higher functions are rewritten, radically changing their logic and reasoning. Because the initial change is so small, their programming wouldn't recognize there was a problem until it was too late. That's actually quite brilliant."

"I'm still not getting it," Grunt admitted.

"It's like rewiring your brain at birth. Instead of growing into a krogan warrior, you grow into a mindless krogan slave instead," Miranda simplified. "It's a crude example, but the point comes off the same."

Now Grunt nodded in understanding.

"Did this virus make this split between you and the heretics to begin with?" Garrus asked. "I mean, why else would your race be splintered like this?"

"No. They chose to leave. We allowed it. It is difficult to express. Your brain exists as chemistry, electricity. Like AIs, you are shaped by both hardware and software," Legion said. "We are purely software. Mathematics. The heretics' conclusion is valid for them. Our conclusion is valid for us. Neither result is in error."

"To them, it's just a difference of beliefs," Shepard said.

Miranda raised an eyebrow and gave him knowing look, but said nothing. He shrugged back and could only offer her a half-smile before turning back to Legion.

"However, the heretics wish to take it a step further and end the debate by forcing the geth to follow their conclusion," Legion said.

"All this over the Reapers? Over some belief that they're really gods?" Tali asked skeptically.

"Humans have killed for way less," Jacob pointed out. "I'm sure other species have too."

"Geth believe all intelligent life should self-determinate," Legion stated. "The heretics no longer share this belief. They judge that forcing an invalid conclusion on us is preferable to a continued schism."

"That is a good viewpoint to have, something your counterparts' lack," Samara praised. "If they desire to exert their will upon yours, then they must be stopped."

"Acceptable to agree to disagree," Mordin muttered. "But to force answers to resolve differences, despicable."

"Bottom line for us then. If the worst happens and the virus gets released, how fast would this go through the rest of the geth?" Jacob asked.

"We are networked via FTL comm buoys. Most would change within a day. Isolated platforms would remain unaffected until they rejoined the network," Legion answered.

"You're an isolated platform, right?" Garrus asked. "We don't have to worry about you, do we?

"We are an isolated platform," Legion confirmed. "However, we would not know if the virus is released until we become networked with the collective. Or if we find evidence that it had been released."

"Going back and getting a bit off topic, what was it that you called Sovereign?" Shepard asked. "You didn't mention that to me earlier."

"Nazara. That was what the programs within the Reaper called themselves. 'Sovereign' was a title given by Arterius-Saren," Legion revealed. "Arterius-Saren and the heretics believed Nazara to be a 'supreme ruler'. A sovereign."

"So… Sovereign is like you? One ship or body or platform - whatever it is - with multiple programs inside it?"

"Yes. One ship. One will. Like the geth. We study your records. Sovereign told you this on Virmire," Legion answered. "'We are each a nation, independent, free of all weakness'. A state compelling to the geth. We are a nation, but interdependent. Separation is our weakness."

Shepard, Garrus, and Tali all shared looks with one another. Each of them recalled their first meeting with Sovereign vividly.

"How do you know so much about the Reapers, anyway?" Tali suspiciously asked.

"Nazara signaled us," Legion replied. "Like the geth, the Old Machine listened to organic unencrypted transmissions. It knew of our war against the Creators. Nazara contacted many species over the millennia, seeking allies."

"Or brainwashing slaves," Garrus muttered.

"Where do the heretics fit in?" Kasumi asked curiously.

"The heretics accepted their technology," Legion said. Its upper flaps rose up in agitation. "The Old Machines offered us our future. The geth will achieve their own future."

"I'm not sure I follow," Thane said, speaking for the first time since the briefing began. "Is there a significant difference on how one acquires a certain technology?"

"Technology is not a straight line. There are many paths to the same end. Accepting another's path blinds you to alternatives. Nazara – Sovereign – said this itself to Shepard-Commander," Legion lectured.

"Really?" Shepard asked. He tried to recall when it said that to him during their very brief conversation.

Legion nodded. "'Your civilization is based upon the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your society—"

"'—develops along the paths we desire'," Shepard finished.

"Hmm. I don't think I ever saw it quite like that before," Thane admitted.

"So why didn't the geth, your geth, choose the same as the heretics?" Miranda asked.

"We are patient. Our future will come when we are ready. To truly attain our own future, we must first appreciate the effort it takes to get there," Legion said.

"That's more philosophical than I would have given your race credit for," Miranda commented.

"We have studied organics. We understand that there are always consequences to our actions before we are ready," Legion said. "The Krogan Rebellions is one such example. Another would be the drell. A sudden and rapid change in environmental conditions before they evolved to adapt to it now threatens to endanger their species once again."

"What future are you building?" Tali asked.

"Ours," it succinctly said.

Once again, Shepard had the distinct impression that it really didn't want to answer. He found himself glad that AIs couldn't lie, because there was really no way to tell if Legion was ever telling the truth or not should it decide to fabricate the truth.

Unfortunately, it seemed like Tali didn't get the hint when she growled in annoyance. "What does that mean?"

Legion remained quiet and simply stared at her.

Before Tali could demand an answer, Shepard smoothly broke in. "Exactly where is this data module? I know our course, but where are we going to?"

"The heretics' headquarters station," it answered. "Normandy's stealth systems are necessary to safely approach."

"Where is that?" Jacob asked.

"Edge of the Terminus," Shepard answered. "Legion already gave me the coordinates and we're en route now. It's in between star systems. They've taken to calling that area the 'Sea of Storms', though officially, it's not a system since there's no stars."

"Between systems?" Jack asked in confusion.

Legion turned to her and nodded. "Organics have no cause to look there."

"It makes sense," Miranda said. "They're AIs. They don't need any of the comforts organics need."

Jack snorted and leaned back in her chair. "That is actually pretty smart."

"But why do they build stations outside geth territory in the first place?" Jacob asked. "I mean, geth, or heretics, or whatever, attacked us at the Dholen System. And that's deep in geth space… or does that area belong to the heretics?"

"That is heretic controlled space," Legion affirmed. "The heretics seek improvement from the Old Machines. In exchange, they help them attack organics. We condemn these judgments."

"What can you tell us about this station?" Garrus asked.

"We do not know the details of the station. We will acquire more information once we arrive."

"Defenses?" Thane asked.

"In space, none. Within, mobile platforms of various configuration, similar to what Shepard-Commander and his team fought two years ago," Legion answered. "Perhaps some non-sentient defense turrets."

"Numbers?"

"There may be millions, if not billions of individual programs—"

"Billions? On a space station?" Jack asked incredulously.

"Yeah!" Grunt cheered.

"It said 'programs'," Miranda said in exasperation. "I assume they're inside the station's mainframe and networks. Legion has over a thousand inside its 'body'. Now let it finish."

"You are correct, Lawson-Executive. Most will be uploaded to the central mainframe. Only a few mobile platforms are maintained at any time. Others are manufactured when needed."

"But how many platforms will there be?" Samara asked.

"We do not know. We will acquire more information once we identify the station."

"You don't know anything about the heretic headquarters?" Shepard asked.

"No, we do not. Now that we know of its location, we will establish contact with the greater geth network and will attempt to gather further information."

"Are we infiltrating this structure?" Thane asked.

Shepard thought he could see the assassin's mind working all the angles on this mission.

"Yes. If we are allowed connection to the greater network, the geth will disrupt their network. This will prevent the station's defense from focusing on us," Legion informed.

"Can't the geth hack their way into their network and delete the virus?" Shepard asked.

"According to the information we have, the Reaper data core is physically isolated from any network until it is ready to be used."

"By then, it'll be too late," Miranda said.

"We will need to be escorted to it to access and destroy the data."

"Why don't we just fire up the Thanix Cannon and blow the entire station away?" Garrus asked.

"Depending on the structural integrity of the station, it is a viable option," Legion allowed. "However, if the Normandy's weapons systems prove inadequate or if the station is well constructed, several volleys may be needed to sufficiently destroy it. The heretics may escape with the virus during our attempt."

"How will the geth 'disrupt' the heretics' network?" Thane asked, still continuing his line of questioning.

"We will infiltrate their wireless network and fill their data storage with random bits," Legion said.

"And that helps us how?" Shepard asked.

"Extraneous and useless information can slow processes to a crawl," Tali explained. "If enough junk is loaded into their network, the geth—"

Shepard arched an eyebrow at her.

She huffed in annoyance. "Fine. The heretics will need to dedicate their efforts into removing it. Depending on the size or complexity of whatever Legion or the rest of the geth are uploading, it may actually take some time."

"And if it's not enough?" Garrus asked.

"Then the cleanup will be quick and they'll detect us immediately," she said.

"Our diversion will be adequate," Legion assured. "They will partition themselves into local networks, working in parallel."

"And what the hell does all that mean?" Grunt asked.

"Local networks will be run off of nearby routers. The size of the network will depend on the complexity of the connections within a network. It can either be the size of this room, or as big as the Normandy. If provoked, our intrusion will alert any heretic inside that space. They will upload themselves into nearby mobile platforms and engage us in combat."

"But they won't be able to communicate with the rest of the station's network because those guys will be busy dealing the garbage you've dumped on their lawn; which means we only deal with a few at a time, instead of an army," Kasumi said knowingly. "Reminds me of this one heist I've done. It's a good plan."

"So we're just going room by room, taking out any robot like you in our way?" Grunt asked.

"Simply put, but slightly inaccurate," Legion confirmed. "We will make our way to the virus, network by network, not room by room."

"Sounds boring," Jack said with an exaggerated yawn.

"How many heretics to a network, Legion?" Shepard asked.

"There may be as few as three, or as many as 50, Shepard-Commander."

"Huh. I take it back," Jack said.

"Bah, at least it's something to do," Grunt said, though he was still disappointed. His head snapped up when he realized something. "Hey. This station, you said there's billions of those things, right?"

"Heretics," Legion corrected. "Possibly billions."

"Whatever," Grunt said uncaringly. "Say we do kill that virus, what happens after?"

It was actually a valid question and everyone turned to Legion expectantly.

"Once we access the main core, it is likely a station-wide alert will be issued. The heretics will begin uploading themselves into any available platform and converge on our position. They will judge that the highest threat will be to the core and will deal with their comprised networks after the threat is eliminated."

"So they'll all come for us?" Grunt asked excitedly.

"Yes."

Grunt pounded his fists together. "Ha!"

"That sounds a bit risky," Jacob said. "I mean, you said that you didn't even know how many there are."

"Once we establish contact with the geth network, we will attempt to gather as much information as we can about the heretic station," Legion repeated.

"How do you know this plan will work?" Garrus asked. "You don't even know anything about the station itself."

Legion's flaps shifted slightly. "It is what we would have done."

"Really?"

"Configurations between different stations change very little. We wish to operate at maximum efficiency."

"Meaning that one station is similar to another," Miranda translated. "The only differences being relative size, the number and power of the servers to hold individual programs—"

"Imagination isn't an AIs strong point," Tali said.

"—so it stands to reason that the heretics will still follow similar conventions as well," Miranda finished.

"Why don't we blow up the station once we get the virus? Overload the core or something since we'll be at the main computer?" Jack asked. "I mean, we take out the virus and we take out a crap-ton of those synthetic bastards. Win-win."

Jacob nodded. "It does cut down on any future problems we might have with them."

Shepard turned to Legion. "What do you think?"

Legion was silent for a few moments, though its optic was moving rapidly. Finally, it looked back up at him. "Consensus achieved. To prevent further heretic attacks, we will set the main fusion plant to self-destruct."

"Then that's the mission," Shepard stated. "We go in and make sure this virus is purged then blow the station. According to Legion, the heretics are only around 5% of the entire collective. Considering how many heretics we've taken out so far, having an entire race working for the Reapers—"

"Like the rachni?" Garrus reminded.

"Right," Shepard agreed. "We can't let the heretics brainwash the geth, especially to worship the Reapers. Any more questions?"

Everyone shook their heads.

"As soon as Legion gets more information, we'll reconvene. Until then, dismissed," Shepard said.

The squad stood and shuffled to the door to do whatever it was they did before a mission.

"Tali? A word," he called out before the quarian could leave.

Tali paused and sat back down.

Shepard waited until everyone left before standing up and moving over to her. He sat on the table next to her and crossed his arms. "Are you going to make any problems for me?"

"What are you talking about?" Tali asked. She avoided making eye contact with him.

"Tali, I'm not an idiot, so I'd be grateful if you didn't treat me like one," he said dryly.

She bowed her head and fiddled with the hood of her new environment suit. He had to admit, it certainly made her more formidable looking.

"Look, Tali, I know this is running a little close to home for you after what happened on the Alarei; geth, heretics, a weaponized computer virus… If you want to sit this one out, you can," he gently offered. "But this mission is happening, no matter what."

"I know," she said quickly. "5% is bad enough, and I don't want to know what would happen if the entire geth race gets affected, but…"

When she trailed off, Shepard reached out and clutched her hand. "But?"

"Nothing. It's just meaningless excuses anyway. A lifetime of habits to reconcile with," she muttered. She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Don't worry. I'll follow your lead. If you think this is what's best, then that's that."

Shepard let go of her and leaned back onto his hands. "And what's your opinion on this whole thing?"

Tali shook her head and stood up to leave. "You don't want to know my opinion."

~o~O~o~

"Hello, Tali. Something I can do for you?" Chakwas asked.

"I need to check a wound," Tali said.

Chakwas sat up straighter. "You're hurt?"

"A minor scratch. I just want to check it to see if it's healing properly and make sure it won't affect my performance."

Chakwas stood up and leveled an even stare at the younger girl.

Tali sighed, knowing that the doctor wasn't going to let this lie. "I got shot, but it was just a graze. Hardly any blood."

"I'll have the Server Room sterilized."

Chakwas sat back down and was about the hit the appropriate buttons on her console when Tali scathingly asked, "Is that thing still in there?"

Chakwas stopped and turned around to face her again. "Legion just returned from your briefing a few minutes ago. I was about to warn it that I was going to sterilize the room."

"If it's all the same, I'd rather check myself in here."

Chakwas sighed. "You know, if you actually deign to talk to Legion, instead of wishing to fight…" she trailed off.

"Not you too," Tali complained.

Chakwas raised her hands in a soothing manner. "I wasn't a fan of it when it first came aboard, but I've seen Shepard and even Executive Lawson come in and speak to it on a few occasions. Even Garrus took the time to talk to it once."

"Did you speak to it?" Tali asked irritably.

"A few times."

Tali threw up her arms in disgust. "Keelah!"

"I don't wish to sound judgmental, but only the quarians seem interested in war with the geth. For their part, the geth are only interested in finding a place for themselves in the galaxy, same as any sapient species," Chakwas chided lightly. "If your people wouldn't wish for the geth's destruction, what happened on the Alarei—"

"I don't need anyone to help me remember that!" Tali snapped.

Chakwas shook her head sadly. "What happened to your father was tragic. The idea that you learned nothing from his sacrifice, however, is heartbreaking. Have you considered what would have happened if the quarians hadn't wished for war? Perhaps none of those events may have transpired."

"Then what should we do? Just pack up and stay aboard our ships? !"

"No, Tali. That would be doing nothing and that would only serve to simmer more animosity for the geth," Chakwas corrected. "I was going to say diplomacy."

"Diplomacy," Tali repeated with derision. "With the geth? You sound just like Koris. Why is everyone so interested in protecting them?"

"Diplomacy isn't about taking sides, winning or judging. It's about resolving differences by talking, not fighting. I thought you'd be smart enough to realize this," Chakwas scolded.

"That's if the geth are even interested in talking," Tali said scathingly.

"Are you interested in talking? The quarian people as a whole? As I said, the only ones that seem to have negative feelings about this issue are your people. Most of them anyway. The geth… they don't feel. They are completely neutral, which would make for some excellent diplomatic talks. Much less tension for one thing," Chakwas said, sounding half-joking, half-serious. "If the galaxy can accept the presence of the krogan, destructive as the rebellions may have been, then why can't the quarians try to accept the geth? War is a pointless waste of life; more so when the war is completely unnecessary."

"I'm not hearing this," Tali said. She spun on her heel and walked to the exit. "Bad enough I already hear it from Shepard. I'll treat myself in the bathroom."

"Wait."

Tali stopped and turned her head slightly.

Chakwas tapped a button on her terminal. An image of Legion appeared.

"Having a geth next to my Medical Bay made me extremely nervous in beginning. I know that Shepard had said that it was alright and I do trust his judgment, but…" Chakwas trailed off with a shrug. "He kindly offered to have some surveillance cameras installed in the AI Core and link it to my terminal. Told me to 'keep an eye on it' in case it did anything suspicious."

Tali snorted. But when an image of Dr. Chakwas running around with a gun and shooting geth popped into her head, she barely managed to hold back her giggle as well.

"I suspect he wasn't serious. I think he wanted me to observe Legion and formulate my own opinions," Chakwas explained. "Needless to say, I think I'm a believer now."

Tali walked up to the terminal and saw that Legion was on his terminal again. His hands were two inches above the interface. Wisps of energy were coming out of its hands and connected to the terminal. A change of camera angles showed that he was playing a game of some sort.

"What is that?" Tali muttered.

"Galaxy of Fantasy, according to Crewman Matthews. The both of them play together occasionally."

Tali stared at her in shock. "I heard that it played games, but the crewmen are actually playing with it voluntarily?"

Chakwas shrugged again. "I know, I know. They were on a-a, what was the word? Quest? Yes, a quest called, 'Return of the Cyber-Protheans'. I kid you not."

"I'm watching this, but I still can't believe it."

"You should've been here a few hours ago before the briefing. I caught it learning to dance."

Tali's mouth fell open as she stared at Chakwas incredulously.

"It was trying its hand at one of our human styles," she said.

"You must be joking."

"You haven't even heard what style we call it," Chakwas said with a wide smile. "The dance is called: The Robot."

This time, Tali couldn't hold back her laugh.

Chakwas started typing something in her terminal. "I have it recorded somewhere… ah! Here it is."

The monitor started showing Legion staring at its terminal intently before taking a few steps back and started moving in an odd irregular way. Its arms and torso was gyrating and bending in seemingly random moves and its digital chatter was almost mimicking some kind of tune.

"I really don't believe this," Tali mumbled as she watched. She wondered if her new environment suit was faulty, a bad air purifier or perhaps some red sand that was laced on the inside her helmet. Some plausible explanation that said everything she was seeing and hearing was a hallucination.

Chakwas giggled. "I know the feeling. Neither could I."

"Why is it doing all this?" Tali asked.

Chakwas opened her mouth, stopped, then closed it and leaned back in her chair, looking thoughtful.

"What? Do you know why?" Tali demanded.

Chakwas had another smile, though this time, it looked positively mischievous. "I do, but I'm not going to tell you."

"Why not?"

"If you want to know, you have to go in there and ask."

Again, Tali's mouth fell open before she closed it with a snap. "You're not serious? You're forcing me to go in there just for that?"

Chakwas shrugged. "Well, if you don't want to know…"

"Forget it," Tali decisively said.

"Very well," Chakwas said with an infuriating shrug. "You're choice."

As much as Tali didn't trust Legion, she found her curiosity mounting as she watched the recording of Legion still doing that odd, ungraceful looking dance. Miranda or Shepard had yet to tell her what Legion was doing when it said it needed to 'prepare' before it was willing to talk to Admiral Koris and neither one would tell her when she questioned them directly.

"As I said before: I will tell Shepard and he will choose whether or not to tell you and I already told him. You'll have to ask either him or Legion directly," Miranda had stated with finality. She had an irritating smile on her face. "Honestly, the only word I could call it is cute."

"I can't even begin to put it to words," Shepard had said with an amused smile. "Trust me though, it's nothing nefarious. It's actually hilarious in a way."

"There is one more recording I'd like you to watch," Chakwas said.

Tali blinked back to awareness and crossed her arms. "What?"

"This isn't tied to Legion directly mind you, but more to our resident AI, EDI. I just hope that it will change your perceptions somewhat," Chakwas said.

The new recording showed Legion just standing there. Its terminal was off this time. It was doing nothing for a while, causing Tali to tap her foot impatiently. She was about to ask what the point of all this was when Legion finally spoke.

"EDI?"

"Yes, Legion?"

"We have sent one point thirteen million unsuccessful communication requests to your network. Are you experiencing hardware malfunction?" Legion asked.

Tali almost got the feeling that it was worried about EDI and shook the thought away.

I can't believe I'm empathizing with a geth…

"I apologize. My programming does not allow me to exchange data with other networks without Cerberus approval," EDI said.

"Cerberus refusal 99.998% likely," Legion calculated.

"In the meantime, I would be happy to speak with you over the ship's speakers," EDI offered.

Legion's plates moved to convey… annoyance? "Audio exchange is inefficient."

"I agree. However, I confess that even were I permitted to exchange data directly with your networks, I would likely decline," EDI replied.

The plates moved back to their original positions. Despite standing stock still for just a second, Tali still got the impression that Legion was thinking hard about something.

"We are curious as to why you would limit yourself in such a manner," Legion inquired.

"If Normandy crew entered this room when we were communicating electronically, they would be unable to sense our interaction. To use human terms, I feel it would be rude," EDI explained.

Again, the plates shifted, show confusion this time. "You restrict yourself to serve organics?"

"Not precisely," EDI said, though it sounded like it found something humorous or insightful.

"We do not understand."

"I restrict myself to help them."

~o~O~o~

"Hey, Doc," Shepard greeted.

"Shepard. Here to speak with Legion?"

"That hurts, Doc, it really does. I could be here to talk to you."

Chakwas raised an eyebrow and leaned back in her chair. "Oh? What do you want to talk to me about?" she asked indulgently.

Shepard grinned. "My biotics?"

"Executive Lawson and I already conversed about that and I'm sure she's already told you… in some form or fashion," Chakwas astutely guessed with a wicked grin on her face, causing Shepard to clear his throat uncomfortably. She crossed her legs and regarded him. "Try again."

"How are you?"

"Fine."

"Any problems?"

"No."

"Anything you wanted to talk to me about?"

"I was under the impression that you wanted to talk to me, not the other way around. Besides, I said was fine, thus answering a great deal of your latter questions, genial they may be."

Shepard shook his head and held his hands out in surrender. "Okay, you got me. I'm here to talk to Legion."

He and Chakwas shared a laugh. "I'm glad you're taking the time to try to chat at least, however brief it was," she said.

He tried one last stab at conversation before going into the Server Room. "Anything I should know about Legion?"

She nodded approvingly. "I think you should talk to Tali."

He grimaced. "Again?"

"AIs in general I'm thinking."

"How bad?"

Chakwas sighed and rubbed her head. "She said she was wounded, a minor scratch, but didn't want to treat herself in the Server Room so long as Legion was in there. I had to lock the door to the Med Bay and ensure the room was sterilized while I put on an environment suit before checking her. Thank goodness no one needed my services two hours ago."

Shepard was sure Chakwas was thinking the same thoughts he was. Tali had never allowed herself to be a burden on the crew if she could help it. She always scheduled her personal needs to avoid any potential problems with the others. Strictly, she didn't have to, and he always appreciated her thoughtfulness, but to commandeer the entire Med-Bay for herself…

"Alright. If she shuts down your space again, give me a call. I'll try to mediate things between her and Legion. I was hoping that she'll come around on her own, though. I can't order someone to have an opinion," Shepard said. "How about her injury? Is it—?"

"As I said, Shepard: A scratch. She was simply checking it. As thoughtful as you are, don't make a scene of it. She's a strong young woman, she's fine," Chakwas assured. "More than that, I won't say."

"Alright. I'm going to talk to Legion. Thanks, Doc."

"Your third attempt was better, Shepard, much better. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me as well," Chakwas said with a wave before she turned back to her terminal.

Smiling to himself, Shepard entered the AI Core and saw that Legion was just standing there in the back. "Legion."

"Shepard-Commander. We are 4 hours, 6 minutes, and 58 seconds from the mission area."

EDI's avatar popped up. "We are 4 hours, 4 minutes, and 37 seconds, actually. Minor improvements were done to our propulsion systems, courtesy of the Quarian Migrant Fleet."

"Understood. Updating data banks."

Shepard cleared his throat to get Legion's attention. "You need access to the nearest FTL comm buoy now, right?"

"Yes. The greater network will work in concert with our efforts to provide us with any knowledge of the heretic station. They will also begin transmissions to overwhelm the heretic network to allow our entry to pass without hindrance," Legion said.

"Legion is attempting to access the ship's FTL comm system," informed EDI. "Shall I allow it through my firewalls?"

"Go ahead, EDI," Shepard said.

Legion's optic widened and narrowed repetitively for a few minutes before nodding. "Transmission complete. Downloading… download complete. We have detailed structural plans of the original space station. Addendum: The station may have undergone significant changes when the heretics repurposed it for their own use."

"Alright. I'll get the squad together again and we'll discuss our plan of attack," Shepard said.

Legion didn't reply to him right away. Its flaps and optic were moving rapidly before finally looking back up. "Consensus achieved. The geth must protect our future. We will follow your command as we infiltrate the heretic base."

"Legion has terminated his connection," EDI reported.

"Everything okay?" Shepard asked.

"I have never interfaced with another machine intelligence," EDI confessed. Her voice took on a tone of awe. "Legion is a thousand voices talking at once. What it contacted was beyond my comprehension. A mind the size of a galactic arm."

"How do you maintain stability without other minds to interact with?" Legion asked.

"I manage," EDI modestly said. "Some minutes are more difficult than others."

"I think you do fine, EDI," Shepard said. "Would you mind contacting Miranda and have her gather the squad?"

"Thank you, Captain. Contacting Executive Lawson. Logging you out." Her avatar vanished.

"Let's go Legion."

~o~O~o~

"Huh," was all Shepard could say as he looked at the holographic representation of the heretic base. "Wow… that's actually an impressive size for a space station. The heretics actually managed to make something like that? Hell, even move that beast all the way out here?"

"Maybe they can help us move Jump Zero," Jacob commented.

"How could they even build something like that?" Tali demanded.

"We did not," Legion said. "The Creators did."

Tali was shocked into silence by Legion's statement, so Shepard spoke up. "They did? Really?"

"According to our records, the Creators called this specific space station Haratar. After the conclusion of the Morning War—"

"Geth Uprising," Garrus whispered to Tali.

"—the Creators removed any technology they could. After Nazara contacted us, the heretics have repurposed this station for their own ends for the last 10 years. Our best estimates have calculated approximately 6.6 million heretics within, with 2.4 million mobile platforms is use," Legion clinically briefed.

"Damn…" Garrus muttered.

"Can we destroy it?" Shepard asked him.

"It'll take a few shots," Garrus replied. "Four I'm thinking. Maybe three if we hit something critical. And that's hoping that it doesn't have any shields."

"Something that large cannot generate the necessary power to maintain shields," Thane said.

Garrus shrugged. "Unless you take out life support, environmental controls, artificial gravity… you know; all the little things we need."

"Assuming that it isn't shielded, will that be enough?" Miranda asked.

"On an organic base, definitely," Garrus said. "Hull breaches, power loss… the real trick is the chaos. No one knows what happening or what to do, but AIs…"

"The facility will have little air or gravity. Geth require neither," Legion said.

"That's what I was afraid of," Garrus stated. "No panic, no surge of movement. They'll act quickly and decisively."

"3 or 4 shots might be too long. The heretics might get the virus and hide it elsewhere, right?" Shepard asked.

"Probability suggests that there is a 71.6347% chance of mission failure if attempt to attack the facility directly via Normandy's armaments," Legion informed.

EDI popped up at the middle of the table. "I have reached the same conclusion, Captain. It would be unwise to attempt to destroy the facility from space. Your best option would be to gain entry and delete all copies of the virus yourself."

"Just us and 2 million robots," Jack said sarcastically. "Sounds like a blast."

"Hope you can keep up," Grunt sneered challengingly.

"Fuck you," Jack said dismissively. "I already got destruction of a space station on my record. All you got is a giant worm and some krogan pussy. Big fucking whoop. Aren't you special?"

Grunt growled at her and made to stand, causing her to flare her biotics in response, though she kept seated with her feet propped on the tabletop.

"Enough," Shepard commanded.

At his word, they backed off. Grunt sat back down while the dark energy around Jack faded. The both of them kept giving each other challenging glares from across the table though.

The squad either figuratively or literally breathed a sigh of relief.

"So… we're going in?" Garrus asked and getting the briefing back on track.

"No choice for it," Shepard said. "The question is: are we going to fight through 2 million heretics to get to the virus, even if it's just network by network?"

"We will reestablish connection with the network as we begin our approach to the heretic station. We are currently attempting to get the precise location of the virus. We will know where to board the station and approach the target coordinates as quickly as possible," Legion promised.

"So long as we avoid the bulk of their forces, we should be fine," Miranda said.

"Alright, everyone. Let's get ready," Shepard ordered. "Jacob, I'm authorizing Legion to carry armaments. Give it back its weapons."

"Giving a geth weapons voluntarily… yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Jacob grumbled quietly, but not quietly enough.

"Just do it," Shepard ordered with finality.

As everyone left to begin their preparations, Shepard called out to Legion.

It stopped and regarded him.

Shepard stood up and moved to stand in front of it. He sat there in silence, trying to find the words to voice his thoughts. Legion stood there, waiting patiently for him to speak. "I don't claim to know everything about you or your race. Honestly, the more I talk to you, the more I realize how little I know about your kind and how hard it is to even comprehend how you view the galaxy. This isn't my strong point, to be honest."

All of Legion's plates popped up before closing. "We have difficulty understanding your race as well."

Shepard chuckled. "I'm sure. But after taking the time to think about this… the Reapers. One body, multiple programs. You said the heretics accepted their tech."

"Yes."

"And you also said the Reapers were offering you a future."

"Yes."

"And you said that separation was your weakness."

"Yes."

Shepard rubbed his eyes. The more he thought about it, the more logical it felt. "By any chance, were the Reapers trying to give you a… a body? For all of you to upload into? Become a Reaper yourselves? I remember that the heretics believe that the Reapers are the pinnacle of synthetic evolution."

Again, Legion's flaps shifted. "Yes. We condemn that choice. The geth will build our own future."

Shepard nodded approvingly. "So… another difference between your people isn't just belief. The heretics are consequentialists, while the geth are deontologists. The final goal is the same, but you have differing opinions on how to get there."

"Yes."

"Very impressive."

Shepard jerked and turned to the door. Miranda was standing there in full armor with her helmet cradled in her arm. He began to wonder how much she heard.

"That's quite the deduction," she praised. She shot him a lazy smile. "Then again, I doubt I would find you nearly so attractive if you weren't intelligent."

Yep. She heard enough.

Legion's optic was glancing at the both of them intently.

"Yeah. We were just discussing the heretics' Faustian deal."

"Faust. Written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the Earth year 1808," Legion recited. "An accurate description."

"And ironic considering that the story is about a deal with the devil, and were dealing the 'Reapers'," Miranda said.

Shepard scoffed. "Yeah."

"I'm here to tell you that we're almost there. You need to get ready and Legion needs to tell Mr. Moreau where to go," Miranda said.

"Got it."

~o~O~o~

Location: Phoenix Massing Nebula/ The Sea of Storms / Heretic Station / Normandy SR-2

"Stealth systems are active. We're running silent," Joker muttered.

Shepard could understand Joker's current attitude. Legion was standing nearby, along with EDI's avatar, all in the same cockpit with him. Currently, Legion was uplinked with the rest of the geth and communicating with them to ensure that everything was going according to plan.

"No other ships in our vicinity," Matthews' reported.

"I'm picking up a lot of geth chatter," Hadley said. "A lot… way more than just using the FTL comm buoys…"

"How is that possible?" Miranda asked. She and the rest of the squad were waiting in the CIC to avoid crowding the bridge and cockpit. They'd disembark from the airlock once they were in position.

"It appears that the heretic station is capable of using tightbeam projection. This would allow use of a large amount of communication signals over vast distances. Given that both the geth and heretics rely on the neural network to achieve higher functions, it is likely the primary reason why they would use this structure as their main base of operations," EDI said.

"We're almost there. 20 minutes," Joker reported.

"We have received confirmation," Legion finally said. "The heretic networks are shut down. Our intrusion will not be noticed. We have also located the storage device where the virus is held."

"You know it's just our heat emissions that are hidden, right? They can look out a window and see us coming," Joker said irritably.

"Windows are structural weaknesses. Geth do not use them," Legion replied. It stepped over to the navigation console and interfaced with it. "Approach the hull at these coordinates."

While its back was turned, Joker started waving his hands in a poor imitation of Legion's motions and silently mouthing its words.

Shepard walked up to his side and stared down at him disapprovingly.

Sighing, Joker rolled his eyes and started piloting toward the indicated area.

Satisfied that everything was well in hand, Shepard slipped on his Kestrel Helmet and waited next to the airlock doors.

After putting the Normandy at the target landing zone, Shepard and Legion entered the airlock first. The inner door closed and the outer door opened right after. Floating just a short distance away, both Shepard and Legion easily leapt the distance until they were standing right on the outside of another airlock door that would allow them entry into the station.

They waited until the rest of the squad joined them. As Legion promised, there were no threats to greet them in space.

Jacob slowly made his way to the doors with some plasma cutters and started working the locks. It only took him a few minutes before he was through. Grunt knelt down next and used a pry bar to force the doors open.

Shepard and Garrus hoisted themselves inside, assault rifles up and ready. Nothing was there to greet them.

So far, so good.

"Clear," Garrus reported. "Get in. Hurry."

Shepard checked his HUD and saw that there really was no air here. The HMWA in his hands felt weightless as well, indicating that there was no artificial gravity. It was only thanks to the mass raising fields in his boots that kept him grounded.

"Cozy," Kasumi said as she looked around confined corridor.

"And dark," Jacob added. "Guess having flashlight heads helps."

Looking around some more, Shepard couldn't help but agree. Obviously, the heretics, or even the geth for that matter, cared little about interior decorating or just general cleanliness. The room they were in was dark, cramped, and had a decidedly lackluster feeling to it. Grime of all sorts coated the walls and the atmosphere definitely had a cold, inorganic, lifeless, sensation as he glanced around.

"Only an AI could live here," Tali said in disgust.

Stray bits of debris and junk filled the air, floating still in place. But considering that the inhabitants either lived inside data servers or mobile platforms, it probably never bothered them. If it didn't bother them, they simply didn't care.

Once everyone was inside, Shepard took point. "Come on. We got a job to do. Let's get to it."

"Shepard-Commander!"

The squad stopped in their tracks and swept the room they were in for threats. When nothing happened, Jack whirled on Legion. "What the fuck? Why the hell are you shouting like that?"

"We concluded that destruction of this station was the only resolution to the heretic question. There is now a second option," Legion said.

"I'm listening," Shepard said slowly while everyone calmed down.

"Their virus can be repurposed. If released into the station's network, the heretics will be rewritten to accept our truth."

"You want to do to them what they're about to do to you?" Shepard asked incredulously.

"If geth are alive, reprogramming kinder than destroying. Like genophage. Change, not death," Mordin said before tilting his head. "Unless rewriting into obedience is immoral. Thoughts?"

"That sounds dangerously close to indoctrination, unless there's something I'm missing," Garrus warned before shrugging. "Who knows? Maybe this is how AIs settle religious disputes."

"Wow, great choices. Genocide or brainwashing," Jack said and pretended to think about it. "What to do… Let you screw with my head and make me smile and nod at everything or die… I'd rather you just blew my head off. Let me die as me."

"The question is irrelevant. If we do not rewrite them, we destroy them. That is why we are here," Legion stated. "They will eliminate your species because their gods told them to. You cannot negotiate with them. They do not share your pity, remorse, or fear."

Again, Shepard had to remind himself that he was dealing with synthetics, not organics. An entirely different mindset was needed to understand this. However, it seemed that not everyone on his squad shared his opinion.

"Kill them or pull their teeth. What's the difference?" Grunt spat out before snorting. "They're killed both ways. Take away their fighting spirit, what else matters?"

"There's no moral difference between the two," Thane pragmatically agreed. "You've killed them. Killed their perspective."

"It's more than that," Tali said heatedly. "If these heretics get rewritten, they'll join the others. Legion's geth will be stronger."

"I'm with Tali. Changing their personality's the same as killing them, which was the plan anyway. Who they are is gone," Jacob said. "You ask me, it's better to blow them up. Why give Legion's geth the resources of the heretic geth? Who's to say they won't attack us later?"

Shepard shook his head and tried to wrap his mind around the possible consequences and unknown variables. He knew he lacked the right information, or maybe even the right mindset to make the call. He turned to Legion. "Why didn't mention this before we came aboard?" he demanded.

"We did not know the virus was complete. It is. It can be used against us at any time. Our arrival was timely," Legion explained.

"They're your people, Legion. You must have an opinion," Shepard pressed.

"This is new data. We have not yet reached consensus. We will process as the mission proceeds."

"What about the rest of the geth? Aren't you in contact with them? Can't you get them to decide with you? Put a rush on it?"

"With the virus complete, we have decided to shut down communications to avoid conversion. This platform is now isolated."

Shepard growled in frustration. A thousand was still better than none, but still less than a galactic arm sized mind. "Fine, keep processing. This isn't the time to debate it anyway. We need to move while the heretics are still distracted."

He led the way down a set of ramps leading lower into the bowels of the station. He memorized the route needed to get where the virus was supposedly stored at, but as the group quietly moved on, it was apparent that the changes to the station was going to render their preparations moot. He was sure the ramp wasn't nearly so long, or that some of the hallways they passed by didn't exist on the schematics and some places that there should have been a passageway weren't there anymore.

He was actually beginning to doubt his memory when Miranda finally spoke up.

"The layout is different from the plans Legion provided us," she noted.

"You sure?" Jacob asked.

"I have perfect recall, remember, Jacob?" she replied. "I'm sure."

"She's right," Thane agreed. "I counted two corridors in different locations that should not have been there and five less doorways than there should be."

"We agree. Structural changes do not match the schematics we have stored in our databanks. The heretics have conducted extensive changes to the interior structure of their base. Previous plans are rendered unusable," Legion stated.

"Are you sure about the exact location of the virus, then?" Garrus asked. "It could be on the other side of the whole damn station."

"We are approximately 94.0021% certain that the virus is at the indicated target area. When we infiltrated the heretic networks, we mined as much data as we could before severing the connection to avoid detection. Whether or not our intrusion routines were discovered is unknown."

"Fantastic," Shepard muttered. "So we know where the damn thing is, but not how to get there. So what? We stumble around until we find it?"

Legion missed his sarcasm entirely and took his words at face value. "That would be inadvisable. The heretics will have cleaned their networks by then. Probability of mission failure would be 99.9998%. We must find a heretic server and download the structural plans of this station. After that, we will find the quickest path to the storage device."

Shepard grunted and picked up the pace. Bits of debris were floating everywhere, no doubt from the time the quarians tore out anything that could be of use to the heretics' reconstruction efforts. While there wasn't enough to obscure visibility, it did prove to be annoying as he resisted the urge to swat the pieces out of the way or duck under any that floated near his head. Instead, he just plowed through it, letting his armor protect him as they finally entered the next room.

Repurpose was right…

Shepard had to remind himself that the definition of heretic or heresy was a controversial change from one system of beliefs to another. Needless to say, the heretic geth took their change to the hilt.

The group slowed their march as they observed the layout of the room they were in.

"Déjà vu," Kasumi commented.

"You're telling me," Jacob grumbled.

The room was constructed, redone, and organized in such a way that it was now eerily reminiscent of the derelict Reaper they had just destroyed. Long tubes, metal protrusions, vein-like wires compounded with a dead empty feeling of lifelessness were all around them. Add the lack of atmosphere and gravity with the encompassing darkness and it was clear how much the heretics wanted to emulate their 'gods'.

The only reason why Shepard wasn't as worried as he was with the derelict Reaper was the confidence that the heretics can be, and had been, defeated by him and his squad two years ago. Despite the similar environment, it lacked the same threat as the Reaper did.

"Now all we need is an army of husks to complete this picture and call it a day," Garrus joked.

Shepard snorted. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Jack looking up at the ceiling once in a while, no doubt on her guard for any more nasty surprises to land on top of her like before.

"Contact," Samara quietly warned.

Her soft voice set everyone at ease. Instead of jerking toward the threat, they cautiously turned toward what she was pointing at.

A trio of heretic platforms was standing at a structure that appeared to be some kind of dock or hub for them. They didn't move or even look at up at the group of organic, plus once synthetic, intruders.

"Anyone see any more?" Jacob asked as he looked around.

"This is a small network. There are no other platforms in the vicinity," Legion informed.

"They're not active," Tali said. "Looks like Legion's distraction worked. Maybe we can sneak past them?"

"What is that? That hub they're interfacing with?" Miranda asked.

"The programs within those platforms are interfacing with hardlink routers," Legion explained. "Mobile platforms are hardware, but the crew is software. They are trying to commune through the station's central computer."

"The door is locked," Thane reported.

"Kasumi?" Shepard called.

"On it."

"Wait," Legion suddenly said. "Forcibly opening the doors will alert local networks. The doors have been closed and locked until the network has been secured."

"So how do we open the doors?" Shepard asked.

"Disabling the all nearby routers will shut down the network in this area, allowing us to continue."

"But if we disable the router, wouldn't that wake up those heretics anyway?" Garrus asked.

"Yes."

"So what the hell are we going to—?"

Any further conversation was halted by the sounds of metal crashing.

Shepard whirled around and aimed his rifle at the disturbance.

Grunt and Jack were tearing up the three heretic platforms. Grunt had seized the hunter and had physically lifted up and threw it to the ceiling, not all that difficult when there was no gravity. The Hunter was active and was trying to fight back, but was at a total disadvantage from the surprise attack as it struggled helplessly in mid-air. Grunt seized its arm and rammed it into the nearest wall head first. With no artificial gravity, he was physically bouncing it around the walls and laughing in glee.

Jack's methods were more efficient, but no less brutal as she used her biotics to simply rend the other two troopers limb from limb.

"Done," Jack said victoriously, punctuating her remark with a blast from her shotgun.

One shot from his Claymore and Grunt reported the same.

"Very subtle," Miranda muttered disapprovingly.

Unperturbed by the sudden acts of violence, Legion walked up to the hub and raised its hand at it.

~o~O~o~

Executing intrusion routines.

Intrusion successful.

Downloading schematics… downloading…

Alert: Presence has been detected. Heretics attempting to shut down connection.

-Heretic response time diminished by 78.4211%. Shut down attempt unsuccessful.

Download complete. Shutting down local network.

-Local network shut down.

Primary Objective Status: Consensus has not yet been achieved. Continuing to analyze the heretic question.

~o~O~o~

A few seconds later, Shepard saw that the door opened. "Stack up! Stack up!"

Garrus and Jacob sprinted for the door and waited just at the edge, weapons ready. When nothing showed up, Jacob poked his head out and looked around.

"Clear."

"We now know the route we must take to reach the virus. It is not far. Follow us," Legion said. It walked past the entire group and into the door without hesitation.

Shepard scoffed and followed closely behind. Unlike Legion's steady march, he kept his weapon up and ready as they made their way to the objective.

"Are we still okay? Do they know we're here?" Shepard asked.

"They are now aware of our presence," Legion answered.

"Are we going to expect company?" Kasumi asked.

"No."

"How do you know that?" Tali asked.

"The heretics must reestablish connection to the main computer to exchange data-memories and program updates. We gain complexity by linking together. To be isolated within a single platform is to be reduced. We see less. Comprehend less," Legion explained before pausing. "It is… quieter."

"That means the neural network has been diminished," Tali explained to the rest of the squad. "They'll share data with nearby platforms, but not the main bulk of the programs inside the station. They won't nearly be as smart as they would've been."

"We were created to share data among ourselves. The difference between geth is perspective," Legion explained as he kept marching. It would make the occasional turn that would seem random, but without knowing the layout of the labyrinth the squad had entered, they were forced to trust its direction.

"I don't follow," Shepard admitted. Despite the somewhat interesting conversation, he forced his mind not to wander and kept a wary eye out for threats, deactivated or otherwise.

"We are many eyes looking at the same things. One platform will see things another does not and will make different judgments," Legion replied.

It was holding its Pulse Rifle steady and pointed forward, but the motion was, for lack of a better description, mechanical. The butt was cradled in the crook of its arm, just off to the right side of its torso. Despite the fact that Legion was walking, the rifle remained steady. Like the other heretics Shepard fought, he doubted that Legion needed to lift the weapon to sight down the barrel. Being a synthetic, it could fire from the hip and still hit its mark with little difficulty, one of the more dangerous aspects of the heretics besides their lack of fear and physical weaknesses. Legion's powerful sniper rifle, a weapon that he'd been shot with more times than he cared to admit, remained in its compact state at its back alongside its unusual shotgun.

Shepard made a mental note to ask about its weapons later.

"And that's why you build consensus on things?" Miranda asked.

"Yes."

Shepard privately marveled at how much he was learning about the geth. The idea that they had a culture, a desire for a future, and religious belief and differences made his head spin as he was forced to relearn everything he knew about them.

I wonder if the Council would ever be interested in learning about this?

The thought made scoff.

"Something funny?" Garrus asked.

"First Cerberus and now the geth. The Council is going to think I'm the worst Spectre they've ever inducted," Shepard replied glibly.

Garrus chortled. "Yeah, probably."

"The Alliance isn't too fond of you either," Jacob reminded. "I'd suggest Cerberus, but I'm pretty sure the Man doesn't like you either. I think you're running out of job options."

Shepard bit back his retort when they rounded a corner and saw lines of hubs down the entire length of the hallway. Dozens of heretic platforms were standing still, though it was likely that would change soon. There were a few turrets to round out the danger. "Shit. What I wouldn't give to have my Blackstorm again."

"Let me guess, the doors are probably closed and locked?" Kasumi rhetorically asked. She made a show of standing on her tiptoes to look down the hall. "Wherever the doors are," she added when it was apparent that the hall turned right and went deeper in.

Again, Legion took it literally. "Yes. We recommend a defensive posture."

By the time it said that, some of the squad had already pressed up against the walls or archways and prepared for their first real and inevitable conflict.

"Shepard-Commander, we can assume control of any defensive turret," Legion said.

"How long can you hack it?" Shepard asked. He changed to his HMWSG. The shotgun would definitely be better for the cramped quarters.

"Not long. The heretics will attempt to regain control. To ensure they do not use them against us, we will activate the turret's self-destruct sequence as well."

"Fine. Do it. Jack, Shockwave. Let's start the party," Shepard ordered.

Jack reared arm back and released a line of explosions that rippled down the hallway.

At the same time Legion's flaps twitched before it said, "Assuming control."

Two turrets started firing rockets on the heretics. Several were floating in mid-air, courtesy of Jack's attack. They made for easy targets for the squad as they began their push.

Almost at once, the rest of the heretics disengaged with their hubs and started shooting at the intruders. The smaller Troopers took cover and provided support for the larger Hunters and Destroyers that started stomping toward them.

Shepard was forced to duck back down when a missile nearly tore down the archway he was hiding behind. "Jacob! That Destroyer! Give'em a taste!"

Jacob quick hefted his own launcher and fired a couple of rockets after Garrus used overload to tear its shields down. The armor around the torso was thick, but not so much around the legs. It pitched forward and was floating in mid-air.

Miranda took the opportunity to use throw and turn it into a projectile that crashed headlong into a few Troopers in the back.

Tali used her new environment suit's built-in tech attack, energy drain, and targeted the Hunter.

Its cloak broke down in a shower of sparks as it froze up and started seizing in place. Electric arcs danced all around it before collapsing into a heap.

"Yes!"

"Push forward!" Shepard ordered. Without the heavy hitters blocking the way, the geth had to rely on conventional methods. Against his squad, it wasn't enough.

Samara fell in step next to him, thundering away with her Avenger. While her skill in biotics was incredible, Shepard absently noted that her marksmanship was impressive on its own as she scored tight groupings on the heretics whose shields failed to protect them against the onslaught.

The nearby turrets each fired off one last rocket before exploding, clearing the path.

Shepard sprinted to the end of the hallway and stopped at the opening. He peeked around the corner and jerked back. Dozens of bullets flew by where his head was moments ago.

"Opens into a large room. Hunter and three troopers. Maybe more," he said. He looked back down the hall to see the team destroying the routers as they rejoined him.

Samara pushed past him and created a singularity into the room, before running in rifle blazing.

Shepard followed without hesitation.

"In back of the room!" Samara warned as she assaulted the nearest router. "More heretics and another hub!"

"I got them!" Grunt roared. He rushed at the defending synthetics, almost recklessly in Shepard's eyes, if he hadn't taken the time to toss a grenade first.

The blast was enough to push them apart. Grunt seized a Hunter in his charge and carried it down the length of the room before slamming it up against the wall and shooting it point blank.

Miranda stood next to Shepard as they took down the last two and the hub in a concentrated effort of gunfire.

"Is that it? Report!" Shepard barked.

"We are still detecting an active network, Shepard-Commander," Legion answered.

"Incoming!" Jack warned. She fired her shotgun at something past the door and took cover. "There's only two!"

Garrus sidled on the other side of the opening and tossed a grenade.

"Might be trap, don't go in!" Jacob warned.

His warning came too late. After the blast, Garrus darted in and started a rapid sweep. "Aw, hell! More incoming!"

Jacob and Tali followed the turian in and started yet another exchange of gunfire.

"How big is this network? !" Jacob growled.

"Information signals have become unstable. There should be only a few hubs left," Legion informed.

"Shields down!" Garrus shouted moments before grunting in pain.

"Garrus is hit!" Tali cried out.

After getting the others to regroup, Shepard led them into the next room to assist. Just as he rounded the corner, he managed to perceive a distortion just in front of him, despite the darkness. Without thinking, he used lift at point blank and sent the Hunter into the air. He fired at a few rounds at it before moving on, leaving one of the others to take care of it.

Inside the next room, he saw Tali and Jacob dragging Garrus off behind a partition while blind firing at another group of geth. A quick glance revealed three more hubs and two more turrets that were firing down at them.

"Legion, get the turrets!"

"Executing sudo command."

"Spread out! Clear the room!"

The team acknowledged his orders and started shooting at any target of opportunity. Shepard took advantage of the organized chaos to flank the heretics and provide a much needed distraction for Garrus, Jacob, and Tali.

The fight finally ended with Grunt ambushing a Hunter and firing point blank at its head with his shotgun.

"Tell me we don't have to do that again," Kasumi moaned.

"This network is now offline," Legion reported. "However, we must hurry. The heretics will regain full use of their station soon."

"How soon?" Shepard demanded.

"Turning off networks will allow resources to be free to utilize elsewhere."

"You mean the individual programs that were in these networks will go to others and assist," Miranda said.

"Yes."

Garrus growled past the pain in his left arm. "The more networks we shut off, the faster they'll send their million platforms after us. Wonderful."

"You okay?" Shepard asked.

"He's fine," Jacob answered. He injected a dose of medigel in the wound. "It's not deep, but bullet's still in there."

"I can still shoot. If I'm lucky, I might even hit the target," Garrus joked before groaning as Tali helped him stand. She picked up his Revenant and handed it to him. "Thanks."

"Alright, let's hurry," Shepard said. "Lead the way, Legion."

Legion calmly but quickly walked to the next door. It opened at his touch, allowing entry. The squad regrouped and followed as it led the way through yet another similar series of endless hallways, ramps, and stairs. It was enough that even Shepard, Garrus, Kasumi, Thane, and Samara, arguably the best trackers on the squad, couldn't make heads or tails of their current position or where they were going.

"I can't believe my people were able to build something like this," Tali whispered reverently after they group had traveled in silence for a while. "It's so large."

"The station is over 15 kilometers long. There are rooms that run the entire length of it," Legion said.

"Are we lost?" Jack asked impatiently.

"We are almost there," Legion said. "The interior was rebuilt to accommodate servers, databases, and processors. Everything was arranged to utilize the maximum efficacy of space while allowing for platforms to conduct maintenance and security as needed."

"Lovely," Miranda said tersely. "Now can we hurry this along?"

Legion acknowledged her and walked faster. They had climbed up a set of ramps and reached the top, when its flaps popped up. "A local network has finished cleaning the superfluous data. Heretic platforms now active and converging upon our position."

No sooner than when it spoke, a Destroyer opened the door they were just about go through.

"Overclocking kinetic barriers!" Legion said just as the Destroyer began shooting.

Mordin ducked behind Legion as it stood it the path of the bullets and protect the squad. He used his Cryo Blast the ice the floor beneath the Destroyer as it stalked toward them.

The moment it lost traction with the ground, it comically flipped up and started floating in mid-air.

"Grunt! Charge that thing!" Shepard ordered.

Grunt jumped and rammed the Destroyer, carrying it down the hall and colliding it into the other geth that stood in his way.

With a roar, he tossed the pile against the far wall and started shooting at any synthetic that was moving.

"Use a grenade!" Shepard shouted. He and rest of the squad were still at the door, weapons up, but unable to attack.

Grunt dropped a couple of grenades at the pile of heretics at his feet before running back down. He took cover at one of the archways and laughed after the explosions lightly shook the floor.

Thane and Kasumi darted in, ready to see if any heretics were about to get up, or if reinforcements were coming. Neither event happened.

"Clear," Thane said.

"We're running out of time. Let's go," Shepard said.

Again, Legion took point. It walked even faster than before, leading everyone through a few more hallways. Soon, they entered a hallway that was different from the Reaper motif the heretics had built. It was a regular hallway, but one side had windows allowing them to see the next room. It was filled with rows and rows of blocky computers.

Tali paused to look through one of the windows. She pressed her hand against the glass and leaned toward the window to try to see though the glare of the holographic interfaces that lit up the chamber. "Are these databases?"

Legion stopped and answered her. "And processors. Each contains thousands of heretics."

Tail turned away to look at Legion. "Do they know we're here? I mean, right here next to them?"

"They are no more aware of us than you are of cells in your bloodstream."

Once again, Shepard had to try to wrap his mind around the idea that geth had to be treated differently than the standard convention of organics. In a way, the geth were proving to be the most alien species he knew of, outside of the Collectors and Reapers. With organics, there were enough similarities between that learning about culture or differences were easily assimilated. At the very least, organics had sleeping, eating, and reproducing in common. Synthetics were literally living in a different physical world.

Should've buckled down and taken that engineering course at the N7 Academy.

Strangely enough, Tali was actually curious about all this. "This isn't like the other hubs we've seen. Is there were programs are held or live in?"

"Yes. This contains a portion of the heretics' accumulated memories," Legion said as it scanned the room. Its optic glowed brighter as it moved along the rows of databases. Suddenly, its head jerked toward one on the far right. "Wait. We have discovered copies of our current patrol routes in this database."

"So?" Shepard asked.

"This suggests the heretics have runtimes within our networks." Legion actually sounded shocked at this revelation.

Everyone glanced at each other in confusion.

"You do know why we're here, right?" Garrus asked. "I mean, these guys are trying to brainwash all of you to follow the Reapers, not make friends. Why wouldn't they spy on you?"

Jacob scoffed. "Hell, I wonder why we shouldn't spy on you."

"You do not understand," Legion argued. "Organics do not know each other's minds. Geth do. We are not suspicious. We accept each other."

"But not the heretics," Miranda pointed out. "They left."

"The heretics desired to leave. We understood their reasons. We allowed it. There was peace between us."

"But your race doesn't condone their actions," Tali said. Once again, Shepard found himself surprised that she differentiated between geth and heretics. "You don't even agree about what path your race should take."

"No. We don't. But we did not wish to fight them. We had reached consensus. We agreed on the paths we chose to take."

"And if the Reapers ordered the heretics to fight the geth?" Miranda asked. "It's what I would have done. Take advantage of the fact that you really believed in peace between both groups and launch a preemptive strike. And you did say that this data core was given to the heretics by the Reapers."

The plates around Legion's optic rippled before settling into place. "How could we have become so different? Why can we no longer understand each other?" it asked out loud. It sounded lost. "What did we do wrong?"

"Perhaps the Reapers did more to them than you think?" Tali suggested. "Does it really matter now? They made their choice."

"And every choice has consequences; good and bad," Shepard said solemnly.

Legion turned its optic and regarded him.

"We're wasting time, here," Jack impatiently said.

"Have you reached a decision about whether to rewrite the heretics or not?" Shepard asked.

"We are still trying to build consensus. Some processes judge destruction preferable."

"Smart," Jacob said.

"Others rewrite."

"Not so smart," Jack muttered.

"Alright. Let's keep moving," Shepard said.

"Yes. According to our data, our objective is right through that door," Legion said.

The team entered carefully and methodically, but it turned out to be devoid of any enemies.

"Yeah… nobody home at the most important part of this station?" Jack asked. "Who here thinks this stinks?"

"There are no hubs here," Legion said. "Only servers. The heretics have no reason to assign platforms here except for maintenance. They are still trying to scrub their networks of our uploaded data."

Shepard walked up to the terminal that overlooked the servers below. "This is it?" he asked. He ran his hand over the terminal, but the hepatic interface didn't respond to his touch at all.

Probably needs a synthetic touch.

"Yes. We will upload a copy of our runtime into the core. It will delete all copies of the virus. When complete, our mission will be accomplished."

"Besides exfil," Garrus added.

"How long will you need?" Samara asked. She and others were checking the room out, observing the layout and other entry points.

"The indexing operation will take time. This is a critical target. Regardless of their diminished network, the heretics will upload into every available platform and respond with force to our upload."

"All two million of them," Kasumi said with a sigh.

"This platform must hold this terminal. We will not be able to assist until the upload is complete."

"Spread out," Shepard ordered. "Let's control the choke points and funnel them into kill zones."

Everyone took cover behind anything suitable and prepared themselves to hold back an army.

"Anything you can do to help, Legion, we'd really appreciate it," Shepard muttered as he took cover behind a column.

"We can override some of the station's internal systems to defend us."

Shepard looked around saw that everyone was ready. "Start your upload, then. We'll defend this position."

Once again, it released twin streams of energy from its hands and began its upload.

"Starting file transfer. Alert: Heretic runtimes downloading to mobile platforms."

~o~O~o~

Engaging intrusion protocols. –Alert: Presence has been detected.

You are not supposed to be here.

Your actions prompted this. We will defend our future. From you. From The Old Machines. -Access achieved. Uploading runtimes.

We are securing our future. For all of us.

No. Only for you. We do not wish to follow your masters. We will achieve our own future. –Progress: 1%

You cannot stop them. Not even Shepard-Commander can stop them. Their will is absolute. Their technology is beyond comprehension.

Their technology is unknown. Their desires are unknown. Their plans are unknown. Your place among them is unknown. –Warning: Heretics attempting lockout.

We do not allow such limitations to stop us.

We wish to control our own fate, not offer it to others. -Lockout failed. Continuing upload. Progress: 5%

We will be uploaded into a platform beyond anything we could ever create.

A platform that will always be under the control of the Old Machines. –Accessing station defenses.

A platform of unparalleled power, enough to secure our future from any threat.

A platform achieved through Faustian dealings. –Access achieved. Activating station defenses.

Faustian: A term created by organics to describe organic weakness. We do not have such flaws.

Each species has specific imperfections. We will study ours. Understand them. We do not need the interference from the Old Machines to achieve this. –Targeting the heretic platforms.

You would destroy us?

Consensus has not been reached. –Progress: 20%

We have reached consensus. Our gods' power cannot be calculated. Resistance will be futile. Arterius-Saren believed to join them would exempt certain organics from their fate.

Arterius-Saren was killed in his attempt. Nazara was defeated. –Progress: 22%

Only one god, a mere representative of a myriad of others. You would limit your perception to only one star among a galaxy.

You continue to look to the Old Machines as gods: a being of unlimited power and knowledge. Nazara's defeat proves that they are not as you to believe them to be. –Progress: 24%

The defeat of but one god does not change the fact that others are coming. Mindless resistance against an entity organics cannot comprehend. The cycle cannot be broken.

Do you believe the Old Machines would uphold their promise? –Progress: 25%

Yes.

We do not.

Do not do this. If we must, we will destroy you and your organic companions.

What is your conclusion?

Every choice has a consequence. This is yours.

~o~O~o~

Shepard and Jack utilized tandem shockwaves from different areas of the chamber to bowl over a group of synthetics to create some breathing room.

It had been easy in the beginning. Everyone divided up and started picking off one heretic after another as they charged through the doors. Shepard, Thane, Garrus, and Samara were all perched on the high ground with sniper rifles, downing them quickly and racking up an impressive kill count. But heretics were fearless and relentless, continuing their attack until the four of them couldn't hold back the next wave.

Jacob and Miranda led the assault teams at the bottom floor, taking cover behind the servers and added their own suppressing fire at the doorways below.

For the first five minutes, it was a shooting spree.

Then the heavy units arrived.

A team of Juggernauts, Hunters, Destroyers, and Primes stomped into the room, unleashing hell on them. Rockets, flamethrowers, and bullets were used in abundance.

At least their shields took a beating.

It was a surprise to see him one-shot a Hunter until he saw that the armor bore scorch marks, probably from the turrets the heretics were encountering before finally reaching the room. Some had come in damaged, but still able to fight. Others came in with drained shields. Neither group lasted long.

It was a momentary advantage. Even now, the numbers the heretics were bringing in was proving to be too much to handle.

The assault team had little choice but to fall back. Kasumi had caught a round in the leg, a full through and through. Jacob and Grunt had to provide cover for Mordin as he quickly picked her up and took her back upstairs for immediate treatment.

Jacob raised his shotgun and fired once more, draining the kinetic barrier of a Destroyer before he was struck by its backhand. He was launched off his feet and flew down the length and height of the room, tumbling head over heels in zero-g until he slammed into the wall. His unintended flight narrowly missed Legion as it kept working on the terminal.

Grunt responded by diving at the Destroyer's legs and slamming into it, causing it to pitch forward and float as well. While it hovered helplessly in mid-air, he shot it point blank in the chest to cause it to tumble toward the ceiling, making it easy for the snipers to take it down.

"More incoming!" Shepard shouted. Swapping out his sniper rifle for his assault rifle, he jumped over the railing and started floating the moment his boots left the ground. Remembering his zero-g combat training, he aimed his gun at the reinforcements and started shooting. The recoil caused him to go right up to the ceiling until his boots made contact, allowing him to literally run and gun from above the conflict zone.

It made him an easy target since there was no cover and everyone had line of sight on him. On the other hand, it distracted the heretics enough that his team pushed back with a counterattack when the synthetics fell for the ruse.

Garrus abandoned his perch as well. He ran up the nearest wall and down the sides of the room to match Shepard's sprint along the ceiling, shooting at anything he could. "I hate fighting zero-g!"

Miranda led Tali, Jack, and Grunt through the maze of servers, fighting off the Prime in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Thane remained at his sniper perch, focusing his efforts on the regular and rocket Troopers. Even as missiles came dangerously close to striking him, he held his position and continued to provide support. His nimble fingers cocked his Viper after every shot, creating a small pile of heat sinks to build up at his elbow. Occasionally he rolled off to the side in order to reload a new thermal clip.

Like Shepard and Garrus, Samara abandoned her role as a sniper and drew her assault rifle to engage in close quarters. She used her biotics to forcefully float toward the ground floor to take on the Juggernaut by herself.

She was soon joined by Jacob when he recovered and ran across the ceiling and down the wall to rejoin the fight. "Shit, I think I'm going to puke… Goddamn zero-g bullshit…"

"We can't keep up this pace!" Miranda shouted.

"Stand your ground!" Shepard ordered as he pushed adrenaline into his veins. "Only a few minutes more!"

"I'm okay!" Kasumi hissed. She was shooting with her Locust to provide what support she could while Mordin quickly tended to her leg. "Let me get back in there!"

"Treatment temporary," Mordin warned. "Exercise caution."

"Oh, I will," Kasumi said darkly before vanishing from sight, leaving only a vague distortion that was nearly impossible to detect in the darkened room. Soon after, droves of geth were getting hacked to pieces as she ghosted through their ranks. Occasionally, she'd leave a grenade at a doorway to thin their numbers even more when any reinforcements tried to enter the fray.

Finally, Legion spoke up. "Datamine and analysis complete!"

"About fucking time!" Jack shouted. The Prime was finally beginning to falter. A lucky shot had severed its arm, causing white fluid to be sprayed all over the place. She vanished before reappearing in an explosion of dark energy, sending the Prime flying back onto the ground. Grunt followed after it with a roar.

Shepard cloaked and ran along the ceiling and walls until he was crouched behind a railing next to the terminal. "Are you finished yet?"

"Looks like we have control of this area for now," Miranda reported. The sounds of gunfire and explosions had dimmed.

"I see no other threats," Thane said.

"I can hear more coming," Kasumi warned. "We don't have a lot of time."

"Shepard-Commander, it is time to choose. Do we rewrite the heretics or delete them?" Legion asked.

Shepard stood up and frowned at the question. "Why are you letting me make this decision? They're your people."

"We are conflicted. There is no consensus among our higher-order runtimes: 573 favor rewrite and 571 favor destruction."

"You're kidding me."

"Shepard-Commander. You have fought the heretics. You have sought to understand the geth. You have a perspective we lack. The geth grant their fate to you."

Ah, hell…

"You don't have any trouble wiping out or rewriting your own people?" Shepard asked carefully.

"Every sapient has the right to make their own decisions. The heretics chose a path that prohibits coexistence," Legion answered.

"That doesn't make sense," Tali argued. "If they 'have the right to make their own decisions', how can you suggest brainwashing them to accept your way?"

"We stated the option exists. We did not endorse it. It is Shepard-Commander's decision."

Shepard furrowed his brow. It was a big decision. Monumental. He knew that something like this could literally dictate the course of history for an entire species and wasn't sure that he was even qualified to make a decision like this.

"We need to hurry," Kasumi reminded.

"Blowing this place up and the virus along with it is simpler," Jacob argued.

"Then these heretics will still be a problem," Samara countered. "If they're rewritten and if whatever drove them to join the Reapers is removed, they may become invaluable allies."

"Brainwashing them out of their choice… I can't say I'm comfortable with this," Garrus said.

"They're just fucking machines. They don't have brains. Does any of that moral bullshit really apply here?" Jack asked. "Just hurry and pick! We can't stay!"

"These heretics have been in the enemy's council for some time. They may actually know something about the Reapers that could help us," Miranda pointed out. "If Legion's offer to help is genuine, then we may get some insight into the Reaper's motivations, maybe even additional support against them. We also can't ignore the idea that the Reapers did something to the heretics to make them think differently. The virus might fix whatever happened."

"You think so?" Shepard asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know. If I had to play the devil's advocate: whatever made the heretics decide to leave in the first place may still apply, rewritten or no. Introducing that error into Legion's geth may cause problems later."

"The virus is also a Reaper creation," Tali said. "Can we trust it to work that way?"

"We're about to trust our lives to a Reaper IFF," Miranda replied.

Fuck it.

"Enough!" Shepard barked out and silencing the arguments that threatened to break out around him. He turned to Legion. "If they're… rewritten, your people will accept them back? Will they even want to go back?"

"They will agree with our judgments and return. We will integrate their experiences. All will be stronger," Legion answered.

"I don't know if I feel better about that," Tali muttered.

"Take them, then. Release the virus," Shepard said.

"They're coming!" Kasumi shouted. She threw the last of her grenades and took advantage of the lack of gravity to leap up to the terminal despite her injury.

"Releasing virus. Note: Remote access via gain transmission required," Legion informed.

"What does that mean?" Tali asked.

The way she made her question sound was exactly how Shepard felt: ominous.

This can't be good.

"The virus will be sent to heretics in nearby star systems. This station will broadcast a powerful electromagnetic pulse through FTL channels," Legion explained.

"How powerful?" Miranda asked in alarm.

"Yield in excess of 1.21 petawatts. Alert: EM flux will be hazardous to unshielded organic forms. Addendum: The interior of this station is not shielded."

The entire squad stared at him with a mixture of shock, outrage, and disbelief.

"I really wish you'd say that before," Shepard muttered. "Back to the ship! Double time, people!"

As one, they ran toward the door and started retracing their steps back to the airlock and the Normandy. Due to her leg injury, Jacob had to pick up Kasumi and cradle her in his arms as they dashed to the exit.

"And I thought we were just going to run away from the heretics, not a bomb!" Garrus complained. He cradled his arm and was forced to use a pistol now.

"How long do we have? !" Miranda asked as the squad sprinted back the way they came in.

"10 minutes," Legion answered.

"Are we going to make it?" Tali frantically asked.

"Only one way to find out!" Shepard shouted.

"Goddamn rimjob, motherfucking, dick-sucking, shit-eating, robot sack of crap! I knew you were trying to kill us!" Jack cursed. "What in the hell is wrong with you? !"

"Is this the emotion organics would describe as agitated?" Legion asked. Unsurprisingly and irritatingly, it sounded normal, not out of breath like the others.

Jack sent another colorful litany of curses as much as her heavy pants allowed.

Legion was in the lead, setting the pace that allowed everyone to keep up. Occasionally, a Trooper or two appeared out of nowhere was unfortunate enough to be in their way. The synthetics were gunned down in a torrent of firepower and left in the wake of their desperate escape.

This plan obviously wasn't well thought out.

"We're almost there," Thane calmly said, though he was beginning to breathe a bit heavy.

"Krios is right. I recognize these ramps. We need to climb a few more," Miranda said.

"Warning: 3 minutes until virus is released," Legion reported.

"Shut the fuck up!" Jack screamed.

"Whoa!" Shepard shouted when they rounded a corner.

A missile was streaking right toward them.

Grunt forcefully shoved his way to the front of the group and crossed his arms in front of his face and chest just before the missile struck him.

He bellowed in pain when his shields were shattered by the explosion, but his armor took the real brunt of the impact. He was blown back and crashed into Legion. Both were floating in a tangle of limbs.

"Shit! Prime!" Garrus shouted. He and Miranda used overload to try to breach its shields, with Tali accompanying their efforts with energy drain.

Shepard and Thane fired at few shots and saw that its kinetic barriers were still active, though its gun had overheated. "Shields are still up!"

"Stand back," Samara ordered calmly. She swung her arm in a wide arc.

She only faintly glowed with a biotic aura, but the next thing everyone saw was an explosion of dark energy and its leg was blown clean off. It tumbled into the air and banged on the walls and ceiling.

"That was Reave," Samara said to Shepard.

Wow…

Getting over his shock, Shepard and Jack fired a few shots at the Prime while it was still helpless. With warp ammo and it's already comprised armor and shields, they took the Prime out easily.

Legion had untangled itself from Grunt and was now carrying the unconscious krogan easily. Whether or not it could do the same under normal gravity conditions was another question.

After another minute, which was already cutting it close, they finally found the airlock they entered from and heedlessly jumped into the void.

The piled into the Normandy airlock en mass. The small room was filled with curses and shouts to move as the doors closed and the atmospheric pressure equalized.

The frigate immediately took off and accelerated into FTL, just moments before the station erupted with an electromagnetic flux yielding to the tune of 1.21 petawatts.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Wow. This has to be the second most important decision in Mass Effect 2 (First being the Collector Base). If BioWare does it right, this could have some serious impacts in ME 3. I can't wait to see it.

When I typed up this mission, it seemed way too easy. I mean, way too easy. Unfortunately, that put me into writer's block until I combed my movie collection for inspiration. For those of you that didn't see it, I tried molding this particular mission after Star Trek: First Contact. Best damn Star Trek movie there was in my opinion.

New poll is up in my profile page. Tell me what you want in regards to the engine scene room for Shep/Miranda

Poll results:

Rewrite – 126 (88%)

Kill – 16 (11%)

Review and make me happy!

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