The starboard hatch to engineering opened to reveal Tali's empty console against the aft bulkhead. Legion stepped forward, his optics taking in the engineer's station. It activated its omnitool to provide a more suitable interface.
"There he is," said a voice from its right. "Uh, Legion?"
Legion turned to the source of the voice. A human female took a cautious step toward him. Behind her, another human stood at his post, apparently focused on his duties but giving the geth short, dirty glances.
"I'm Gabriella Daniels, propulsion." the female said. "This is Kenneth Donne- Kenneth, don't be a dick on his first day. Get over here!"
Ken cursed softly and moved to stand behind Gabby. She shook her head and jerked a thumb at her partner. "This is Kenneth Donnelly, power. Looking forward to working with you."
Kenneth stood rigidly with his hands on his hips and glared at the geth. Legion's head tilted slightly to one side and it extended its right hand. Gabby smiled and gave Legion's hand a firm shake. "Good to meet you, too, Legion! Nice to have someone else down here who's got some manners."
Ken harrumphed and went back to his station.
"Don't mind him, he's just a dick." Gabby said. She put her hand against the nearby bulkhead and leaned down the access corridor to the drive core. "Hey Tali! New guy's here!"
"Be right there," Tali's voice echoed from down the hall.
Gabby turned back to Legion and pointed the gaping hole in its chest. "That's a pretty good ding you got there. If you want, we could probably patch that up for ya."
"Thank you," Legion replied. "We are completely operational."
Tali's footsteps clanked on the decking as she approached from the core, loaded down with satchels and tool kits slung over both shoulders. "Right on time. Wish all my staff were as punctual."
"HA!" Gabby shouted over her shoulder at Kenneth, who flipped Gabby a bird without taking his eyes from his screens.
Tali took a step towards the main power console. "Ken, have you introduced yourself?"
Kenneth made some adjustments at his panel without looking at any of them. "No need to get chummy. We'll get along if it stays out of my way."
Tali lifted the straps over her head and set down her load on the deck. "Gabby, why don't you give Legion a quick overview of our setup here."
"Yes ma'am," Gabby said, looking between her chief engineer and her friend. Kenneth had straightened up but still kept focused on his screens.
Tali beckoned to him. "Come and talk with with me for a second, would you?"
"Yes ma'am," Kenneth said and followed Tali back towards the main engine compartment. He ignored Gabby's accusatory stare as he passed and instead concentrated on his inevitable apology due his superior after she was done tearing him a new one.
Instead, when Tali reached the drive core, she turned around and leaned calmly against the rail overlooking the giant sphere. "This must seem pretty strange to you."
Kenneth's head shook back and forth rapidly as if he were shaking off water. "Excuse me ma'am, but would you mind terribly if I ask if you've lost your fucking mind?"
Tali blinked and shook her head. "No, actually I won't mind at all."
Surprised at her mild response, Kenneth struggled to find the right words. "Yesterday... Gabby and I, we were looking for ways to help you get rid of the body. Today, you make it part of the bloomin' team? I mean, ever since they brought the blighter on board, you've been scheming to get rid of it. Got all wound up about how everybody else, especially the Commander, wanted to keep it. And we backed you up. Now, you... I mean, are ya pure mad dafty? ..Ma'am."
"I know it's confusing," Tali said. It was her turn to try and vocalize her feelings. So much had happened in the past day, she wasn't sure herself if bringing Legion down to engineering was a desire to reconcile with the geth, or pent-up guilt over how she thought of them her entire life. "I appreciate that you and Gabby always listened to me vent. Well, rant really. It couldn't have been easy. But you kept me from thinking the entire ship was against me on this... and that meant a lot to me."
Kenneth scratched his head. "Uh, well, no problem. Me and Gabby, you know... we're happy to do it. But this is- this is crazy ma'am. You really think it just flipped its bits and now it's one of the good guys?"
"It's not like that," Tali said. "Legion hasn't changed. I have. Since he came aboard, I've filled your heads with the hate I felt for him... I wanted you to feel the way I did instead of letting you make up your own mind. I shouldn't have done that. It's not fair to him."
"Fair to Legion?" Kenneth started counting on his fingers. "Eden Prime, the Citadel-"
"Think about it," Tali said. "What has he done to you?"
The human shrugged. "Nothing, I guess. I've never even talked to it."
Tali turned to look at the giant column supporting the sphere of the drive core. "I know, and you didn't as a favor to me. But I was wrong about him. I have been from the start... I owe it to him to make it right. After yesterday, we all do."
Kenneth joined Tali in looking over the edge. "Did really happen like everybody says? That bucket of bolts really went back for them?"
"It's all true. Every word of it."
The thrum of the drive core was the only sound in the compartment for a long time. Kenneth scowled, lost in thought. "Good man, then," he finally said. "Well, good geth anyway. Though even you're calling him a him now. So I guess it's official."
Tali smiled. "Well, he really has no gender, and technically he's a 'they' instead of a singular entity, but it's awkward to say 'they' in casual conversation when talking about him to other people. It's interesting, though, how Legion views itself as a collective entity even though all of its programs are actually completely independent-"
Kenneth's eyes drooped shut and he began snoring loudly, slumping against the rail. Tali jabbed him in his belly with both fingers. "Very funny, bosh'tet!"
"Ooof! Sorry, ma'am. Dozed off there. Don't know what happened." Kenneth grinned. "But a superior touching her subordinate like that is harassment. I think I like it."
"Then go back to sleep and keep dreaming," Tali said. She tilted her head towards him. "So are you going to give Legion a chance?"
Kenneth shrugged. "Well, I still don't know all the whys but for you, I'll do it."
"I could tell you the whys," Tali stood and headed back towards the engineering station, guiding Kenneth with her arm around his shoulder. "But if you really want to know, ask him. He'll tell you. It's a technique I've only just come to appreciate myself."
Gabby and Legion were examining Kenneth's power console when Tali and Kenneth entered the compartment. Tali stood next to them. "What do you think, Gabby?"
"He's nothing but trouble but I think we can work with him," Gabby said. "Can he stay?"
"If Tali vouches for him, it's good enough for me," Kenneth said. "He can stay."
"I was talking about you, idiot." Gabby gave the geth a nod. "Legion's a keeper. Right, boss?"
"I think there's room for both of them," Tali laughed, giving Kenneth a pointed stare. "For now..."
Kenneth pushed past the two women and extended his hand to Legion. "I sure hope you're a 'he,' because I'm badly outnumbered down here, brother."
"We do not have a gender," Legion said and returned the handshake. "We are a gestalt entity occupying a mechanical platform and can more accurately be referred to as 'they.'"
Kenneth's eyes rolled back in his head. "Good god, now it's in stereo..."
"Better get used to it. He- they are going to be here a while." Tali lifted a tool satchel from the deck and extended it to Legion. "OK everybody, we're going to be in the core today. Gabby, you'll need to get suited up. Kenneth, you monitor us from here, and Legion, have EDI send you the EM emissions specs, we need to figure out your tolerances and what kind of shielding you'll need."
"Acknowledged." Legion activated its omnitool.
A soft ring in Tali's ear made her stop mid-stride. "Tali? It's Kelly."
Tali held up a finger to her crew. "Hi Kelly, what is it?"
"Is Legion down there? Commander Shepard would like to see both of you in his quarters."
"Well he didn't say that, specifically. But I think that was the gist of it."
Tali sighed. "Tell him we're on our way."
"Thanks, Tali. Bye."
Tali clawed the sides of her helmet and let out a loud growl. "Just once I'd like to start the day without another damned meeting."
"What's going on?" Kenneth asked.
"I don't know. Shepard wants to see Legion and me in his quarters."
Legion closed its omnitool and awaited instructions. Kenneth and Gabby gave each other sour looks. "Three guesses who called this little party," Kenneth grumbled. "You can bet Miranda's not happy about this."
"Congratulations, Legion," Gabby said. "You're about to get your first ass-chewing from the ice queen."
"Yeah, it's kind of an engineering tradition," Kenneth snorted. "Welcome to the team!"
"Hey," Tali said sharply. "I don't want to hear any more of that kind of thing. From either of you. All right?"
"Yes ma'am," they both said. "Sorry."
Tali pulled a large, heavy spanner from her tool belt and smacked the end of it into her open hand. "Might take this along in case I need to perform some percussive maintenance." Her techs grinned and nodded approvingly. She slid open a nearby storage locker and secured her equipment inside. "Oh, that wouldn't be very diplomatic, would it? I'm sure she just wants to tell us what a good job we've been doing. We'll be back as soon as we can."
"Give 'er hell, Chief!" Gabby said.
Tali stepped aside from the locker and motioned for Legion to do the same with its tools. "Come on, Legion."
Legion placed its tool kit next to Tali's in the locker. It then followed its new superior to the main lift. As the elevator ascended, Legion watched Tali's hands rub together. "We are detecting strong indications of emotional stress in your behavioral and vocal patterns."
Tali jumped at the sound of Legion's voice. Ordinarily, she was acutely aware of the geth's presence at any time. "What? Oh. Sorry. This is just... Politics. After Shepard appointed me chief engineer, Miss Lawson and I had a disagreement over who was in charge of the engineering department."
"Was this conflict resolved?" Legion asked.
"Well, I thought it was, but who knows with Miranda?" Tali did her best to maintain her temper. Very little could set the quarian off like interference from Cerberus, and Miranda Lawson in particular. Almost every change she had made to improve performance, any alteration in design brought an immediate challenge. But first thing this morning she sought Shepard to get approval for Legion to assume duties in engineering. He seemed very excited at the prospect of the geth integrating itself directly with the crew and putting its mechanical skills to use for the good of the ship. What's more, he was proud of her for suggesting it.
In her haste, though, she didn't stop to think about what Miranda, or Cerberus, would think. The longer this crew worked together, the less like a Cerberus ship it seemed and it took events like this to remind her of its registry. But their shadowy overlords were in their right to balk at letting a sentient machine direct access to their most advanced technology. She had to admit that this time she may have overstepped her bounds. She hoped that with Shepard's help, they could work it out.
When the door opened to the Commander's quarters, Miranda was nowhere to be seen. Shepard stood alone and waved the pair in from the hallway. "Sorry to interrupt your work," he said. "But something's come up."
Tali tried to make eye contact with the Commander, but he turned away to lead them inside without looking at her. Oh, here it comes, she thought. Miranda couldn't even be here to complain in person. "Let me guess... Cerberus doesn't approve of my staffing choices."
"Of course they don't." Shepard laughed and gestured them towards the couches in the lower level. "Have a seat."
Legion sat, its back straight and legs bent awkwardly in front of it – a gesture of compliance as opposed to seeking comfort like an organic. Tali stood with her arms crossed in front of Shepard. "Miranda?"
"The Illusive Man," Shepard said. "He was concerned about the schematics of this ship falling into the hands of the geth."
Legion's facial plates rippled. "We will not share data designated as classified."
"I know," Shepard said to the geth. He nodded at Tali. "You're no more of a danger to them than, say, a quarian chief engineer. Or a turian weapons officer. Or a commander who made a good run at taking out Cerberus facilities, just for example. That's what I told him, anyway. We're all a risk. But we either trust each other, or we don't. And I trust you, Legion. That was good enough."
"Me too," Tali said. The tension in her body faded. As usual, the Commander had taken care of things. But certainly he didn't summon them just to tell them there was no problem.
"Thank you, Shepard-Commander, Creator Tali'Zorah." Legion said. "Our intention is cooperative integration with the Normandy collective."
Tali laughed. "Well I'd say as of today, you're officially part our collective. Right Shepard?"
Shepard smiled at Tali, but it wasn't the same warm, joyous smile she got the night before after reviving Legion. It was half-hearted, fringed with worry and sadness. "I'm afraid it's not that simple," he said.
Tali spotted a scuff mark on the floor and rubbed it with a toe. "It never is, is it? So what's the bad news?"
"Stress indicators have resumed," Legion announced.
"Tali, please," Shepard gestured toward the couch. Tali sat down next to Legion, likewise completely straight and on the edge of the cushion. Whatever Shepard was about to say, Legion's future on the Normandy was undoubtedly in jeopardy. He moved to stand directly across from them. "Right now, the SSV Shenyang is picking up representatives of Alliance diplomatic corps at Arcturus Station. In eight hours, we will rendezvous with the Shenyang at the Utopia mass relay, after which she will proceed directly to the quarian Migrant Fleet for an audience with the Admiralty Board."
He paused, looking both of them in the eye in turn. "You two are going to be aboard her."
Tali's respirator sputtered with her sudden attempt to inhale her mask. "What?"
Shepard found it hard to face his engineer once again. He walked around the table next to the geth and sat on the flat surface. "Now Legion, whatever you do, stay on the Shenyang. Under no circumstances are you to let the quarians move negotiations to the flotilla."
"Commander?" Tali stood but found her legs had gone shaky.
Shepard ignored her. "There's an Admiral on the Board named Xen who wants you in the worst way. But you're under diplomatic protection as long as you stay on the Shenyang. If they try to take you off, it will be considered an act of war against the Alliance and they know it. We won't let them take you, ok?"
"Shepard!" Tali slammed the table with the palms of her hands.
Shepard stood and looked at Tali, his face stern and resolved, then back to the geth. "Do you understand, Legion?"
"Acknowledged," Legion said, looking back and forth between the Commander and the Chief Engineer.
"You can't do this," Tali gasped.
Shepard put his hand on her shoulder. "It's already done, Tali. I talked to Anderson last night and told him everything that happened. He took it on himself to make some inquiries. This morning, the Admiralty Board accepted an Alliance proposal to act as mediators and provide a neutral meeting ground. They specifically instructed that you be there, and as your captain, that I tell you. You're going home."
Tali sank slowly back down to the couch.
"I'm sorry," Shepard said. He knew she would take the news hard, and wished he had more time to prepare her. "I didn't find out about all this until just a few minutes ago, and they want to start negotiations right away."
"Shepard-Commander?" Legion said.
"Yes," Shepard sighed.
"The geth were not consulted about these negotiations."
"I know, Legion." Shepard walked to his desk and picked up his omnitool. "I've got a data pack for you from Counselor Anderson outlining the details, as well as a proposal for direct talks with the Alliance."
Legion's omnitool rendered into the air around its wrist. "Standing by to receive download. We require secure access to our network for retransmission."
"EDI, open the channel," Shepard said as he sent the information to Legion's omni.
Tali looked up. The negotiations were useless if only one side was in attendance. "What if they don't accept? Do we still have to go?"
"We accept these proposals," Legion said. "Negotiations with the creators will commence immediately with Systems Alliance mediation. Separate negotiations with the Alliance will follow."
Shepard sat down next to the quarian. The geth's lack of bureaucracy robbed her of any chance she had to think of a way out of it. "Look, I don't like this any more than you. I don't want to lose you, Tali. But think about what's at stake for your people. You can help end a war. Help your people get home."
Tali stared at the table. "And where are you going to be," she asked, her voice strained.
"We've still got our mission. As soon as they crack the IFF, we're going through Omega Four."
Tali leaned back, her hands around her mask. Being recalled to the fleet was the last thing she expected from this meeting. After her trial, they couldn't be rid of her fast enough. Just like before, everything had already been decided for her by the Admiralty Board. She had no say in the matter. But this time Shepard himself was going along with it.
"Shepard-Commander?" Legion buzzed.
"This mobile platform's physical presence is not required for negotiations to commence. We will provide direct communication protocols for the geth network to Alliance diplomatic resources. We will then accompany the Normandy through the Omega Four relay."
"That's right," Tali said. "We don't have to be there. And if he doesn't go, I'm not going."
"You two don't seem to get it," Shepard stood and paced back and forth. "Having you there, both of you, in person is part of the negotiations. Like it or not, Legion, you're the new face of the geth by virtue of being the only mobile platform outside of the Veil. But you've shown the geth are willing to work with organics toward a common good, which is something all organics need to see. And Tali? You're the daughter of an Admiral, an honest-to-goodness hero of the battle of the Citadel and probably the greatest expert on the geth. Quarians and humans alike will listen to you when you tell them what you've seen. Most important, you're already talking to each other. The barriers have already come down! You can show the others the way."
Legion's head plates cycled through several configurations. Tali still stared at the top of the table. Shepard shook his head in amazement. "This is incredible. How can you not be excited about what might come about from this?"
"Excited?" Tali looked up at Shepard.
"Let me tell you about excitement!" Tali rose to her feet and stood faceplate-to-nose with Shepard, "I left my ship once before, and then went to her captain's funeral. It was the worst experience of my life. Nothing else comes close. And every single day I wondered what I could have done if only I had been there, if I could have made a difference. I will not go through that again! If you die now, I will be standing at your side, not over another empty casket!"
"Tali-" Shepard tried to put his hands on her shoulders, but she flung them away.
"Tali, Tali, Tali," Tali shouted, on the verge of tears. "I am Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. There is nothing more important than my ship, my crew, or my captain. You will not go through the relay without me. I won't let you!"
For once, Shepard was the one left speechless. It was only on rare occasions he got close enough to make any detail in Tali's face, especially in her eyes. Windows to the soul, Shepard had always heard. Ordinarily, hers were filled with a shy awkwardness that reminded him of the young girl who joined his crew two years before. Now he saw a soul on the verge of destruction, with him destroying it by sending her away from ship before what could be its most dangerous mission. His rebuttal died in his throat.
"Shepard-Commander?" The geth asked during the silence that followed, still sitting on the couch.
Shepard blinked, staring at his distorted reflection in Tali's faceplate. He was losing patience with the geth's interruptions. "What is it, Legion?"
"The destinies of the creator species and the geth are uncertain, regardless of our participation in negotiation. However, If the old machines return, the future of the entire galactic population will be in jeopardy. Mutual cooperation against the old machines is of highest priority."
"That's right," Shepard said. "That's why you and the quarians need to settle things, before the reapers come back."
"Shepard-Commander is in error." Legion buzzed. "Creator Tali'Zorah's presence during negotiations may increase the probability of a settlement, but does not guarantee it. In addition, she is not the only entity capable of carrying out negotiations."
Shepard stared at the geth, at the same time aware of Tali's unyielding gaze.
Legion pressed on. "The Normandy is the only resource currently allocated to the task of pursuing the collectors and stopping the old machines from returning. Creator Tali'Zorah's experience as chief engineer is irreplaceable and substantially increases the chances for mission success." It rose and stood next to Tali. "If Shepard-Commander's primary objective is protection of the largest percentage of the galaxy's population, Creator Tali'Zorah must remain aboard the Normandy."
Tali's chest heaved with a giant exhalation, her gaze never wavering from Shepard's eyes. He finally turned and walked towards his bed, his his fingers drumming against his scalp, deep in thought. He looked back at Tali and Legion, who watched him expectantly. For the first time, he noticed how similar they were. He'd never actually seen them standing side by side, probably because Tali put so much effort into avoiding Legion. The resemblance was uncanny... The proportion of their limbs, their hands and feet, the shape of their heads. The quarians had made the geth in their own image, but over three centuries, the geth maintained the appearance.
And the similarities weren't just physical. Two mortal enemies were now fighting to stay aboard a ship with a commander leading them on a mission which very likely would result in their deaths. With all the governments in the galaxy ignoring the threat, these two individuals were doing everything they could to stay with him and fight, together. "What am I going to do with you two?" he asked.
Tali and Legion watched Shepard expectantly. He pointed toward the pair as he approached them. "OK, here's how this is going to work. If the Shenyang calls, you get to the briefing room – no matter what your shipboard duties at the time, if it's in the middle of the night, you're in the can, whatever, you're at their beck and call. You're on their schedule."
Tali bounced up and down excitedly. "Oh, yes! Absolutely!"
"I want updates from the Alliance ambassador every four hours and copies of all your correspondence and all transmissions logged to my console. Don't make me come looking for it."
"You'll have it," Tali put her hands on Shepard's chest. "I swear."
"And if either of you need my help or input on anything, find me."
"Keelah!" Tali cried. "Thank you!"
"We are remaining aboard the Normandy?" Legion asked.
"Yes!" Tali fell against the geth, shaking its arm. "We're staying!"
"Thank you, Shepard-Commander," Legion said, seemingly oblivious to the laughing quarian dangling from its shoulder. "We will comply with your instructions."
Shepard smiled, though it wasn't as happy en expression as it should have been. "All right, I'll let you know from Anderson what the plan is. Dismissed."
Legion walked up the stairs to the exit with Tali behind. She paused on the middle step and looked back at the Commander, who stood with his hands on his hips biting his lower lip. When he saw her stop, he sighed.
"What's wrong?" Tali asked.
"I'm just mentally preparing myself for the response I'm going to get when I tell Udina and the Admiralty Board that they can't have my crew. It's going to be one hell of a conference call."
"I'm sorry," Tali said. "I didn't mean to get you in trouble. Do you want me to stay while you talk to them?"
"Nah. Udina already hates my guts, and it won't be the first time I've told the Admiralty Board to shove it, right?"
Tali giggled. Every time she thought back to Shepard's castigation of the Admiralty Board in front of the Conclave it made her smile.
"Anderson's got my back," Shepard continued. He'll understand. Besides, what's the worst they can do? Send me on some kind of suicide mission?"
Tali stepped down to the base of the stairs. "If they did, I'd go with you."
Shepard turned and smiled, his eyes full of joy but also fear. He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her, the soft fabric of her hood on his face."I know. You already are. Thank you."
Tali gasped at the embrace. Thank you for not sending me home, thank you for helping me find peace with Legion, thank you for all of this, she thought, but as usual none of those sentiments found their way to her lips. All she could manage was to hold onto him, but that was always enough.
"Don't let them waste this," Shepard whispered, squeezing her slightly.
"I wont," Tali said. "I promise."
Shepard pulled back, and Tali reached gingerly out with a finger to wipe away the moisture beneath his eyes. She pulled back at the last second as Shepard wiped it clear with his own hand. "All right," he said and waved to the hatch. "Take your staff back down below and get that core looked at."
"Aye, sir," Tali said and climbed back up the steps, cursing yet another missed opportunity. As she stepped into the corridor, she cast a backwards glance into the Commander's quarters. He had his back to her, sitting at his workstation now, staring at the blank monitor in front of him with his hands locked behind his neck. She let her head fall against the frame of the hatch when a soft electronic buzz erupted from her right.
Legion's fish-eye lens poked from inside the open elevator. Tali looked once more through the hatch before stepping away joining Legion in the lift. "Back to the shop," Tali told it.
They stood in silence as they descended. The exchange with the Commander replayed in Tali's mind. She couldn't tell if it was her own emotional plea that swayed the Commander, or Legion's logical assessment of mission failure if she left, or maybe both. Regardless, a strange feeling lingered. She was overjoyed to be staying aboard the Normandy, but what surprised her was she was equally happy that Legion would still be with them.
The geth's head turned toward Tali, and then back to the door as was the preference of most organics as they rode an elevator. She noticed the movement. Was it just a sensory response to something she hadn't heard? Or did it want to say something? Tali prepared to ask, but the ride was almost over. Soon they would be back in Engineering, doing a partial teardown of the drive machinery. She would ask him about it later. For now, she found herself feeling nothing but gratitude where there had been only suspicion, fear and hatred the day before.
The hatch opened to the engineering deck, and she stepped directly in front of the geth, blocking its path. "Thank you," she said into its eye. "For everything."
"You are welcome, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy."
The End - Continued in For Tomorrow We Die.