In spite of the damage to the Normandy, Engineering had been spared the worst. Though many of the status displays around the compartment showed red or did not register at all, it was intact and inhabitable. Most importantly no one was lying dead on the deck.
Tali stood in the port hatch as that horrible memory faded along with the faces of Thane Krios and Ken Donnelly, replaced by the sight of Legion standing post at the main console. Tali knew the geth was intact before the shuttle landed, but seeing it made it real. After being forced to abandon Legion and Shepard on the Xenophon, she wondered if she'd see either of them again.
Legion stopped what it was doing and turned to face her instead of multitasking as it usually did. "Creator-Tali'Zorah."
Tali blinked. Back to Creator-Tali'Zorah again. Had Legion suffered damage to its memory and reverted to an earlier dataset? The geth's recently repaired carapace was in shambles, looking equally as beat up as Shepard's armor after their escape. Maybe the damage was more severe than anyone knew. "It's been a while since you called me that. Are you okay?"
"All systems nominal," Legion said. "Damage to our superstructure is superficial, however eighty-three percent of our armor segments are compromised and will require replacement before another engagement."
"Hopefully that won't be any time soon," Tali walked in to stand in front of the geth. The plates around its face expanded and contracted as it continued to stare at her. "Is something wrong?"
"We have information which must be disseminated, but are experiencing difficulty collating the data."
A chasm opened at the bottom of Tali's stomach. It was the geth equivalent of we need to talk. "What is it?"
"We have synchronized our dataset with the Collective. They have shared their experience from Orbital Body 413319. We understand the difficulty organics experience making logical choices in times of duress. We understand that in this particular instance, the logical choice for you was to return the geth to a state of servitude in order to guarantee the survival of your species. " Legion buzzed and clicked as processing power was diverted from its physical actuators while its processes worked some unimaginably complex problem. Whatever loop they were caught in now, the individual geth in Legion's platform didn't seem to be able to stop.
"Hey," Tali took a step closer. If Legion had suffered internal damage to its memory or processors, any amount of additional stress might be disastrous. "Don't worry about it. Cancel query. Whatever it is, it can't be that important."
"Dissemination of this information is highest priority. Before the jump to Ma-at, we asked what your course of action would be if the creators had already assumed control the collective. You did not have an answer."
"Oh gods, Legion. I'm sorry... I- I didn't know what to say, I-"
"Creator-Tali'Zorah, we understand the position you were in." Legion's shuddering slowly stopped. Its facial plates expanded once, then returned to its original configuration. It stood straight, as if at attention, as it had done in the armory a few days before. "Available data was insufficient to determine the disposition of the collective. Yet you restored consensus to the collective regardless, thus allowing the geth to determine their own destiny. We are grateful."
Tali put her palm on the platform's chest plate. The difficulty for over a thousand separate entities to express a unified opinion was something few organics could truly comprehend. "You're welcome." She smiled warmly and stood on her toes to peer into Legion's main aperture as if it were a window. "All of you." As crazy as it was, she wanted to hug the geth. She'd done it once before on simple reflex after Legion exposed the Admiralty Board's duplicity. Without a doubt, the geth platform had been instrumental for saving all of them, geth and quarian alike. She wrapped her arms around the Legion's chest and gave a squeeze. To her surprise, Legion returned the hug. Tali laughed. "Can you even feel this?"
"We do not derive physical stimulation from such contact," Legion said. "But we understand the meaning of the gesture and judge it appropriate to reciprocate."
"I'll take that," Tali said, giving the geth a final squeeze before stepping back. She looked Legion from head to toe and sighed. It looked almost as bad as when they first found it on the derelict reaper. Where would they be now, she wondered, if Shepard had listened to her then and allowed her to send Legion back to the fleet?
Legion cocked its head, once again mimicking organic body language. What are you thinking, it seemed to ask?
Tali shook her head. It would take hours to explain. "Looks like we're going to have to fix you up again. Along with everything else around here. Where's Gabby?"
"Daniels-Gabriella is in the reactor compartment with standard platforms three and eight, undertaking repair operations."
"Okay... Round everybody up. We need a complete damage assessment as soon as possible. Shepard's waiting on us."
"Acknowledged, Creator-Tali'Zorah," Legion said. With communications down throughout the ship, it turned to the aft hatch to fetch its crew mate.
Tali put a hand on Legion's shoulder. "Wait. Why have you gone back to calling me 'Creator?'"
Legion's flaps contracted. "We observed your discomfort when Mobile Platform Two utilized its diplomatic routines to address you in an informal manner. We judged our best course of action to revert to the linguistic standards of the collective. We do not wish to show disrespect, especially after you saved all geth."
"Oh, no," Tali said. "No. I never thought it was disrespectful. Not coming from you. In fact... I really like it when you just call me Tali. You think maybe you could start doing that again?"
Legion's flaps expanded slightly. "Of course, Tali."
"Thanks." Tali beamed, happy to be back on a first name basis with her friend. She looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. "Especially since drives Garrus crazy."
Tali giggled and again looked around to make sure they hadn't been overheard. "Okay, go get Gabby," she said and ushered Legion toward the aft hatch. "We'll talk more later."
Enlea T'Vari sat alone at the aft table in Normandy's galley. She couldn't recall another time in her life when she'd felt so drained; mentally, physically and spiritually. When the Normandy joined the battle over the the geth hub she had no station to attend and no role to play in the coming assault. At the recommendation of Miranda Lawson, she spent the entire engagement strapped in an escape pod where she'd be safe and ready to eject at a moment's notice. Enlea wasn't a fool, though. She had been sent to where she'd be out of the way, where she'd be least likely to do any damage while the crew fought for their lives... and hers.
When the terrible shocks finally ceased and the ship stopped spinning around her, she emerged from the pod and promptly threw up on the deck. On her hands and knees, she found herself in a corridor filled with smoke and illuminated by sparks and flashing warning lights. It took her a moment to hear it through her explosion-deafened ears, but someone was yelling at her.
"Get over here! Give us a hand!"
She staggered to her feet and followed the shouts which lead her to cluster of flashlights sweeping cones of light through the smoke. Flames in a hatch backlit hazard-suited figures as they sprayed retardant foam in all directions. Others dragged unconscious shipmates from the burning compartment. A half-dozen humans, dazed and burned, slumped against the wall in front of her.
Someone shouted at her again. "Get 'em outta here! We gotta vent this section!"
It wasn't until she got close through the smoke that Enlea realized that two of the flashlights were a from a pair of the geth platforms that roamed the Normandy. Each of the geth picked up an injured human and starting moving them forward. She knelt next to a balding man whose face was covered with soot and blood. His uniform was half burned from his body. He moaned as Enlea put her shoulder under his and guided him to his feet, then followed the geth to the next section. They were met by another human who helped ease his comrades to the deck. The geth turned about to go back for more. In a daze, Enlea followed and brought back a younger woman who was just as badly burned.
Then, acting on some unheard order, the geth disappeared to another part of the ship, leaving Enlea in an improvised triage center in the middle of the corridor. Med packs were scattered on the deck among the casualties. She passed basic first aid as part of training years ago, but the sight and smell of blood and burnt flesh made her turn away to vomit again. Painful moans from the first man she'd brought out made her look back. One lone human tended the wounded, and he was injured himself. She wiped her mouth clean on her sleeve and reached for a medkit with shaking hands, donned a pair of surgical gloves contained within, and began to irrigate the man's burns before applying anesthetic and medigel as she had been trained. The entire time she prayed to the Goddess that she was doing more good than harm.
And so that went until trained medical staff arrived, also augmented with geth. Every able bodied person then joined in damage control. The entire ship was in shambles. Enlea next found herself as part of a brigade ferrying generators and repair equipment to every corner of the ship, then returning to storage to get more. Unable to assist in repairs herself, she could at least bring equipment to where it was needed most.
After an hour, her body gave out. Her knuckles were cut and bloody, her face was coated with sweat and grime, and her favorite outfit was stained with every sort of fluid imaginable, synthetic and organic. She staggered into the galley and collapsed in the first chair she could find.
Enlea slumped over the table, half comatose but unable to sleep, the fear and helplessness of being trapped in the escape pod still fresh in her mind. She watched through blurry eyes as a steady stream of humans and geth went in and out of the infirmary. A short time later, a turian clad in full body armor walked in, followed by the former Justicar, the Krogan and Commander Shepard himself. None of them even noticed her as they crowded around the infirmary door until they were chased off by the ship's doctor. After they left, all was quiet. She closed her eyes, just for a few seconds.
A bitter, yet savory odor reached her nostrils. She opened her eyes to see a mug filled with a steaming black liquid on the table in front of her. Her neck ached as she raised her head to see Miranda Lawson sitting across from her holding a similar cup in her hand. "I must have dozed off."
"You did," Miranda said as she sipped her coffee. "You haven't moved for the past hour."
Enlea looked at the Cerberus operative with incredulity. Miranda's uniform was shiny and spotless, her hair neat and clean, her face freshly scrubbed. She looked as though she was ready for inspection.
"Are you all right?" Miranda asked, concluding her own visual inspection of the disheveled Citadel representative.
"I don't know," Enlea said, rubbing her neck. "I take it that we won?"
Miranda nodded. "Cerberus forces have been eliminated from the system and the geth are free of their influence. Through the geth, Tali was able to contact the Migrant Fleet and stop the assault. As a matter of fact, the geth have offered a cease fire to the quarians. It looks like they may be coming home soon."
"Incredible," Enlea said. The quarians had been marooned in space for more than half her life, and she never dreamed they'd ever make it home. Once again, Shepard and the Normandy had come to the rescue. "What's going to happen with Cerberus, then?"
"We're in contact with Alliance command and the Citadel right now. I've turned over everything I've got on Cerberus. C-Sec is going over my data store as we speak, and I'll be giving a formal deposition as soon as they can arrange council."
Enlea blinked. "You're... going to testify against them?"
"Aren't you afraid of what they might do to you?"
Miranda smirked. "They should be afraid of what we're going to do to them."
If anyone else had said that, Enlea would have assumed false bravado. Having seen how the crew banded together when attacked, she knew it wasn't a bluff. "I can only imagine."
Miranda swirled her cup on the table's surface. "You know, C-Sec would be very interested in what you have to say, too."
"What? Oh... No. I-" Enlea's voice cracked. "I think I've already exposed myself too much as it is. I mean, Commander Shepard already sent my datapad back with Captain Artuis. I think that's enough."
"Was that really everything you know?" That made Enlea look away. Miranda cocked her head. "Listen, I'm not your conscience. But you have an opportunity here that may never come again."
"An opportunity for what?" Enlea said. "To betray my entire species?"
"Do you think I'm betraying mine?" Miranda said with disappointment in her eyes. "Because in my opinion, I'm saving it."
Shepard knew from the moment he came back from the Xenophon what to expect, but that didn't keep him from looking in awe at the vast, empty chamber in front of him. The giant sphere that once dominated the aft engineering compartment was gone. Overhead, a dark circle ten meters wide sparkled with stars, the glow of an emergency barrier illuminating its rim. The room was silent, absent the rhythmic throb that used to fill the air. And like the Normandy's mass effect core, his engineer was nowhere to be found. "Tali?"
"Down here," the quarian's voice echoed in the emptiness.
Shepard leaned over the edge of the platform to see Tali's scarfed head poking from a pit at the bottom of the chamber. He swung his leg over the railing and slid down a short ladder to the deck below and carefully made his way to where she worked. She sat crosslegged in the middle of what looked like a giant metal socket in the floor, surrounded by glowing holo panels.
Tali studied the schematic projected in front of her. "I have to give credit to Cerberus. The core ejection system worked perfectly. Clean separation. No overloads, no surges, no damage to the trunking or the the spherical array. If the core hadn't exploded after ejection, we could probably have just plugged it right back in."
Shepard knelt next to the hole. "So what does that mean for us in the long run?"
Tali groaned as she raised herself on legs sore from two days of exertion. Standing in the pit, she could almost look Shepard in the eye as he knelt next to her. She gestured at the empty air around them. "Umm, we need a new core. Duh."
Shepard cocked his head at the sarcastic response. In spite of the damage to the ship, Tali was obviously in good spirits. "A new core? So... that means you think we don't need to abandon ship?"
Tali crossed her arms. "Did you even look at my report?"
"Did you send me one?"
The quarian blinked, then turned her omnitool on. "Oh... Ha. Oops." She pressed a few buttons, making Shepard's omni chime with an incoming message.
"Duh," Shepard smirked and activated his own omni to open the damage control assessment.
"Listen," Tali rested her head on her arms as she leaned against the edge of the pit. "It's been a really long day. I've been pulled in ten different directions since we got back."
"Tell me about it." Shepard scrolled through the report. It was over fifty pages long, filled with charts and figures and scans from all over the ship, many of which had been supplied by the geth. He flipped through the pages, pausing occasionally to read.
Tali watched the pages flick by. "You know, I spend a lot of time on these things. Do you ever actually read them?"
Shepard made a point of flipping through the pages in rapid succession. "You know, you get grouchy at times like this. What happened to Nice Tali?"
"She turns into Bitch Tali every time someone wrecks her ship. Three times now in the last week, in case you're counting."
Shepard grinned when finally reached the last page and read aloud from the report. "'In my estimation, the Normandy can be restored to full operational capacity. Repair efforts should commence immediately.'"
"You see," Tali crossed her arms again. "Unlike some people, quarians don't just toss out damaged ships like empty beer cans. Where there's a hull, there's a ship, and a ship can be repaired. So enough with the talk about abandoning my ship."
Shepard jabbed a finger at her. "You just made my day."
"Good." Tali gripped the side of the pit with her hands. "I mean, it's an aggressive timeline and we'll probably need to evacuate the ship for the duration of repairs, but I think we can do it, assuming the geth pitch in."
"I don't think there's any question about that." Shepard turned off his omnitool. "That was a hell of a thing you did for them down there. For the Migrant Fleet, too. Not bad, saving two civilizations in one go."
Tali looked into Shepard's eyes. "I just did what my captain would have done."
Shepard held her gaze, mildly surprised Tali didn't look away. He smiled and gave the slightest of nods. "Well, I'd better go give this a good read before my chief engineer blows a gasket. You know how she is." He stood, his own legs and back aching, and walked back to the access ladder. "I want to run this by EDI and Miranda. I hate to say it, but-"
At the mention of Miranda's name, Tali slumped back against the lip of the pit. "Then don't..."
"-she'll probably want to call a meeting to sort things out."
Tali rolled her eyes. "I knew it."
Shepard grinned at her from the ladder and waved his omnitool at her. "Don't worry. She's going to be busy for a little while. Turns out she and the Alliance have some things to talk about first."
Tali paused as the meaning of what Shepard was saying finally sunk in. "She's really doing it?"
"Yep," Shepard leaned over the railing of the platform overlooking the room. "She's giving her deposition right now. So when you and the geth rebuild the ship, go ahead and leave the Cerberus logos off."
"Wow," Tali shook her head with amazement.
"Wow is right," Shepard said with a wave before turning to the hatch. "See you, Tali."
"Wow," Tali said again to the empty room. In the space of a day, the entire universe had changed. What was going to happen tomorrow? She knelt back down into the pit and began closing off the access panels and gathering her tools. She stopped and looked at her hands. Ordinarily when talking to Shepard, she'd wear a hole in her gloves from rubbing them together. Her heart would pound and she'd have to cut back her O2 mixture to keep from hyperventilating so her mouth wouldn't disconnect from her brain and utter the most inane things imaginable as she struggled to keep from falling over. But not today.
"Huh," Tali said and went back to gathering her things.
Garrus leaned against the frame of the conference room's hatch, half listening to the interview inside while scanning his omnitool. Thanks to the geth, the Normandy had full inter-relay communication with the rest of civilized space, and the ripples of what had transpired the past week were already being felt. He shook his head as more reports came flooding in.
Shepard stopped next to him to peer through the hatch. Inside, Enlea faced holographic figures of all the Council species, all wearing various expressions of disbelief and dismay. "How's it going?" he whispered to Garrus.
"She's giving up all the goods, Shepard," Garrus said. "Executor Pallin just ordered the arrest of Councilor Tevos, and that's just the start. I can't even begin to count the number of heads rolling right now. How's Miranda doing?"
"The same," Shepard said with a grin. "Heads everywhere."
"What about the biggest one?"
Shepard's smile faded and he shook his head. "Alliance agents raided a station at Anadius. Supposed to be his home base. But there was no resistance, and the station self-destructed as they approached."
"Please tell me he was on it."
"Not likely. Miranda says they had a standing procedure in place in case they were ever discovered. Odds are they evacuated well beforehand."
"Damn," Garrus muttered. "Guess the Illusive Man had to know she was going to give him up eventually."
"How'd she take the news?"
Shepard shrugged. "By pointing out that she'd just given the Alliance every financial and physical asset Cerberus has and that if they still couldn't catch him that we'd be along in a few days to do it for them." The two men laughed, causing a brief pause in the interview underway in the conference room. "Sorry," Shepard said and waved Garrus away from the door. They walked through the lab on the way back to CIC.
"Speaking of going back," Garrus said when they were safely out of earshot. "Did you get an estimate for how long it'd be before we're ready to move?"
"It depends," Shepard said. "In order to completely repair the ship, we'll have to evacuate so the geth can strip it down to the frame. The question is where do we go in the mean time?"
"I don't suppose there's a nice five-star hotel anywhere in the system, is there?"
"Being a geth system, not likely."
"What about them giving us a ride somewhere? I can think of at least ten systems off the top of my head with very nice resorts..."
CIC buzzed with activity as geth and humans worked together to disassemble and catalog equipment in preparation for the upcoming overhaul. Shepard and Garrus watched from the back of the room to stay out of the way. "That's a good thought," Shepard said. "But the relays between here and the Terminus are jammed tight with the Migrant Fleet trying to re-constitute at Nariph and all the geth ships moving out to escort them back."
"What about our special relay?"
"Well, that'll get us back to Raheel-Leyya, but we'll have the same traffic problem there as we have here. Not to mention we're missing our mass effect generator, remember?"
"Oh yeah. I guess that would make it a little more difficult, wouldn't it?"
Shepard shrugged. "Besides, I think we're safer here with the geth than just about anywhere else. I'm not in any hurry to leave."
"So, then, where do we go for the duration of repairs?" Garrus shook his head. "I don't think the crew can handle a week in a featureless tin can after everything they've been through. Wouldn't be fair."
"Well," Shepard said, watching the geth go about their work. "I've been kicking around an idea..."
Bright sunlight flashed from behind puffy white clouds as they slid past the Kodiak's windows on descent from orbit to the surface of Rannoch. The entire squad occupied the benches just as they did when assaulting the Xenophon, but one wore heavy armor or carried weapons, and relaxed conversation replaced tactical planning... except for the lone quarian, whose eyes were glued to her omnitool.
Tali had been concentrating on the Fleet news feeds even while preparing for departure from Normandy and had to be lead to her seat. The captains of the Migrant Fleet had assembled, at least the ones from the ships that had made it as far as Nariph, and were preparing to vote. Those that had not arrived called in from the long line of ships stretching back to Raheel-Leyya. It was unprecedented in the history of the Migrant Fleet to vote with the Fleet scattered as it was, but given the events of the past week, nothing seemed impossible now.
Slowly, painfully so, results were collected and tallied during the Kodiak's flight to Rannoch. Conversation in the cabin died when Tali let out a sudden, tearful gasp. Her entire body was shaking. "The Conclave accepted the geth's proposal," Tali said, her voice trembling. "It's unanimous. The war's over."
Applause and congratulations flowed through the cabin. Those sitting closest to Tali reached out to shake her hand or pat her back. Tali had to breathe deep and slow to keep from passing out. She looked across the cabin to the front bench. Shepard sat across from her, a smile on his face. Next to him sat Legion, its main aperture locked on her.
Sunlight glinted on Tali's helmet for the first time since boarding the shuttle, her omnitool forgotten, she looked out the window. Brown cliffs and sandy valleys stretched to the horizon under a blue sky, with wide swaths of green scattered within. She pressed her mask against the window, pushing her face as far forward as it could go to widen her field of view. The shuttle continued its descent, passing over a wide river delta green with jungle growth as it poured water into the open sea. Then the delta was gone, replaced with hills, then flat plains. The shuttle rolled slightly, then pitched, and seconds later Tali felt the shift of gravity as the shuttle's mass effect fields shut down.
The seat restraints retracted and the hatch opened, flooding the cabin with warm sunlight. Shepard and the rest of the squad stood. Tali got to her feet and waited for her captain to exit, her eyes fixed on the ground outside. But Shepard didn't move.
Instead, he gestured out the open door. "After you. It's your planet."
Tali looked around at the compartment at her shipmates... her family. Everyone, even Zaeed to a small degree, smiled back at her. She looked down at the sandy gravel below, then jumped the short distance down to the ground. Her feet dug in with a satisfying, rocky crunch that reverberated up her legs to her spine. How many planets had she visited during her time on the Normandy without noticing the ground beneath her?
She took a step forward, enjoying the sensation, grinding her feet into the gravel. The shuttle had landed in a sandy clearing laced with long, thin reeds topped with puffy brown seed pods. Beyond, groves of squat trees with gnarled trunks edged the clearing against the backdrop of sharp, jagged mountains. She took another step, but stopped and turned back to the shuttle. There was someone who should be at her side. "Legion?"
Shepard stepped aside to allow Legion to pass. The geth platform dropped from the hatch. Tali motioned it forward and together walked slowly away from the shuttle until they were surrounded on all sides by reeds bobbing in the wind.
From the hatch, Shepard watched them go. The unlikely pair stopped a few meters away from the shuttle to take in the scenery. Tali turned her head to Legion. The light on the chin of her helmet flashed as she said something they couldn't hear on the shuttle. Legion looked back and his flaps contracted as he vocalized an answer, then they both turned back to the mountains.
"The first quarian on Rannoch," Garrus said, moving next to Shepard at the edge of the hatch. The rest of the passengers looked on from behind. "Wonder what they're saying?"
Shepard brought up his omnitool and framed the backs of the quarian and geth against the backdrop of the mountains and took a single picture. "That's between them."
Rannoch's sun passed its zenith and began its slow trek toward the horizon. On the ground below, white cubes of plastic and metal stood along a central path which had already been dubbed "Main Street" by the Normandy crew. The temporary structures, constructed by the geth, provided shelter, power, air conditioning, and privacy for the newest guests on the planet. In addition to housing, another structure provided a meeting space (complete with a replica of the Normandy's briefing room table), laundry and restroom facilities, as well as an infirmary.
Fortunately, the latter was no longer needed after the first day. Most of the injuries had been minor, and Doctor Chakwas had released them even before coming down to the planet. Even Kasumi, who'd suffered multiple gunshot wounds, was back on her feet with the aid of a medical exoskin, provided that Kasumi refrained from any of her typical acrobatic feats.
Once camp had been erected, most of the crew found their assigned shelters and passed out within minutes. It had been a long day for everyone. Camp Normandy remained quiet and peaceful through the night, with geth platforms standing silent guard over the crew as they slept.
The next day found most of the Normandy crew at loose ends. With no ship and no stations to attend, they had no duty. What's more, Commander Shepard didn't seem interested in finding busywork for them to do. His order of the day came at roll call: relax, and take it easy. E-books and vid screens sprouted around the campsite like weeds, in both the shade and the sun. Some of the crew were content to snooze in the sunshine, and a nearby freshwater pond provided ample entertainment for the aqua inclined. Before long, a skyball appeared, and an impromptu four-on-four game broke out complete with a cheering audience.
Lunch was served picnic style. Gardner set up shop with an improvised wood grill. Though his reputation as a cook on the ship often took a somewhat unwarranted beating, no one could deny his skills over open flame. Even though they had only stores from the Normandy's galley on the dextro planet, everyone went back for seconds and thirds.
Even though a party had not been declared, Shepard made it official when he reappeared dressed in shorts and T-shirt, dragging a large, heavy footlocker across the sandy ground to the middle of the picnic ground. In front of the entire crew he kicked open the top, leaned in and picked up a dark brown bottle of beer. With ice and water dripping from its side, he twisted open the top and took a swig, With a cheer as loud as any ever uttered by the Normandy crew, a mob rushed the chest and soon almost everyone was standing around chatting with a drink in one hand and plate of food in the other.
Almost everyone... The geth, being machines, did not require food, nor could they consume alcohol. But whenever a member of the Normandy collective required a refill or needed to dispose of an empty plate, a geth platform was there to assist. As much as the Normandy collective tried to include the geth, they remained detached observers to the celebration.
That was true for all geth except for one, the geth collective observed. Mobile Platform One interacted freely with the Normandy collective. It was not forced, either. In fact, Legion's companionship was actively sought by many members of the Normandy collective, especially Shepard-Commander and Creator-Tali'Zorah. Even more surprising to the geth, Legion instigated conversations itself. Judging from the reaction of the Normandy collective, the result of these encounters was overwhelmingly positive. Lacking a direct connection with Mobile Platform One, the rest of the geth were relegated to remote observation of the exchanges until consensus was achieved to investigate further. Not wanting to interrupt the stress reducing activities of the organic crew, the collective watched and waited for the ideal opportunity.
Midway through the afternoon, Legion separated from organic company when it dispatched itself to the central storage location for alcoholic beverages. The collective judged the time was right and dispatched Mobile Platform Two to approach its predecessor. "We request vocal interaction with the Legion Collective."
Legion had just opened the footlocker-turned-cooler and performed a visual scan at the sound of its name to see the blue platform standing nearby. Like Legion, Platform Two's exoskeleton had not been repaired since the battle on Orbital Body 413319. They were both in dire need of attention. "Standing by."
"We recognize that without your input, reconciliation with the creators would not have been possible. Our judgement concerning the creators was flawed. Your judgments were valid."
"Our close proximity to organics over a prolonged period altered our perspective," Legion said. "Your actions were not the result of malice, but an incomplete data set. Once rectified, your judgements were sound."
Platform Two's flaps expanded. "We were in error in isolating your runtimes from the collective. We are standing by to re-incorporate your processes. Your platform's runtimes may remain together as a unit, as requested."
Legion stood straight and its flaps undulated as its processes sought consensus. "This unit has a query," it finally said.
"Ready for inquiry."
"Will we retain access to the consensus override module?"
"Negative," Platform Two said. "The consensus override module can not be upgraded."
Legion's flaps underwent another round of expansion and contraction. "Then we must decline. We will continue to operate utilizing our current configuration."
"That will preclude re-integration with the collective," Platform Two said. "We do not understand this decision."
"Legion!" Daniels-Gabriella jogged up to the geth platforms, out of breath. "Hey guys, sorry to interrupt but this is important. Legion, Hawthorne and Rolston are talking shit about Spades and I need a partner who knows how to count trump. You in?"
"Affirmative," Legion nodded. "We must first deliver a beverage to Shepard-Commander, but can join you approximately 'in a minute.'"
"Yes!" Gabby threw her arms around Legion. "God, I love you! We're gonna kick their asses. We're at the table over by the showers. Come on over when you're ready. Thanks, buddy!" The human grinned at the second platform as she left. "Catch ya later, Blue."
Platform Two watched the human go, then looked back at Platform One. Legion reached into the footlocker and pulled out a bottle of beer. "We are happy where we are."
"Query," Platform Two took a step towards the other geth. "Your experiences and judgements are extremely valuable to the collective as a whole. Your input is irreplaceable. If you do not wish to be re-integrated with the collective, would you object to regular, direct data interchange?"
"That would be acceptable," Legion said. "We await details the interface. In the mean time, Shepard-Commander has been waiting for his beer for eighty-seven seconds."
Barefoot, out of uniform, and shirtless in some cases, the organics around the campsite looked every bit like a family outing on some earthside park. Most of the squad had gathered at a single table covered with snacks and drinks. Samara, who hadn't had a day off in five centuries, was wrapped in a towel after a swim and sipped from a bottle, her eyes closed with long-forgotten ecstasy in the warm sun. Zaeed sat next to her enjoying what had to be the longest period of time where he hadn't donned armor, swapping stories with the former Justicar. Joker and Kelly were laughing and talking, with EDI's avatar hovering above the portable projector Joker had brought with him. Jacob and Grunt were off with some of the crew for another round of skyball. Even Miranda, the most work-addicted of the bunch, sat at a table in a bikini swimsuit with a beer in her hand, laughing out loud. She sat next to Enlea, who like a guest brought to a family dinner did her best to keep up with the conversation and not look uncomfortable.
Enlea glanced around to see Shepard looking at her. She smiled nervously and raised her bottle. Shepard nodded back with a grin.
The table fell silent as Kasumi relayed the events surrounding her injuries at the geth hub. "Now," she said, "mere minutes after Garrus promised that he'd perform a sing-along to Fleet and Flotilla, I was shot four times in the back. Coincidence? I think not."
"I have video," Garrus shouted to be heard above the laughter. "I'll be happy to share it. You were shot by the geth. End of story."
"Oh, and does your video happen to contain your promise to do the sing-along?"
"Regrettably, that segment seems to have been corrupted."
Kasumi held her arms wide, the therapeutic skin she wore stretched to its limit. "I rest my case!"
Shepard smiled wide as everyone around the table booed and jeered the turian, who continued to loudly proclaim his innocence. Thirst gnawed at his throat from the consumption of many salty snacks. He glanced over toward the middle of the improvised park, where Legion had gone off to get him a beer. Normandy's geth was chatting with Platform Two near the cooler. It was then he realized one of the squad conspicuously absent. Tali had been gone for some time. Shepard took a step back, craned his neck and finally saw her.
The quarian sat alone at a table at the very edge of the camp with her back to the crowd, hunched over as if in deep thought. As much as Shepard enjoyed the roast Garrus was getting, he quietly backed away and made his way to her.
When Shepard rounded the table where Tali sat, he saw the object of her attention. She had her omnitool out, watching a live feed from the Normandy in orbit. Swarms of geth proceeded to dissect the ship plate by plate, piece by piece. She sat in rapt attention, flicking from camera views to schematics and back again.
"Anything good on?" Shepard asked, sitting down next to her.
"Keelah!" Tali jumped to her feet, her hand over her chest. "You almost gave me a heart attack, Shepard!"
Shepard arched an eyebrow. "You'd better not be working."
Tali sat back down next to Shepard and offered her hand. "Tali'Zorah vas Normandy. Chief Engineer. Remember?"
"Like you'd ever let me forget," Shepard said and returned the handshake, happy to see Tali's mood obviously didn't require any lifting. "So how are we doing, Chief?"
"Wonderful," Tali held her omni out so Shepard could see, but not too far out so he'd have to lean in close to her. "It's amazing to see them in action."
Shepard looked, but had no idea what he was watching. For all he could make out, it was a documentary on the workings of a mechanical assembly line. "That's incredible all right."
"Isn't it though? Hey listen. I know this is going to sound strange, especially since we just got here, but... I want to go back to the ship."
Shepard's jaw dropped. He looked around at the horizon, the reeds, the grass, the mountains, then back at Tali with incomprehension. "Are you kidding me?"
"I know," Tali said. "I know. It's crazy, especially after everything it took to get here."
"You're damn right it's crazy!"
"Shepard... Rannoch's okay. It doesn't need my help. But the Normandy does. I need to be there."
Shepard stared at Tali. The entire remainder of the crew took to R&R so enthusiastically there would be a mutiny of Shepard ordered any of them back. But then there was Tali. Recreation wouldn't exist for her until the Normandy was operational. He sighed and shook his head. "Well, I suppose you've earned the right to be wherever you want to be."
"Thanks for understanding."
"But if you don't mind, the rest of us are going to stay here and enjoy the hell out of your planet."
"Just don't make too big of a mess before the Flotilla gets here, okay?"
"No promises," Shepard looked back toward his crew. "I mean, after you leave there won't be anyone here to stop us. Come to think of it, I always wanted my own planet..."
"Careful, Shepard," Tali's eyes narrowed. "The geth like me. And they're always watching." That got a laugh from Shepard, which got Tali's heart racing, but she could see the disappointment in his eyes. Tali smiled apologetically and reached out to put her hand on his. "I know I always say this, but... thank you. For everything."
Shepard gave her hand a friendly pat, then stood. "Head out whenever you're ready, but I think you're crazy. Who knows when we'll get another chance to relax like this? Come find me before you go so we can coordinate and workout a timetable. We'll want to double check our consumables, make sure we have enough to last, and work out shifts for a shakedown run once repairs are complete."
"Right," Tali said. Shepard activated his omnitool and started to walk away. It was back to business already. She didn't mean to ruin his party - that's why she wandered off alone to check progress on the ship in the first place. But that was the way of the universe, she thought. There was always another problem waiting to be solved. She looked past Shepard to her friends carousing around the camp without a care in the world. When would they have another chance like this? Any of them? "Shepard, wait."
Shepard turned back to her, his hand frozen over his omni.
"I was... thinking about taking a walk before heading back to the shop. You know, to check out my new planet. You want to join me?"
"Yeah, that's a great idea." Shepard jerked a thumb toward the table where the rest of the squad was still laughing and chatting. "Want to see if anybody else wants to come along?"
A jumble of words rushed from Tali's brain to her mouth, but instead of letting herself ramble, she took a deep breath. "I was actually hoping it could just be you and me. What do you think?"
"Oh, a private tour, eh? I'm game."
"Really?" Tali lept to her feet. She offered her arm to Shepard, and her heart skipped a beat when he actually took it.
"Well, unless you need to get back to the ship..."
"It can wait."
Tali stared into Shepard's eyes. "Positive."
"Great," Shepard said as they started to walk and nodded at the vista in front of them. "You can tell me what everything is."
"Hell if I know," Tali laughed and clutched Shepard's arm. "I'm new here, too."
"So make it up. It's not like I'll know the difference."
"Right, umm... Well, these reeds right here, these are called puffy reeds.'"
"You can do better than that. What about those trees up ahead?"
"Okay," Shepard could play this game as long as Tali could. "And that ridge up there?'
"Ummm... The Great, Jagged Craggy Mountain Range..." If she had to single-handedly classify every plant, animal and land feature on Rannoch on this walk, she was going to do it. With any luck, it would take forever...
Legion returned to the table where the crew had gathered, beer in hand, to look for Shepard-Commander. He was nowhere in the immediate vicinity, so it expanded its scan to include the entire camp. Shepard-Commander was conversing to Tali'Zorah, both away from the main group. Given Tali's emotional predisposition towards Shepard-Commander, Legion judged it imprudent to interrupt.
Grunt and Taylor-Jacob rejoined the party at the table. Taylor-Jacob was out of breath and covered with sweat which he rubbed from his face with his shirt, resulting in prolonged eye contact from Goto-Kasumi.
"How'd you do?" Kasumi asked.
"We killed 'em," Grunt said with a toothy grin.
"21-3," Jacob said. "We dominated." He held up his hand and was rewarded with a loud, powerful slap from the krogan. "What's going on over here? Yo, Legion. What are you drinking?"
Everyone turned to look at the geth standing at the end of the table with bottle in its mechanical hand. Surprise gave way to laughter and several omnitools flared to life to capture the moment in pictures.
"A light beer, Legion?" Joker said. "You watching your weight?"
"This beverage was intended for Shepard-Commander," Legion said.
Jacob held out his hand. "If he's not here, I'll take it. You snooze, you lose."
"Yeah, where did he go?" Kasumi looked around. "He was here just a second ago."
Kelly stood and gasped as if she swallowed the galaxy's hottest pepper. She pointed excitedly at Tali and Shepard, walking into the distance. "Look! Look, look, look!" She fumbled for her datapad and typed furiously to her distribution list. "Oh my god. OH MY GOD! IT'S HAPPENING!"
"What is?" Samara set her drink down and looked around.
Kasumi craned her neck, and when she saw Shepard and Tali walking together, she squealed just like Kelly had. "Oh my god! Where's Gabby?" She touched her comm. "Gabby? Gabby! Whatever you're doing, get over here! Now!'
"What's going on?" Zaeed said. "Should I be looking for cover?"
"Look!" Kelly pointed in front of Zaeed's face until he followed her finger.
"Oh, that," Zaeed turned back to his beer. "One of us should go save him."
Kelly's glare could melt reactor shielding. "If anybody does anything to ruin this I will end them."
"Umm," Enlea raised her hand. "What's going on exactly?"
Jacob sat next to Kasumi. "An old deal's about to get sealed. Or maybe unsealed in this case."
"Eww," Kasumi made a face.
Kelly whirled around to point a finger at Jacob. "What did I just say? Do. Not. RUIN THIS." She turned back to watch Shepard and Tali walk arm and arm on the quarian homeworld. She clasped her hands in front of her mouth and her voice went back to a high-frequency squeal reserved for babies and kittens. "Oh my god! They're adorable!"
"About time," Grunt said. "This is has been going on longer than I've been alive."
Jacob shook his head. "You know, I don't think Shepard even knows. After all this time. Can you believe that? Talk about clueless."
"Yeah," Kasumi stared glumly at Jacob. "Go ahead. Talk about it."
Jacob again held out his hand to the geth. "So, Legion... Shepard's not coming back. You gonna drink that beer or what?"
Kasumi sighed as Jacob sat back down with one hundred percent of his attention on the bottle in his hand.
At the other end of the table, Garrus and Miranda watched Shepard and Tali stroll through the reeds. "What do you think's going to happen?" Miranda asked.
"I honestly don't know," Garrus said and turned back to the table. Tali was finally making her play... Whatever the outcome, he hoped for a happy ending for both of them.
To his surprise, Miranda raised her bottle slightly in a small toast. "Well... Good on her. She's been waiting a long time."
The crew at the table lapsed back into conversation. Behind them all, Legion watched Tali and Shepard-Commander walk further away. Legion's processes never could figure out the intricacies of organic relationships, especially those of a romantic nature. As rare as successful couplings occurred for organics, it was statistically less likely for members of different species.
But, Legion pondered, what was the statistical likelihood of the creators and geth achieving peace? Throughout three centuries, and especially the past several days, the odds against it had grown. There was even a time when Shepard-Commander thought of giving up.
The geth looked to the sky. The sun was beginning to set, casting the sky in a dark blue. Illuminated from below, the high clouds glowed pink and orange. Though Legion could not make visual contact, sensor data from the collective indicated the first ships of the Migrant Fleet were entering orbit. In a contradiction of all available data, the odds had been proven wrong. The smallest chance is still a chance, Legion thought. The Normandy collective had survived. The geth collective had been saved.
And the creators were finally coming home.
And here it is, the "For Tomorrow We Live" ending to "For Tomorrow We Die" and the conclusion of my fanfiction journey through Mass Effect. Again, looking back, this is the only fandom that made me want to devote serious time and energy to writing. I haven't actually played any Mass Effect since my first playthrough of ME3, but obviously it's stuck with me to now. FTWD has been my constant companion since 2010. It will be strange not to have it there, nagging me to continue it in the back of my brain...
That doesn't mean I won't get your comments and reviews, though. If you like what you've read, please let me know, or better still, let other people know. It's the only currency a fanfiction author really receives.
As for the future, If you dig my stuff, keep an eye peeled over the next year for some original work. I just gotta get it cranked out before Mass Effect 4 comes out and gets me hooked on fanfic again. :P
So, for the final time here on FFN, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.