"Medical emergency, hangar deck," EDI said in her characteristically calm tone. "Shuttle arriving, multiple casualties. Trauma team, report to hangar deck."
Tali dreaded the announcement of each returning mission. Because of Cerberus protocol, EDI's reports were always very sketchy, on a "need to know" basis. So sometimes no one outside of the command staff or medical team ever knew the extent of the injuries or the identities of the wounded until they were briefed. But she always imagined the worst.
As always, she stayed at her station. Tali's personal feelings for her crewmates always came after the safety of the ship. She looked to her right at Donnelly and Daniels. They were both silently monitoring their boards, but she could tell they felt the same apprehension. They would all find out soon enough. Minutes passed.
"Docking complete," EDI announced. "Chief Zorah, Report to the hangar deck."
Gabby and Ken both looked over at their superior with surprise. Tali was also taken aback at her summoning. She pointed to their monitors. "Stay here," she said. "I'll find out what's going on."
"Yes, ma'am," they said in unison and returned their focus to their instruments as Tali headed for the lift.
By nature, Tali always looked for the worst-case scenario. It was vital to her skill as a troubleshooter: start at the core and work outward, ensure the most critical systems were functional, then look for failures in the periphery. She wasn't needed as a medic, so why was she being called? A problem with the shuttle, she thought. Propulsion or life support, maybe? As she strode to the elevator she spoke to the AI. "EDI, any information on the casualties?"
"No Tali, I'm sorry," EDI said. "All I know is that there is one critical injury, and one fatality. I do not have details at this time."
The word fatality made her heart sink. "Is Commander Shepard all right?"
"Commander Shepard is uninjured."
Thank the gods, Tali thought. The elevator door hissed open into the hangar bay. Support personnel swarmed the Kodiak shuttle. Dr. Chakwas and a pair of medical techs worked around a stretcher set atop a cargo crate as a makeshift operating table. The patient lying on his back screamed to no one in particular, his body covered with med packs and a stasis field from the waist down. Jacob held him down by his shoulders.
"Bloody goddamn praetorian!" Zaeed Massani growled through clenched teeth. "I'll fuck every skull it's got right in the eyes for this!" Next to the stretcher, a medic sprayed medigel over the ragged end one of Zaeed's legs. It had been severed at the thigh.
Dr. Chakwas's voice was calm. "It was a clean separation at both ends," she said. "You'll be back on both feet in an hour with some nice new scars."
"You're a goddamn angel, luv," Zaeed said as the anesthetic finally took hold and he passed out.
"I thought he'd never go under," Chakwas muttered. "Alright he's stable. Let's get him upstairs."
Tali stayed out of the way as the medical team attended to the human mercenary. She moved next to Jacob. "What happened?"
"Collector ambush," Jacob said, wiping sweat from his brow. "They hit us from all sides. Got hairy toward the end."
"EDI said there was a fatality," Tali said nervously. Jacob was obviously unharmed, and EDI said that Shepard was unhurt. "Who didn't make it back?"
"Legion," Jacob said, shaking his head. "Praetorian got him."
"Keelah!" Tali clapped her hands together. "I thought someone had been killed."
Jacob frowned at her. "Didn't you hear what I said? Legion's dead."
"Legion is a machine," Tali said with more irritation than she intended. It bothered her how the other members of the crew regarded the geth as a 'he' rather than an 'it.' She was starting to think some of the crew did it on purpose just to annoy her. "It can't die because it's not alive."
"Well, it just saved our asses," Jacob said and turned to walk away. "So pardon me if I want to show it a little respect. Shepard's waiting for you inside."
"I'm sorry," Tali said. Jacob probably didn't want to argue semantics after what had just happened. "Are you okay?"
Jacob stopped and sighed. "Yeah, I'll be alright. Didn't mean to snap at you. It just... didn't go well down there. Gonna go check on Zaeed. See you later."
"OK," Tali said and walked up the ramp to the shuttle.
She found Shepard alone in the passenger compartment sitting on the aft bench, staring blankly towards the front of the ship. She'd gotten pretty good at reading the Commander's expression, but she'd never seen his face so vacant. When he didn't seem to acknowledge her, she turned to see what he was looking at.
Legion was strapped into one of the forward seats, presumably so its mass wouldn't shift in transport. Its superstructure sagged in the belts and its limbs dangled limply towards the deck. The usual flutter of its head panels and central iris were noticeably absent, and the lights on its head were cold and dark. White conductive fluid spilled onto the seat and floor around it.
"Is there anything you can do for him?" Shepard asked.
Tali bristled at he use of the pronoun. She'd be lying if she said she wasn't happy to see the geth platform like this. If it were in fact damaged beyond repair, it would ease many of her fears about what information it had been sending back to the collective. But she would at least take a look, for Shepard's sake. She activated her omnitool and waved the glowing interface around, casting strange shadows on Legion's inert form. She had seen dozens of geth destroyed and knew what to look for.
"Power output zero," she read the results aloud. "Batteries depleted. All generators burned out. Light physical damage to the exoskeleton. Sixty two perecent of its servos are out. Checking core memory matrix. Oh... that should have taken longer."
She turned off the tool. A wave of relief washed over her, and she fought not to show it. "Either its self destruct protocol triggered or there was a massive electrical overload. In either case there's not much left in memory."
"Damn it," Shepard leaned forward to rest his arms on his knees and stared at the destroyed robot.
Tali watched him for a moment. He was taking this much harder than he should have. Shepard was one of the worst offenders when it came to anthropomorphizing Legion and the others always followed his lead. But like with Jacob, she knew this wasn't the time for a lecture. Out of everything they had faced together he'd never looked so defeated. No, that's not true, she thought. He wore the same expression after Virmire. Something bad happened down there. She sat next to him. "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do." She said. "So what happened? I mean, if you want to talk about it."
"I don't know where to start," Shepard said.
"Well, that's okay," Tali said, trying to sound cheerful. "Why don't you go get cleaned up? I'll take care of things here. We can talk later."
Shepard leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. Then he stood up and stretched, rotating his right arm in front of him. "No, I've got to talk to the Illusive Man first, tell him about the collectors." At least now he looked at her, and managed a tired smile. "But thanks, Tali."
Tali desperately wanted to say something to lift his spirits, something funny or charming but it just didn't come. It would have been making light of whatever had happened – and that was the problem. Even though Legion was no more, she couldn't figure out what had transpired on the mission to affect Shepard so greatly. Had he caused Legion's demise? It was the only logical explanation for how he was acting, but why he would mourn a machine so was baffling.
Shepard looked over Legion's unmoving form. "Guess that armor didn't do either of us any good," he said softly.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I need you to do something, Tali," Shepard said.
"Of course. Anything."
"I need you to access Legion's memory and see if you can piece anything together from the last day. Anything at all."
"Oh," Tali said, disappointed. "I don't know, it's taken a terrible shock. There might not be anything..." Shepard looked back at her with such weariness and sadness it made her stop mid-sentence. She got up and took a step toward him. "I'll do everything I can. I promise."
Shepard nodded and stepped towards the shuttle's hatch. He gave Legion's shell a parting glance before descending wordlessly down the ramp.
Tali looked down at Legion. "Great. Just when I finally get rid of you..."
Maybe this isn't a bad idea after all, Tali thought. She'd seen many inactive geth in various states of disrepair, but being a "mobile platform" Legion was unique. She could probably glean much information even from it even though it was inoperative. She might even be able to tell what it had done with the data it had copied from her omnitool two days ago. Legion said it had not transmitted the data, but she might now be able to find out if it was being truthful or not. That alone would be worth the effort.
How father would have liked to examine this. Tali's excitement at the prospect of dissecting the geth waned. It was this kind of tampering that got her father and everyone aboard the Alarei killed. She stared at the derelict machine. It would be just as well to space the worthless piece of junk and be done with it. If only she could jettison her memories with it...
You promised, she thought. You're not going to break your word. Not to him. She called into the air. "EDI, can you hear me?"
"Yes, Tali. Go ahead," came the immediate response from the ship's AI.
"Please send a team down to move Legion to the science lab. I'll be along shortly."
"Right away, Tali."
Tali stepped through the hatch and the lights switched off behind her, leaving Legion slumped in its seat, alone in the darkness.