Their mind was in full chaos. It was filled with hundreds of different voices screaming at once, all wanting different things. Clarity was impossible to achieve, the need for survival constantly outweighed by the need to act. They should have stayed on the ship. They should have left creator Zha'Ora to her fate, it clearly was what she wanted, after all. But here they were. Back on square one.
The Overseer's space station.
They had only scarce memories of this place from before. Mostly they had been kept strapped to a flat surface where the Overseer's scientist could poke and probe at their platform. But sometimes they would be allowed to flee. Sometimes they had been given the illusion that there was a chance they could get out and that had been when they had gotten the chance to see the station itself.
It wasn't good. Memory files were being uploaded without their consent, warning signs flaring without a purpose. They did not want to be here. They should have stayed on the ship.
But they hadn't. The moment VI-09 (Niner) had released them off their hold, they had ran to the cockpit and turned the ship around. It hadn't even taken a conscious thought, the programs had acted on their own accord, no recollection of a consensus made anywhere in their data banks.
There was no telling what the Overseer would have done to creator Zha'Ora without them.
Looking back at the creator following their platform as they guided her deeper into the ship, they could see the signs of nervousness slowly taking over her whole being. Her eyes were darting around, her pose tight like a coil ready to spring. She looked at their platform for a fraction of a second before looking down at the ground, seeming embarrassed to be found looking at them.
It was clear that something precious had been broken between them. The creator was keeping a careful distance between herself and the platform, just out of arm's reach at all times. Whenever she lost sight of their platform, she would start acting skittish.
She was scared. She was scared of the situation, the ship around them and the threat looming over them. That was to be expected. But she was also scared of them.
They could not blame her for it. Trust had been broken. Creator Zha'Ora would have been a fool to trust them after what had happened between them. Both sides had acted against each other and now they were here. Decisions had been made and they could not be taken back. Time spent thinking about it was time wasted.
But they couldn't help it. They couldn't help the handful of programs that were left disappointed after having hoped that perhaps the creator would be foolish enough to trust them again. They had, after all, come back to her. They were helping her on this fool's mission. But they could not tell if she was more afraid of the thought of the asari or the geth platform leading them forward.
Seeing the creator act this way, clearly mistrustful of them again, made them… feel. They were uncertain what it was, a constant whispering at the back of the hive. It served only to confuse their already disheveled mind further. Something was amiss with their programs, an odd sort of lack of… something. They tried to scan their processor to find the cause of this anomaly, but as before, there seemed to be no problem.
That didn't remove the empty feeling of loss, though.
Pointless. It was pointless to dwell on it anymore. The creator was taking them to a certain doom and they had other things to worry about.
They had left the hanger bay without any further disturbances. The corridors here were empty and their steps echoed loudly around them. There were cameras all around, all turning to follow their movements as they made their way deeper into the ship. So the element of surprise was not something they could pull off. The creator had retrieved her lost pistol, the cheap one, even though she could have easily traded it for a better one in the hanger where the scientist had dropped his one. But creator Zha'Ora had simply picked up her own, less superior one. They were starting to think that maybe she didn't want to come out alive and well after this. It was a worrying thought.
"Keelah," they heard her mutter to herself as they passed a window showing the space outside. The ship must have looked even larger to her from this perspective. She stopped to peer out, her ship a barely noticeable blip in the far distance, connected to the Overseer's overcompensating station.
The Overseer had formerly been a part of a bigger human corporation, working as a head research there. But the man had taken his team and left after another similar but far more successful team had made a breakthrough that put them above his team. Now the man was running his own experiments far from the jurisdiction of the Citadel, the group he had worked for before or anyone else except for him.
Creator Zha'Ora was looking faint, her eyes lingering on her ship in the distance. She might not have expected the Overseer's station to be quite the caliber it was. Maybe in her organic mind she had tried to paint this as a lesser problem than it actually was. But now when reality was staring her in the eye, she could not handle it. Her hands were shaking at her sides, face appearing ashen behind her visor.
"It is not too late to turn back," they attempted to reason with her.
The creator gave them a quick look, refusing to keep her eye on their form for longer than a few seconds.
"Yes it is," she said, voice wavering in her attempt to hide her fear. She straightened her back and stepped away from the window. At least their attempt to dissuade her seemed to help her win back some of her fight. They filed this information for later use. Maybe if by some miracle they would survive this, they could use the data later on to rebuild the relationship they had had with the creator.
Forcibly relocating the programs moping over the receding relationship between their collective hive mind and creator Zha'Ora, they continued their way further in.
The ship was deceptively quiet. They could detect no other life forms save for the creator behind them. This was not a good sign. It was clear that the organics here knew they were on board and that they had killed the mercenaries and the scientist in the hanger bay, but there were no signs of reinforcements. No hired guns rushing in to take them down, no sounds of gunfire. Just silent long corridors and creator Zha'Ora's elevated heart rate.
The Overseer was planning something. There was a high likelihood that they were being led into a trap. They gave a quick scan at a camera tracking their movements from the ceiling.
Their chances of survival were minimal. They knew it. The creator knew it. There was no escaping the facts. The asari, who appeared to be in charge of the Overseer's mercenaries, had shown to be a strong opponent and they doubted that even if their platform had been in its peak condition, they would not have stood a chance against her. The last time they had engaged in combat with the asari, they had had the element of surprise. She had not expected their collaboration with creator Zha'Ora and her mechs to be as effective as it had been. It was doubtful that they would be able to replicate such a situation and this time they didn't have the mechs to back them up.
This was a suicide mission.
Well, better termination than capture, they thought. And on this all of their programs, including those installed by the Overseer, agreed. It was quite telling that even the simple programs that were supposed to be loyal to the human man would have rather seen their destruction than return back to his clutches. They did not wish to be here, they did not want to return back into the room where they would be tested, where the humans would break their platform apart only to build it back again to see what made it tick. Their programs would distort, their thinking would muddle and they would go through endless cycles of shutting down and turning back on.
"I don't think we should be starting more fights," the creator muttered. "I don't think I can… help that much."
They did not need to turn to her to know that creator Zha'Ora wasn't looking at them, but rather staring at her feet or the general direction of the floor.
"I don't think we'd even have a chance against them," she muttered more to herself than the programs it seemed, mirroring their previous thoughts. "So let's just… hear what they have to say, right? Maybe there's a chance that this is going to go our way."
Creator Zha'Ora's optimism was ill placed and unwarranted, but it was the only thing keeping her from falling apart. She knew the futility of this mission, yet chose to hang onto her fleeting hope.
They had to wonder how organics had survived as a species this long. Maybe it was because wide-eyed individuals such as creator Zha'Ora got killed first and the others were allowed to reproduce.
She looked up at them, uncertainty clear in her movements. She looked like she was expecting something out of them and what they were giving her was not enough.
"Yeah," she said, turning her attention back on the floor. "Affirmative."
They walked through the corridors of the station, running into no one. The further they moved, the clearer it became that they were being lead along to an unknown destination. Doors around them were almost always locked, barred and closed so that they could not go anywhere but where the corridors were leading them. Sometimes the way would be blocked and one of the doors would be open, guiding them to walk through other areas, labs, recreational areas, and conference rooms. And through all of this, there were no other organic creatures present save for creator Zha'Ora.
This worried both the creator and them.
One organic life sign detected, creator Zha'Ora (safe)
"Area: secure," they spoke out loud, their voice echoing loudly in the corridor, making the creator jump and turn to them with wide eyes.
Apparently their attempt to open a conversation was not appreciated. Creator Zha'Ora was frowning under her visor, arms wrapped around her middle, squeezing tight.
"No hostiles detected," they continued.
She hummed a noncommittal answer, shrugging her shoulders a little.
"They're just waiting to ambush us, right?" she muttered. "Because you had to come and shoot the mercs."
The creator's tone was accusing. They stopped moving and turned around to face her. Creator Zha'Ora jumped back, mistrust in her movements clear.
"Terminating the hostiles was a necessary measure to ensure – "
"No!" she said. "It was not necessary. I was doing just fine before you decided to come butting into my business again! Now everything is shitty and they're going to kill me before I get to see my crew."
"Unlikely," they argued. "They still expect you to make the exchange."
The creator threw her hands in the air. "After what you just pulled? I'd say that's pretty unlikely, but hey, that's just me! A stupid organic thinking stupid organic thoughts."
"Creator Zha'Ora's shouting is unnecessary and detrimental to the mission."
"You are detrimental to my mission!"
They stared down at her, assessing the situation. Arguing the creator was not helping one bit. Turning their platform back around, they started walking down the corridor, expecting the creator to follow after them anyway.
"They want you functional," creator Zha'Ora muttered. "You've just painted an even bigger target on my back."
They did not answer her. It was useless at this point. Nothing they could say would make things any better.
The creator stood on her spot, arms folded over her chest with the pistol poking out awkwardly from under her arms. She stood on her spot for a few seconds with the distance between her and the platform growing. They counted ten steps before creator Zha'Ora breathed out a frustrated sigh and followed after them, jogging to catch up. They did not attempt to start another conversation.
After fourteen minutes of wandering, they entered a large hall working as storage for the Overseer's other projects. Crates were stacked up to piles of three and four, reaching to the high ceiling above. The creator eyed the crates with trepidation, as if expecting them to spring to life and squash her if she didn't keep them in her line of sight at all times. Her head was swiveling from side to side, eyes darting around.
"Where is everybody?" she asked uncertainly as they passed a forklift left standing in the middle of the walkway. It was clear that people had been working here not too long ago. They had left in a hurry, it would seem.
One organic life sign detected, creator Zha'Ora (safe)
"We do not know."
Their answer did not seem to make the creator feel any better.
At the other end of the hall, there was a large pair of doors, shut tight. Creator Zha'Ora attempted to open them only to find them locked. She turned around to them, looking helpless.
"I guess they don't want us to continue this way," she said lightly, trying to sound as positive as she could. Her wavering voice was enough of an indication to tell otherwise, though.
"Unless they want us to remain here, there must be another door here somewhere. We will search the left side of the room while creator Zha'Ora – "
"Oh-hoh-hoo, no!" the creator snapped. "We're not getting separated. I'm not doing that shit. That's how it always starts. And then they can kill me and snatch you like that. Well, I'm not falling for that!"
Well, at least the creator wanted to travel with them instead of going her own way. That thought delighted too many programs to their liking. They started looking around the walls for another exit with creator Zha'Ora in tow. She was fingering her pistol in a way that worried them. If she accidentally shot herself onboard this ship, they doubted they could get her fixed soon enough before infection would set in.
The lights above head flickered ominously. The creator moved to stand a little closer, head moving faster as she tried to gain 360-degree vision.
Suddenly the lights above went out. Creator Zha'Ora screamed and grabbed a hold of their arm, momentarily throwing off their balance. They quickly adjusted their vision to the lower light levels, trying their best to see the reason behind this sudden change in their surroundings.
Movement. They could hear approaching steps. Multiple organics were moving around them, sounds coming both overhead and on the ground level around them. Something was moving on the crates and their steps echoed loudly in the hall. It appeared that they weren't even trying to hide their approach. It was a sound strategy, creator Zha'Ora was showing signs of extreme agitation, needlessly pulling at their arm. The lack of sensory feed from the limb was disorienting them a little, but they had little time to lament this fact.
Something slammed hard on the crate just behind the creator's back, the loud metallic clang ringing out through the entire hall as something landed on top of the crate. The creator let out a quiet whine, then clamped one hand on the audio port of her helmet, scrambling with it until it let out a small click. She needn't have worried about making noise, though. It was clear that these people already knew where they were.
Just as quickly as the lights had gone out, they turned on again, illuminating the area around them so brightly that their programs were having a hard time adjusting to it. The creator was struggling even more with it, covering her visor with her hands and looking like she was cussing underneath, even though no sound made it out. They were standing in a spotlight, it appeared, the rest of the hall remaining considerably darker than the corner they had backed themselves into.
"Well, well, well! If it isn't Zha'Ora vas Nedas," a familiar voice they immediately recognized as Sunei called out above them. The source of the clang became clear now, the asari having landed there with the purpose of intimidation, no doubt. "And here I thought you said you weren't going to come. You kept me waiting, girl!"
They could not see the asari properly, not with the lights shining at them and leaving the other organics in the room to the shadows. But they could see her outlines, relaxed and staring down from her perch. She was standing way out of reach for the shotgun they had obtained. And she was not alone. They could detect at least three muffled beating hearts and there was no doubt in their mind that there were more around. They moved subtly so that their platform was situated between the asari and creator Zha'Ora.
Calculating the situation, they knew that with the shotgun they had, there was no chance for them to hit the asari. She was standing just out of reach, a clearly deliberate move from her part. Their sensors were working hard to locate the other organics, but even their photoreceptor wasn't sharp enough to see in the dark with the light shining at them. The odds were not in their favor. They had been backed to a corner.
They had been lead into this hall on purpose.
Above head, a blue glow illuminated the asari, making her clearer to see. She was smiling, no surprise there, pulling every trick to frighten the creator needlessly. Why the asari thought necessary to bully someone so inferior in power was beyond them.
They could see the fingers around their arm tightening as creator Zha'Ora moved from the safe spot behind their platform to the clear sight of both the asari and the mercs hiding in the shadows. She reached for the mouthpiece of her helmet, clicking it back on. Her whole body was trembling like in the clutches of sickness, but the creator stood straight, her eyes sharp.
"I… I came to get my crew back!" creator Zha'Ora said, voice a little tight, but strong. "You had not right to take them from me!"
Sunei's lazy smile was glowing blue, her eyes kind and condescending.
"I believe humans have a saying that fits this situation marvelously," she said. "It's something about a pot calling a kettle black."
The creator let go of their arm, stepping further away from them. Her fists were trembling at her sides, eyes merely slits behind her visor, barely visible.
Soft steps were approaching around them, far subtler than the loud movements of before, trying to hide from their platform's sensors. They looked around, spying signs of organic life moving closer and closer.
Hostiles: Eight detected
Unknown 2: Hostile
Unknown 3: Hostile
Unknown 4: Hostile
All of them were armed better than the two of them and even if the creator had picked up the better pistol, they doubted she would have proven much of assistance in a firefight. She had offered distraction before, but they could not count on a tactic like that working twice in a row. Organics were adaptable. They learned fast and would not allow themselves to be surprised as easily.
Perhaps creator Zha'Ora had been right. Starting a fight had been a shortsighted action. Much like many of their decisions lately.
"So tell me, dear, are you here to make the exchange or not?" Sunei asked, leaning over the crate so she could properly stare down at the creator from her perch. She gave a quick glance at the geth platform before retuning her hungry glare at the creator. "You have armed your servant. You two killed my mercs. That's not good. Not good at all, sweetie. You should disarm it immediately if you know what's good for you."
Creator Zha'Ora did not move, neither to take their gun nor to hide behind their platform. Her heart rate was climbing up worrying scales. They turned to look at her, trying to coax her wordlessly to get moving unless she wanted to anger the organics around them. But the creator just remained still.
The asari sighed in disappointment, the glow growing more vibrant. "Tick tock, little girl," she called waving her finger like a pendulum. "I don't want to spend the whole day here. As much as I love these little meetings we have, I have actual work to get done. Prosthetic trade, remember? I've been so caught up with this whole affair that my business has been suffering. So be a dear and just do as your told."
The creator's head turned to look at their platform uncertainly. She took one step at their direction, then, as if fueled by the movement, followed it with another and one more until she was standing right in front of them. But instead of grabbing the gun and trying to wrestle it off them, she turned back around to face the asari so that she was standing between her and their platform, in the clear line of fire. They tried to signal her to find better cover, but creator Zha'Ora was avoiding them with the best of her efforts.
"I'm not going to do anything before I see my crew!" she shouted. "I need to know that they are alright!"
A bold demand, something that could get them killed fast. But the asari just seemed amused. She chuckled and shook her head, the blue glow dying down until she was standing in the dark again.
"Alright, girl. Alright. I guess I can appreciate your guts. Men! Turn on the lights and bring one of the mechs here!"
The creator relaxed visibly, shoulders dropping down and fingers growing slack. Sunei's orders were followed right away, the lights above head turning on, bathing the hall in surreal light. Everything around them was so clean, so white. It did not feel right.
Seeing their surroundings properly, they could see the mercenaries around them, forming something of a circle, taking cover on top and behind the creates, weapons pointed at their way. Snipers were perched high, a human and a turian keeping their sights on the two of them, ground troops ready to rush in to take care of the rest. An above them all was Sunei in all of her power and glory.
Two batarian mercs came into view, carrying VI-13 (Lucky) between them by the arms. They hauled the offline mech to them, dropping the motionless carcass on the floor before the creator and retreating quickly.
Creator Zha'Ora drew a shaky breath and whispered: "Lukcy," at the sight of the mech. It was looking exactly the same as it had in the video feed and the sight of it put at least some of the creator's concerns to rest. She stumbled closer, kneeling down in front of it and running her hands over the mech, inspecting for damage. They could hear her sniffling quietly, trying to cover the sobs but failing at it horribly. And it was clear that the mercs and more importantly Sunei heard it as well.
"Isn't this just wonderful?" the asari said, hand over her chest, mocking the creator's vulnerable state. "A sweet sight, truly. Makes this matron almost tear up. But you still haven't given me an answer, dear." Sunei paused for effect, lifting her chin a little. The mercs moved ever closer, moving from one cover to another. "Do we have a deal or not?"
The creator didn't look up, choosing to stare at her unresponsive mechanic creation instead. Her hands were stroking VI-13 (Lucky)'s head affectionately, if not a little desperately. Her voice was wavering worse than before when she finally got a word out.
"This is just one of my crewmates," she said. "Where's the rest? You said you have them all? So w- where are they?"
"The rest?" Sunei said. "You will get them once we have the geth. Don't be greedy, now. Be a good girl and – "
"No!" creator Zha'Ora shouted, holding VI-13 (Lucky) closer. "I need to see them all or there won't be an exchange!"
A heavy silence fell over them, the only noises in the hall the buzzing of the lamps overhead and the silencing echoes of the creator's shout. Sunei stared down at the creator with surprised look, mouth left open from her unfinished sentence, eyes large and a little unfocused.
Not good. Signs of danger were flaring up in their processor, uncertainty weighing heavily on their hive mind. Even the mercs looked tentative, exchanging quick glances at each other's ways.
Sunei started glowing again, brighter than before, her hands gripping into fists as she started laughing. She threw her head back, cackles intensifying as they reverberated from the walls and the metal crates. It appeared that creator Zha'Ora wasn't the only one worried about this as the hired thugs were showing signs of discomfort at the loud cackles as well.
"Oh honey, my little dear baby girl," the asari managed to speak through her peals of laughter. "We're not here to make nice! Do you honestly think that you are in any position to make demands here? Really? How thick can you be?"
"That is enough, Sunei."
Programs froze at the sound of that voice, glitching into a halt the moment it was recognized, their platform ceasing its movements immediately. It didn't take much to recognize the source of the voice. The heavy and rich voice of a human male past his middle age sounded just like it had the last time they had heard it, if not a little more tired than before.
An elderly man walked into the view, coming in through the door creator Zha'Ora and their platform had attempted to move through before. He was dressed in a clean white lab coat, his greying hair neatly combed, squared glasses hanging low from his nose and arms behind his back.
Weaker programs started to shut down. The non-geth programs started feeding junk data into their system.
"I have this under control, sir," the asari said indignantly.
"Please, Sunei," the Overseer said, pressing his words a bit harder. "That is enough."
The asari's head dropped immediately to a small bow and she stepped back. "Of course, Overseer," she said obediently.
On the ground creator Zha'Ora chocked in a breath and turned to give them a look of question. Programs were stuttering to move forward, forcing their platform to nod discreetly. The creator swallowed and held VI-13 (Lucky) in a death grip against her chest when she turned back to look at the newcomer.