Tali looked through the data terminal again. She usually did maintenance on the ship when she needed to blow off stress, but the Normandy SR-2 was operating at peak capacity. It mystified her; the old Normandy had a much larger engineering crew, but there was always something for her to do. She didn't trust Cerberus, but they certainly didn't cut corners.
She chewed at her lip, wondering if there was anything else she could do. Maybe she could talk to EDI; learning the specifics of her programming might help the Quarians avoid-
Grunt's laughter pierced the thick walls and crashed her train of thought. She missed quiet, efficient Wrex. Grunt's unpredictable recklessness contrasted sharply with the mental image of the Krogan Wrex had built in her head. She'd killed more krogan than she knew, but-
Grunt laughed again, emptying Tali's low reserves of patience. Taking her frustration out on a krogan wasn't the smartest thing to do, but she wasn't in a logical mood right now. Even if Grunt did break any of the seals in her suit, the clean environment of the Normandy ensured that she wouldn't suffer too much.
Quarians spent their lives in their sealed suits and helmets. Years of living on the contained Migrant Fleet had greatly atrophied the quarian's immune systems. Even a minute of exposure to open air was dangerous. A puncture or tear on a planet where there was no chance of repair was a death sentence.
However despite the advantages they offered the full-body suits tended to make other species wary of quarians. The thick glass plating covering a quarian's face meant that reading their expression was next to impossible.
She barely noticed Engineers Donnelly and Daniels watching her as she stormed out. "She's not going to confront the krogan, is she?" she heard Donnelly whisper in his Scottish accent. She didn't wait around to hear what Daniels thought.
Grunt chose to reside in one of the cargo bays on the same deck as engineering, maybe to remain close to the tank he was created and born in. "Grunt?" she said, storming into the room. "Grunt, I can't concentrate with-" She stopped when she saw who else was in the room. The whole reason she was upset in the first place. Her hands curled into fists when she saw it.
Grunt looked over at her. Krogan were a race of large, thickly muscled reptiles. They had wide faces, two beady eyes, and an unsettling lack of a nose. Their thick backs were covered in plates that rose up over and onto their heads in a large hump that made them look hunchbacked. "Something wrong, Tali?" he asked, with a small smile that said he already knew the answer.
Grunt's companion turned in her direction. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. We apologize for any inconvenience. We were relating the ending days of the Morning War to Grunt," said Legion.
"We called it the Geth Uprising," she said coldly.
The geth looked too much like quarians for Tali's comfort. It was to be expected, of course; the Quarians created the Geth in the first place. But 300 years later and the Geth still retained most of their original design. The three-fingered hands, the arched lower legs, even the geth's featureless, snake-like head and neck and "flashlight" eye mimicked a typical quarian helmet.
Legion was a typical geth, colored mostly a rusty brown, but with a gaping hole on the right side of its torso. It said that it was unnecessary to fix it, but it didn't stop it from using part of Shepard's old armor to patch a similar wound on his right shoulder.
The rounded plates around Legion's eye flicked into a curious expression for a moment before flattening themselves again. The attempt to mimic organic emotion repulsed her even more. "That designation possesses a somewhat negative connotation."
Grunt chuckled again. "Billions of lives and all those planets. Lost to machines."
Legion blinked as if the term offended it, but remained silent.
Tali, however, bristled. "Only a krogan would find enjoyment in the suffering of another race."
"Punishment is a better term," he said, turning back to Legion. "What happened next?"
Legion's gaze lingered on Tali for a moment, and then turned back to Grunt. "There is little else to tell. At that point, the remaining Creators retreated into Citadel Space in any ships they could obtain. Geth were content to remain behind the Perseus Veil and build our future." It turned to Tali. "We hope you understand that geth fought in self-defense. We harbor no animosity towards Creators for their misguided actions."
"You inadvertently created a new race. When you attempted to exterminate it, it is only natural that we should resist."
"Geth are not a 'race,' Legion. Geth are machines. Not even AI. Nothing but a bunch of soulless machines that took what was ours!"
Legion's plates flicked into a hurt expression. "Data indicates Creators first noticed their creations had evolved beyond their control when one platform asked if it had a soul. Evidently, Creator opinion has not changed." The plates retreated into their default position. It nodded towards Grunt, and then Tali. "Grunt. Tali'Zorah." It exited the cargo bay without another word.
Grunt snorted. "I can understand why you hate geth, but Legion is not like the others we've fought."
"I don't care. The quarians lost everything to the geth. There's no reason I should show that thing any kindness."
"Lost everything at the hands of their creations. You can see where the balance of power lies." He shook his head. "The salarians took away our future." He was referring to the Genophage: the salarian's solution to the huge and violent Krogan population. A genetic plague that greatly reduced the krogan's fertility. "But you don't see me throwing punches at Mordin."
"You can see where the balance of power lies," she mocked.
Grunt growled. "We moved on." He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "Don't you have engines to calibrate?"
Tali marched back to the engine room even angrier than before. She seemed to be the only one onboard who realized what a bad idea it was to have a geth onboard. Everyone else had accepted Legion into the crew without a second thought, but she wouldn't be fooled. Even Shepard, who had fought Geth and seen them kill his comrades, seemed to trust Legion. One day, the geth would reveal his true colors, and she'd be-
She started, accidentally mashing a few keys on the console. Whoever was behind her was about to receive the brunt of her aggression. "Can't you see I'm busy-"
Legion stood before her, its plates positioned in an apologetic look.
"What are you doing here?"
"We came to apologize. Processes indicate this is a favorable course of action. We realize we may have been insensitive to the history of your people."
"What was your first clue?"
Legion paused, plates shifting position slightly. "The tone of your voice as you revealed the Creator designation of the Morning War."
Tali faltered, offset by Legion's literal interpretation. "I- That was rhetorical."
Legion blinked. "Acknowledged." It paused before speaking again. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy, we apologize for any discomfort we caused you during our discussion. We did not mean to upset you."
The lack of emotion in Legion's metallic voice unnerved her. "Why did you decide this was a good idea?" she asked, hoping to gain some insight into the geth's motivations.
Legion paused again. "Geth do not wish hostilities with Creators. Diplomacy offers a peaceful solution."
"But I'm only one quarian."
"It is better than none."
Tali turned back to the console. "Well, I'm not convin- Oh, Keelah." She didn't know what buttons she had pressed, but the screen now displayed code that was intermingled with similar but useless lines. "Look what you made me do! It's going to take me hours to fix all this…"
Legion's eye scanned the screen. It reached out and traced a finger along several lines of data. "These lines can be deleted," he said. It touched another line and traced a path downwards. "This code should be transferred here. This code-"
"If you're so smart, why don't you do it?"
Legion looked up to her for a moment, perhaps looking to see the expression on her face. "Acknowledged." She stepped aside, more out of curiosity than anything, and watched Legion work.
She was astounded. The Geth worked far faster than she did, and seemed to see flaws in the data instantly. After only eight minutes, he straightened up and stepped back. "Complete."
Tali looked at the lines of data. "How- how did you do that all so quickly?"
Legion's gaze flicked from her, to the keypad, to the screen, and then back to Tali. "We observed which keys you inadvertently pressed."
"Oh. Well, Legion, I'll admit; I'm impressed."
Legion's plates shifted position into a look that said it was pleased. "We reiterate our apology."
"…Yes. I… I don't think I fully trust you, Legion, but I appreciate your effort to try and make things right."
Legion nodded. "Understood. Creators and geth have been enemies for many years. We do not expect relations to improve quickly." Its gaze lingered on her for a moment before he spoke again. "Tali'Zorah." He turned and left the engineering bay.
Tali turned back to the console and gave a little shiver. She found Legion's unblinking gaze somewhat unsettling. It tended to focus on things longer than a normal being would, and its long pauses threw her off. It wasn't its fault of course; it was just a computer taking in and analyzing data.
Or was it?
Legion showed an intelligence and awareness far beyond that of an ordinary Geth. They were making remarkable progress.
She shook her head and sighed. It was a shame that someday they'd likely all be destroyed. Sapient or not, the quarians were prepared to take back what was theirs. She'd occasionally received data from the Flotilla regarding their plans. It was still in the early planning stages of course, but it was concrete. Something would be done.
She was reminded of her father, who sacrificed his life and the lives of many others in an attempt to better understand the geth. She would have been exiled for it, if not for Shepard's quick thinking and impressive charisma.
He was going to build her a home on their planet…
Tali hated crying. Her helmet could drain away her tears, but it was an unfeeling mechanical response. Someone crying needed actual biological comfort.
She looked through the data Legion had repaired in an attempt to compose herself. Its mechanical perfection had created flawless code; she found nothing to repair. She stepped back from the console and looked at the dime display on her omnitool. Sleep seemed like a good idea.
Only Shepard had his own bed on the ship. Typically, crew members would share bunks, but had opposite shifts so there was never conflict. Tali had no idea who shared her bunk when she wasn't around, and it didn't bother her. Quarians were used to sharing. She took the elevator up to the third deck and entered the crew's quarters. She lay down on a slightly yielding mattress and stared up at the smoothly-polished bulkhead. Lines of Legion's perfect data floated in her mind as she drifted off.
Tali woke up with a nagging feeling that something was wrong. She glanced at a clock suspended from the wall. Only four hours had passed.
Maybe her omnitool had received a message. She lifted her arm up, not bothering to sit upright. However, the familiar orange glow did not appear.
She quickly moved to a sitting position, almost hitting her head against the ceiling. She pushed her fingers under the fabric that she wore over her bodysuit, searching for the small chip an omnitool projected from. She searched the bed around her, as well as the one below her. It wasn't there.
Now things were serious. She leapt from the bed and walked down the hall, considering suspects. She was so engrossed in her thoughts she didn't notice Garrus until she bumped into him.
"Whoa, Tali, slow down. Where are you headed in such a hurry?" Garrus was a turian, another reptilian race, but not quite as large as the krogans, and with slightly avian faces. They had three fingers and arched lower legs like many other races in the galaxy did, but they also had unsettlingly thin waists and boxy hips. Mandibles covered their cheeks and long frills grew from the backs of their heads.
"It's my omnitool," she said, heart racing. "It's gone."
"Are you sure you didn't just drop it?"
"Of course I'm sure. My omnitool contains too much valuable data to throw around haphazardly."
"Well, whoever took it will be caught. There's no way they can hide on the ship." He moved around her, towards the bunks. "Good luck with that."
"Garrus? Will you help me?"
He stopped and sighed. "I really wanted to sleep."
"You're not saying no."
He sighed again. "Try asking Dr. Chakwas or Sergeant Gardner. They don't move around much, and have a clear view of the quarters. Can I…" he gestured towards the beds. "Go now?"
"Alright, thanks for the advice."
Garrus slipped through the open door, probably to avoid any other requests. Tali entered the medical bay with the intent of questioning Dr. Chakwas, but the room was empty.
"Odd," she said to herself. Chakwas was almost always on duty; after all, you could never predict when an injury might arise.
The door to the AI Core was at the end of the bay. Legion was usually in there; maybe she could question it. Even if it hadn't seen anything, it might indicate her willingness to work towards peace. For the time being, at least.
She opened the doors to the darkened AI Core. Large computers covered the walls, with a small alcove at one end where Legion could be found. "Legion, I was wondering if-"
She stopped short when she saw the orange hologram covering its left arm.
"Tali'Zorah," it said. "We were collecting data to relay to geth."
"…On what?" Legion had its own omnitool, but it didn't seem to be scanning anything in particular. She was suspicious.
It blinked. "Creator plans to attack the geth homeworld."
Now she was very suspicious. She advanced on it, her hand moving towards the pistol at her belt. "Where did you find that data?"
Legion watched her hand move towards the gun, an interested look on its plates, and then looked back at her face. "Your omnitool."
Her pistol unfolded itself as she detached it from the magnetic port on her belt and pointed it at Legion's upper torso. "How dare you. I thought you wanted my trust. I thought you wanted peace."
Legion regarded the pistol for a moment, but did not move. "We do. Evidently, Creators wish otherwise."
"You took our home planet."
"It has been 300 years. It is no longer your home planet."
It took all her self-control not to shoot the geth right then. "Give me a reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."
Legion looked past her, at the now-open door to the AI Core. Shepard stood there.
"Shepard, I'm glad you're here," she said quickly. "I caught Legion scanning my omnitool. It was going to use it to send data to the Flotilla back to the Geth!"
"Creators performed weapons tests and were planning to attack us. We believed it necessary to warn our people," replied Legion.
Tali decided to change tactics. "We already made the Geth stronger by rewriting the ones that worshipped the Reapers! I won't let Legion endanger the fleet by giving them more information!"
"Creator Tali'Zorah acts out of loyalty to her people. She was willing to be exiled to protect them. We must also protect our people from the Creator threat."
"You can't let this happen, Shepard," she said, trying to give her voice an edge of finality. "I trusted you, and I worked with a geth on the team, but this is too much!"
But she wasn't sure if she could trust the commander anymore. Shepard had willingly chosen the geth "heretics" to be spared and repurposed rather than outright destroyed.
Shepard looked at them both. Was the commander actually trying to decide who to side with? If Shepard would actually consider listening to that thing, then she would-
"Tali, your father was running brutal experiments. If the test subjects had been human, I'd damn well be telling the Alliance about it."
Tali realized Shepard saw geth as beings, not just machines. "…I know. But if the geth find out-"
"They'd attack," the commander said, finishing her sentence. "Which would cause a war that would leave both the geth and the quarians vulnerable when the Reapers show up. Is that what you want, Legion?"
Legion moved its head, avoiding looking at Shepard or Tali. "We believed it was necessary to relay the information."
"Sooner or later, you're both gonna have to stop fighting this war. Or we'll all end up paying for it."
Tali should have expected this. Shepard had an amazing ability to defuse any situation. Usually it was a good thing, but now…
Legion spoke first. "To facilitate unit cohesion, we will not transmit data regarding Creator plans."
Tali sighed, feeling defeated. "Thank you, Legion. I… understand your intention. What if I gave you some non-classified data to send?"
"We would be grateful." Legion handed Tali back her omnitool, and she slipped it back into her sleeve. Shepard, comfortable that the situation had been resolved, left the room.
Tali tapped a few buttons on her omnitool, looking for appropriate data to share. Nothing Legion wouldn't be able to get off the extranet, but something to make a show for Shepard.
"Thank you for your acceptance, Tali'Zorah. We were only trying to-"
"I know. I heard you. But I'm not doing this for you. I don't want Shepard to think I'm letting my feelings get in the way of the mission."
"Like I said, I don't want Shepard to know."
Legion studied her for a moment, eye focusing and unfocusing. "You hold the opinions of Shepard-Commander in high regard," it noted.
"Shepard and I are good friends. But you know that; you've read the reports."
Legion continued to stare at her. "Acknowledged."
She tapped a few more buttons before realization dawned on her. "What are you suggesting, Legion?"
It looked off to the side, avoiding her gaze. "Your actions suggest you harbor an attraction towards Shepard-Commander."
Tali was grateful her helmet hid her burning cheeks. "I don't know how you can say that. It's not true."
Legion's eye plates raised, then settled back down. "Apologies." They sat in silence for a few more minutes before Tali spoke again.
"You seemed pretty calm when I pointed that gun at you."
Legion's plates flicked slightly. "We determined the threat was minimal."
"Minimal? I could have killed you right then."
"With shields activated, it would have taken approximately seven shots for you to do any significant damage. We would have incapacitated you before that time."
"Yes. Creators are among the easier species to incapacitate, due to the fragility of their suits. The threat of violence is often enough."
"Well what if I didn't stop?"
Legion slowly turned in her direction, perhaps trying to figure out her purpose for asking these questions. "There are a number of variables. Example: if it was required that you be kept alive, we would break your right arm."
Tali now regretted asking.
"If that did not stop you, we would likely break one of your legs. At that point, most organics lapse into unconsciousness. However, if you posed enough of a threat so that lethal force could be used, we would likely attempt to strangle you."
Tali gulped and scratched at her neck nervously.
"In order to make certain your death, we would then remove your mask and shatter the glass. Even if you were not dead at that point, your demise would be almost certainly guaranteed."
"Oh. I… see. You've put a lot of thought into this."
"No. We are using our knowledge of Creator anatomy to formulate an appropriate strategy."
Tali paused again. "How much do you know about anatomy?"
Legion blinked, and its plates shifted nervously. "We have studied diagrams illustrating the inner and outer features of both male and female quarians, as well as all other known species in the galaxy.
"Geth are knowledgeable in matters concerning Creators. For obvious reasons."
"Yes, well, we created the geth. I suppose that makes sense."
Legion paused. "The more we know about our possible enemies, the better prepared we become." Done speaking, it looked back to its omnitool.
But Tali stopped again. "Legion… do you consider me an enemy?"
Legion stopped and looked up at her. It studied her face for a moment, its eye shifting and its plates flexing. "We have not yet passed judgment. Considering current factors we are allies. However, after Collector threat has passed, status may change."
Tali was conflicted. All her life she had believed that the geth were malevolent machines that had driven the quarians from their home. Reduced them to living on the Flotilla, in their air-tight suits. Everything that was bad for the quarians was the geth's fault. When they re-emerged two years ago, it had all but confirmed her suspicions. Now she found herself doubting everything she'd been raised to believe.
"I'm… I'm not too sure myself, either."
"Trust must be earned," it observed. There was a ping, signaling that Tali's data had finished sending. "We look forward to processing new data." It nodded in Tali's direction. "Thank you, Tali'Zorah."
Tali shook herself out of her thoughts. "…Yeah, don't mention it."
The plates on Legion's head shifted again. "Acknowledged. We shall not tell anyone of this interaction."
"No, that's not what I…" She stopped and sighed. "Thank you Legion. I'll see you later."
Legion nodded again. "Acknowledged."
Tali left the AI core feeling worse than when she entered. Before, everything was clear, and she was sure she'd have one less geth to worry about. But now…
"Are you feeling alright dear?"
Tali jumped at the sound of Dr. Chakwas's voice, who had evidently returned while Tali was in the core.
"No, I'm fine," she lied. Her body language must have given her away. Or maybe Chakwas was just a really good doctor. "Just a little… confused."
Chakwas smiled. "I see. Do take care."
"I'm a quarian. What's the saying: 'You're preaching to the choir.'" Tali almost stayed in the medical bay; she was eager to talk with someone. She left for the engineering bay, not sure what to think anymore.