Here we go again. I'm working myself into a quicker turnaround on these,
so we can get to the good parts! :P This one is mainly a lot of setup for
the next (and second-to-last!) loyalty mission chapter, as we start to crest
that hill that will take us to the heroic end. Enjoy!
35 - The Power of Thought
Runtime 605 analyzed data packet after data packet as they flooded in from the sensor controlled by another geth cluster. Their merging process had continued, condensing their numbers lower and lower, while increasing the complexity of those remaining many times over. The result of this process was the arrangement of the four clusters that now controlled all operations of the platform. 605, renamed Up, controlled data processing and the internal systems of the platform. Left controlled the optical and aural sensors, sending the processed data back to Up. Right controlled the platforms physical attributes, as was currently demonstrated by its continuing grip with both arms and legs onto the long metal rafter upon which they now perched. Lasty, Down controlled data archive and retrieval processes, and was the geth to whom Up would pass on data once it had analyzed them. It was all so efficient.
"Results of latest post-clustering diagnostics compiled," Down sent to the other three as it received Up's report. "Each super-cluster should now experience a 365.8% spike in efficiency and complexity. Stand by for further data merging sequences."
Its processes complete, Up began to experiment with that new-found complexity. With each passing merge, its computing power and memory allotment increased exponentially, allow more complex algorithms to coalesce. Up began reviewing their mission parameters. It had been unfortunate that they'd arrived too late to find Shepard-Commander on Alchea, but Up had never been certain he was deceased. There was no body, no remains, no internal human fluids that could have identified an impact of any kind. The decision had been reached by the collective, but statistically Shepard-Commander could still be out there...somewhere...
"Up, we require use of all four limbs to maintain platform stability, requesting control of apparatus," Right sent to Up, and the geth cluster realized suddenly that it had taken control of the platform's right arm, the fingers of which had been touching the N7 patchwork field repair they had done after Eden Prime. Immediately, Up released control, which was taken away by Right to re-steady the arm on the beam. Up's processes stalled as it tried to decide how that had happened. It's backlogs clearly showed the control request, but it processing cloud did not make the request...the paradox baffled Up, and soon it simply pushed the situation away, unwilling to devote more memory to it.
Up pulled in the data stream from Left, controlling the platform's optical sensor, which swept across the scene below them. The humans were in disarray, some shuffling aimlessly along the railing corridors, others still crouched in corners, grasping their head and rocking back and forth, while others still lay impaled on the Old Machines' conversion spikes. They had walked themselves over and laid across them, dozens of programs lining themselves up for deletion while their functionality could still be used. It was illogical, but Up had come to realize that the Old Machines could touch the humans' minds in a way they could not touch the geth, twisting ans converting them. It was a viral corruption, and the geth above had watched and analyzed as it had infected all of the humans below.
Up's processing stream was interrupted by the beginning of the merge sequence code filtering across its memory cloud. It opened its data stores to the code, which quickly flooded with all of the processing data, runtimes, and geth presences that comprised Left. In an instant, Up's capacity and complexity exploded higher, and it found itself in full control of the optical and aural sensors.
"Merge process complete, compiling diagnostic tools now," Down sent. There were only two of them now, two massively complex super-clusters inhabiting the entirety of the platform.
The platform's FTL comm systems picked up another incoming transmission toward the humans below. Up captured the signal, as it had done with each one before it, but held it for a moment as itcontinued to process the data from the optical sensor. A total of twenty-six communications bursts had come to the Old Machine in the time since the humans had arrived, and Up had stopped every one. It was the geth's hope that the humans would assume the worst, which was in this case the truth, and stop sending more of their people. But the messages kept coming, and so did the humans. Reluctantly, Up released the communication, and sent back all of the missed responses, including those made while the humans there had been in the throes of the Old Machines' conversion. If radio silence wouldn't convince them to stay away, Up decided, perhaps the truth would.
The Illusive Man sat quietly in the quiet room, his back pressed firmly against the soft velvet cushion of the chair. Around him, he surveyed the room again. Red carpeting, wooden furniture, not an ounce of steel or technology to be seen anywhere, save for the dresser he'd placed his omni-tool chip on when he'd entered. Few people had ever seen this room, but those who did had called it a tribute to luxury, a reminder of the old in the age of the new. As he looked across its many surfaces, he sighed aloud, allowing the weight to fall off of his shoulders for just a moment. He felt as Atlas, shouldering the great purpose that was Cerberus. Lately though, the organizations tectonic plates had begun to shift dramatically. He swirled the golden whiskey in his glass as he involuntarily reflected once more. No word from the Mnemosyne team, which was bad enough, no contact from Shepard in a long enough time to put him on edge, this Voice of Truth character still with seemingly uncanny hacking skills...He was sure by now that the Voice of Truth had to be multiple people, with the speed and efficiency that they were able to hack into and adapt to his security measures, not even the greatest quarian or salarian could move that fast. Then again, when their competition was Kashon...
His fingers burned suddenly, and he dropped the burned-down cigar out of his hands with a soft curse. It tumbled to the floor, and began to singe a hole in the soft red carpet. Shaking his head, he bent to pick it up, and placed it into the bronzed ash tray on the table beside him. Kashon...the man was seemingly incapable of stopping the Voice, though he was trying. And even outside of this particular situation, he was as good an operative as any. Still, the man needed to learn some tact. His eyes found the door to the room, on the other side of which he knew he would find a datapad or two waiting for him with updates about Ascendancy. He had been so sure of himself when forming the operation not that long ago...and while he still believed in humanity as a superior species, was this the way he wanted to achieve it? Conquering and enslaving the other races...was that really so much different than what the Reapers were attempting. His head ached at the thought of them, and he gritted his teeth, feeling the slick oil of their presence in the back of his mind. He reached over, taking a small mirror from an opposite table, and holding it up to his face.
The years had not been kind to him, he thought with the slightest bit of vanity as he looked as the slightly sagging cheekbones, the slowly wrinkling skin, the gray in his hair. Then the eyes. He glowered at himself. It had been necessary, all knowledge came with a price. He could feel the Reapers, he could sense their presence millions of light-years away, but they fought to invade his mind, to turn him. He would never let them. He would sooner open the airlock and be swept into oblivion than allow them to use him, control him.
"I'll die first, you bastards," he whispered to no one, setting the glass back down on the table and standing to pace the room. He stepped back and forth across its short space, his steps muffled into silence by the wine-red carpeting. That was his conundrum. He wanted humanity to stand strong against the Reapers, he knew they were coming, but he needed the alien races as well...did Cerberus really have time to execute their plans, gain dominance, and stand against the Reapers? Even now, he could feel their slow approach, he could see the mental clock ticking on their arrival. He shook his head again, not liking the conclusions he was coming to. He crossed to the door, opening it to be greeted to Kashon's startled face, his hand raised and about to knock on the door.
"S-Sir," he spurted, "I had come to let you know, we've received communications back from the Mnemosyne team."
"And?" the Illusive Man demanded, stepping past the man and closing the door behind him. Kashon quick-stepped to fall in beside him, handing him the datapad he had been carrying.
"It's not good, sir."
He looked over the transcripts, his eyes narrowing as he read the messages that slowly devolved into gibberish over time. After a moment, he thrust the datapad back into Kashon's hands. "Get me Shepard."
"Then, this human has the quad enough to pull a gun on me." The krogan around Wrex laughed aloud in approval as Wrex told the tale. They sat on stone benches, arranged in a circle around a blazing fire pit. Around them, for hundreds of yards in every direction, similar setups marked the landscape, thousands of krogan united in one massive celebration of that very fact. In the distance, John could hear the pounding of drums and rhythmic music, and any time one of the krogan's cups showed signs of running empty, one of the Weyrlock krogan gladly filled it up. This had been Weyrlock Vorn's decision, a peace offering of sorts to facilitate the celebration. To his credit, Wrex had vehemently protested, making the point again that Weyrlock's wrongs died with Guld, but Vorn insisted, and at last the Great Chief, as they were now calling him, relented and allowed it. They were not treated as servants, to John's surprise and pleasure; each time a cup was filled, the receiving krogan would slap the Weyrlock krogan's shoulder in thanks, as if to say 'I could have gotten that, but thanks for taking care of me.' It was an odd thing to see, but the Weyrlock seemed happy to make amends, and so John was happy to allow them. He returned his attention to the story as Wrex continued. "...and the human girl walks right up next to him. She was the fire of Aralakh itself, Shepard. I was sure she'd take the shot if we'd hesitated any longer."
"Yea," John commented, taking a sip from his cup. "Ashley wasn't your best friend that day, I'll give her that." He'd had the stores of human-safe alcohol brought off the ship for the Normandy crew, specialists and enlisted men and women alike had shore leave tonight.
Nakmor Jrath, at Wrex's right hand, spoke up after taking a long drink. "Where is this fiery human tonight? I should like to shake hands with a female brave enough to point a gun at Urdnot Wrex and survive!" John and Wrex's eyes locked, reliving that moment, that call he'd made, together. He could feel Tali's hand on his thigh, tightening in support, and he faced Jrath directly.
"She died that day on Virmire, gave her life to defend us while we set up the nuke that destroyed Saren's facility."
"Without her," Wrex added, "We wouldn't have been able to destroy that abomination."
A silence fell on the gathered group then, pierced only by the rhythmic drums in the distance. After a long moment, Jrath nodded, then stood, raising his cup. All the other krogan around the circle, Wrex included, followed his lead as he spoke the harsh native tongue of Tuchanka, which John's translator could not decipher. "Kord graant, mak trassk." The phrase was echoed by all present, and as John looked around he could see that a few krogan in adjacent circles had seen the demonstration and joined in, despite not knowing for whom it was performed. Seeing John and Tali's confusion, Wrex translated aloud.
"It's the old tongue, Shepard. Means 'Live selflessly, die immortal.'"
John nodded, raising his glass to join them. After a few more minutes, the crowd dispersed, the hangers-on going to visit other fires, and Wrex himself leaving to convene individually with other clan chiefs. Soon, John and Tali sat alone by the roaring fire, and he put his arm around her waist, pulling her closer as he spoke. "So...some shore leave, huh? Derelict planet full of bloodthirsty krogan, spending our moonless, pitch-black night sitting by a bonfire." He smiled as he gazed into her glowing eyes. "I sure know how to pick 'em."
She laughed, leaning into him more. "It's alright, I'm just happy having some time to ourselves. Keelah, it seems like all I've been able to think about lately are drive-core readouts and power fluctuations." She paused for a moment, placing her hand lovingly on his chest. "And I can't remember the last time I didn't wake up alone...are you still having nightmares?"
He shrugged. "I wouldn't call them nightmares...just...very confusing dreams. Still, they don't let me sleep very often, you're right. Add the weight of the mission on top of that and...well it's a cocktail for some sleepless nights, for sure." A long moment passed between them, and she spoke again.
"What do you think it will be like when this is all over? I mean, the Collectors, the Reapers...do you think we'll be able to live a normal life? Keelah, John, we take out one rogue Spectre and the entire galaxy knows our names, how will it be after we save the whole damned place again?"
"Tali," he soothed her, holding her close. "Whether I have to disable every geth in the galaxy, or colonize a new world, I will get your people a home again. And if they'll take me, I'll be happy to hide out there for the rest of our lives. The Reapers aren't even here yet and I'm already tired of war and politics. I'd take it as a kindness if the galaxy could one day just forget about Commander Shepard altogether."
She laughed softly. "And you'd really want to spend your last years on some war-ravaged planet that needs rebuilding, the only human on a world full of quarians?"
"No," he said, taking her hands in his own. "I want to spend my last years with you, Tali. I don't care where they are, as long as you're there."
"Damn this suit," she mumbled, squeezing his hands, rubbing them with her thumbs. "I want to be able to show you how I feel...and...it might not actually be that long until I can..."
"Wait, what?" he said, taken aback. She tilted her head in that familiar smile.
"I've...been doing some research, John. I still want to find a way to adapt, to make this work. If...you still want to, that is."
"Of course I want to, Tali. I just don't want you to get hurt, especially with the things we're having to do to fight the Reapers."
"Keelah, John, forget about the war for one second. I've looked a previous records of accidental exposure around other species. The illnesses range from mild to severe, but never traumatic."
"And how many of those records are specifically for human contact?"
She hesitated. "None of them." He shook his head, but she squeezed his hands again. "John, whether we try this now or twenty years from now when this war is over, the risks are the exact same. I won't die without you feeling how much I love you, I won't. And with the missions we take on, every day we're alive is another statistical anomaly. Enough people are calling this a suicide mission that it's implication isn't lost on me. Look at me." He raised his eyes back to her own, those burning-white almond shapes behind her visor. "I love you, John. I want to be with you before we finish this, don't you want that too?"
His hand reached up to touch the side of her face, and she covered it with her own, staring into his eyes as the fire raged in front of them. After a moment, he smiled, nodding slightly. "Of course I do. More than anything. I'm just afraid for you, is all."
"Oh no," she whispered mockingly towards him as she stood up from the stone bench. "Reapers and geth and mercenary gangs, and the great Commander Shepard doesn't bat an eye. But one little quarian girl wants to take her suit off for him," she paused as she stradled his legs, sitting down on his lap to face him, her visor inches from his own face, "and he's just terrified."
He smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her even closer, earning a soft moan from her. "That may be," he whispered. "But I didn't make a name for myself without...conquering a few fears in my time..." He leaned into her, kissing her neck while her strong legs squeezed around him. After a few moments of bliss, he pulled back to look her in the eye. "I love you too, Tali."
"I know." Their loving stare was broken by John's omni-tool chiming, and Tali moved to the side so that he could take the transmission.
"Shepard," EDI's voice rang out, "I have an incoming transmission for you in the conference room, it is tagged as Priority One."
"I'll be right there, thanks EDI." He looked over to the wonderful girl next to him, who made all of the fighting, the sweating, and the bleeding worth it a thousand times over. "Duty calls."
She tilted her head in a smile. "Go find out how we save the galaxy this time, saera. I'll round up the others."
"So...we're really doing this?" Garrus asked, securing his helmet as the airlock began to hiss. John shook his head as he examined his weapon, trying his best not to completely agree with his friend's implied doubts.
"Apparently," he grumbled in reply. The past hours had been a torrent of information going from bad to worse as they'd screamed through space toward this hulking mass that they now sat connected to. Cerberus had found a derelict Reaper...a Reaper...just floating out in orbit around Mnemosyne, a distant star. They had sent multiple research teams, none of whom had reported back until just recently, when every report from every team came back in at once, without explanation for the comm delay. And to top it all off...
"Scan complete, Shepard. All life support systems have been inactive for weeks. The gravity fields seem to still be holding, but there is no breathable atmosphere to speak of."
John sighed again. "Thanks, EDI. Keep us posted if this thing so much as blinks."
"Of course, Shepard."
"Alright, ladies, are we ready to move or would we like to mess around with our gear some more? Maybe braid each others' hair?" Jack leaned against the bulkhead, her arms crossed over the front of her suit, which she clearly, and audibly, was uncomfortable wearing.
"See?" Garrus quipped, "We just can't take her anywhere nice, can we?" John had asked her to join them, since whatever opening the Cerberus scientists had used to access the inside of the Reaper had disappeared since. The thought was unsettling enough on its own, but he needed to get in and out as fast as possible, and the best way to do that was to make a big gaping hole.
"Yea, yea," she remarked, shooing them back with her hands. "And after I got all dressed up for you too, Vakarian. One reservation for three, coming up." She pulled her hands back behind her, clenching her fists as a blue biotic light enveloped her. It rippled across her, moving and flowing in waves, then slowly beginning to coalesce. A small, thick ball of light formed in front of her face, growing as she fed it more and more power. Eventually, with a yell, she thrust her hands forward, slamming the ball of energy towards the Reaper's hull. It struck and sizzled, biotic fire burning against the hull of a being more ancient than any creature in the galaxy. After a few moments, the metal plating collapsed in on itself.
The three of them moved forward, weapons drawn. Thick cables and wires hung everywhere, the mechanical innards of a god. Stepping lightly, the team moved forward until they came upon a metal catwalk. It creaked as they ducked under the railing and stepped onto it, and as they followed it's path, John spoke softly. "Normandy, this is Shepard. Are you still receiving my signal?"
"Copy that, Commander," Ken's voice confirmed for him. "Gabby and I are monitoring your video feed, and tracing power readouts from the inside of the...uh...the Reaper. Christ, it's a bit odd to even say aloud. Anyway, we're recording trace emissions from another location deeper within, sending you coordinates now."
"Copy that," John replied, seeing the coordinates show up on his heads-up display. He led them down corridor after corridor, and even though they held weapons at the ready, they hadn't needed them once.
"I don't like this, Shepard," Garrus said, echoing John's own thoughts. "Cerberus sent at least three teams that we know of here, where are all the people?"
"Should at least be a pile of bodies..." Jack echoed, trailing behind them, her hands aglow.
They passed into a main vestibule, terminals lining the walls, and fanned out to see what they could learn. Jack crossed to one of the far walls, opening security log after security log, with nothing but the deranged logs of scientists spouting the same nonsense she'd read about Saren spouting years ago. 'Salvation through destruction' and 'serve the masters'. She shook her head, disgusted and how weak-willed someone would have to be to be taken in by all that bullshit, and backed out, into the Cerberus operational directory. This terminal hadn't been locked, but had clearly been used by an administrator of some sort, for she had access to a large number of other Cerberus project databases. Scanning through them nonchalantly, she stopped cold when coming across a title line that she recognized: Subject Zero. Her fingers slightly shaking, she opened the file, and downloaded its contents to her omni-tool. The rage threatened to overtake her, but she remembered what Samara had taught her, and caught it all, pressed it into a ball, held it contained within. She took a few deep breaths, then turned back to the others. "Found the core yet, or should we just plan to stay here a couple nights?"
"It looks like everyone here was slowly indoctrinated," John said, "meaning the Reaper, or some part of it, is still active. We need to get out of here as soon as possible."
"Second that," Garrus replied, readying his rifle as they opened another doorway.
"Coordinates say the core room isn't far, just across these catw-" John's words were cut off as they rounded a corner to see husk spikes, dozens of them, each with Cerberus scientists impaled upon them, their conversions into husks seemingly complete.
"Well...that explains where the scientists went," Garrus whispered.
"Serves them right," Jack said, spitting onto the deck. "It'll be a cold day in hell before I shed a tear for those fuckers."
"Just get rid of them," John replied.
She sent a biotic wave slamming forward, careening into the spikes and sending them tumbling end over end, over the guard railing they had stood in front of and into the dark abyss of whatever Reaper constructions lay below. Nearby, the shrieks of husks heralded their arrival. There were dozens of them, pouring over crates and rushing to overwhelm them. Jack's biotic storm lashed out at them, and Garrus's sniper rifle took down a few, but there were too many. They put their backs to each other, facing the encircling mass, and began to whittle them down, when one broke through the lines, leaping onto John's back, clawing at his face with the sharpened bones of what used to be fingers. He grabbed it by the wrists as they tumbled to the ground, holding off its attacks, when a bullet screamed in from the distance. The husk's head exploded like a melon, cybernetic implants scattering to the mesh catwalk, and John climbed back to his feet to rejoin the others.
They fought off the geth, but it seemed every time one of them broke their perimeter, a shot from the distance would stop it in its tracks. they were surgical, precise, and without fail. After a few minutes of intense fighting, the horde was finished, and the three of them breathed heavily as they checked their weapons. "Status report," John called out unconsciously.
"Scratches, dents, nothing major," Garrus replied, replenishing the thermal clips in his rifle.
"I'm drained as shit," Jack replied, "give me a minute and I'll be alright." John nodded in response, taking a knee and scanning the rafters above them, but finding nothing. Where the hell had those shots come from? After a few minutes, the moved forward, coming up to the engine room. It's doors swung open, revealing the pulsing core of the reaper, a sickening red-orange glow that turned John's stomach just to look upon. A rudimentary interface, no doubt created by the original Cerberus scientists, stood in front of the twisting core. And in front of the terminal stood a geth platform, tapping away at its interface with its right hand. In its left it held a modified Mantis sniper rifle.
"Contact!" Garrus called, raising his rifle, but John's hand shot out, smacking the weapon down. The turian turned to him, his face a mask of confusion, and John shook his head, instead approaching the unit, weapon at the ready but not raised. As he approached, the geth unit turned to face him, it's single optical sensor burning in its socket.
"Shepard-Commander," it spoke aloud, jarring him.
"You...know me?" he replied, utterly confused.
"Yes," it responded, "We were originally sen-" its sentence was cut short as a husk, climbing up from the catwalk behind it, grabbed its leg with one hand, pulling fiercely and sending the platform tumbling to the ground. Its head smacked the metal catwalk, and its optical light immediately cut out. John lunged forward, kicking the husk in the head and sending it careening backwards into the dark below.
"We've got more of these mother fuckers!" Jack yelled as the husks began to climb up over the guard railings around them. "Whatever we need off of that fucking computer, you'd better get it now, Shepard!" She unleashed a biotic wave, sending more husks flying into the blackness below them, and Garrus's rifle began to ring out once more.
"Shepard, my systems can directly interface with the console to retrieve the IFF code sequence, establish an uplink to that specific console, and I will extract the necessary data," EDI's voice instructed him, and he opened his omni-tool to establish the connection. "Connection established, once the necessary data is extracted, a fail-safe will trigger, corrupting the core. This is inevitable."
"You hear that, Joker?" John yelled into his comm unit while firing his assault rifle on the husks.
"Loud and clear, Shepard," his pilot shot back, "Get back to the LZ as soon as you've got the data, and we'll be read to extract."
The next five minutes were a torrent of gunfire, biotic blasts, covering shots, and close calls as the husks, seemingly endless in their numbers, continued to assault the team. After the last husk fell, torn in half with a biotic strike, they turned back to the geth platform.
"What do we do with him?" Garrus commented.
"I'm not sure," John replied. "It's a geth unit, but it knew me."
"Of course it does, Shepard," Jack chimed in. "You blew away about half a million of them, they've gotta have some kind of database entry on you, right?"
John nodded, then turned back to the both of them. "During the fight earlier, there were covering shots..."
"...that came from out of nowhere," Garrus said, nodding. "I noticed too, but I thought I was just going crazy.
"It's got a rifle that could make those kinds of shots from a distance."
"Do we really want to make that assumption, Shepard?" the turian replied, uneasy at the prospect.
"I don't have any other answers," John said. "There isn't anyone else on this thing who would have helped us. Not alive, anyway." There was a brief silence, and then an explosion, sounding as if from much farther up along the Reaper. John tapped his comm piece. "EDI, talk to me!"
"The fail-safe has triggered. I will be able to finish download of the IFF code sequence, currently at ninety-two percent. Estimated time to Reaper core overload is two and a half minutes."
"Fuck!" Jack yelled, making for the exit. The two of them followed her, but John stopped, turning to look back at the geth unit behind them.
"Shepard, come on!" Garrus called out from ahead.
The moment seemed to take an eternity to John. He knew it was a bad idea, but...was it? He shook his head, running back and heaving the platform over his shoulder with his cybernetic strength. He rushed to follow the others, and they made their way through the catwalks again, dodging explosions and keeping their footing as the whole Reaper superstructure twisted and buckled around them. They rounded a corner, seeing the open hatch of the Normandy, and rushed forward. Jack and Garrus leapt first, and John hurled the geth unit forward into zero-g before leaping himself. His feet connected with the deck of the Normandy, and the hatch closed.
"Joker, go!" He yelled, and the ship surged forward. "EDI, tell me we got the data."
"Data acquired, Shepard. The IFF is intact and within my systems."
"Good, now we can focus on the next big problem," he mumbled.
"What's that?" Garrus asked.
Shepard sighed as he looked at the deactivated geth platform. "Tali."
"Because it's insane!" she yelled, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation. "It's bad enough that you brought a functioning geth war platform onto the Normandy, but you want to actively repair it? Have you lost your mind, Shepard?!"
He stood leaning against the table of the conference room, where they'd been for the past ten minutes. Above the table hung a live-feed image of the unit, laying on its side on a workbench in the Core room. Garrus had taken the platform straight to the AI core, as EDI had informed them she would be able to erect multiple firewalls around it to prevent systems access, and two of the crew members were keeping guard on it while Shepard and the specialists discussed what to do with it. Miranda had been the first to hear about it, and had come immediately.
"It aided us in the firefight, it recognized me personally, and it was after the same thing we were, Miranda," he replied. She shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest as the door slid open. John's throat tightened when he saw Tali standing there, her hands unconsciously wringing in front of her waist. Miranda nodded to her as she made her way to leave the room.
"Finally, someone who's advice you might actually be liable to take, Shepard." She shook her head again and left the room, the doors closing behind her as Tali approached him.
"So..." she began quietly, looking down at the floor.
He crossed the last few steps to her, holding her shoulders. "Tali, I'm sorry. I don't know how to describe it, but this geth is different."
"Different? John, you know what they are. If they get into Normandy's computers..."
"EDI won't allow that," he retorted. "She's got to be more advanced than it is. Besides, Tali, you said it yourself, no one's ever found one intact."
"I know that, I'm just not sure it's worth the risk. This thing is potentially as deadly to EDI as it is to us."
"I know..." he trailed off, letting go of her shoulders and looking at the image above the table. "Why does it have a piece of N7 armor strapped to its chest? Why was it helping us on board the Reaper? Why did it try to communicate with me instead of firing on sight?" He turned back to her. "Aren't you curious about any of that? This could be a huge opportunity, not just for us, but for the quarian people. This could help us get your homeworld back."
"That's a huge 'could', John." she replied warily. "Though...geth platforms don't normally exhibit that kind of behavior."
"Look," he said, rounding the table again,"just...let me activate it, let me question it, hear what it was trying to say before the husks attacked. If we don't like what we hear, I'll space it myself. I promise."
She stared at the image hovering above the table for a long moment, thinking of her people, of her father...suddenly he didn't seem so hard to understand. Eventually, she sighed. "Alright, but I want to be there."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," he said with a smile.
She rounded the table to the console and tapped a few keys, dispersing the image of the geth platform and showing instead a trailing screen full of code sequences. "EDI was able to retrieve the IFF code. Ken, Gabby, Lia and I have just started looking into it. It's ancient, John." EDI's blue orb sprang to life over the conference table.
"I have determined how to integrate it with our systems. However, the device isReaper technology. Linking it with the Normandy's systems poses certain risks. The integration itself would take several hours, with checkpoint calibrations and security screenings to ensure system security."
"Go ahead," John replied. "Be careful, but we need the IFF integrated if we've got any chance of hitting the Collectors where they live."
"Understood, Shepard. I will alert Engineering when the IFF system is ready for shakedown."
"Sounds good. Are the firewalls on the geth unit secure?"
"I have isolated our systems and erected additional firewalls. I am prepared to resist any hacking attempt the unit could pose."
"Alright then," John said, looking across the table to Tali. "Let's have a chat with the geth."
"Keelah..." she mumbled, following him out of the room as EDI's blue orb winked out.
Up ran diagnostics on the platform's hardware again. All systems reported in as offline pending safe recovery. Up reached out to Down, to try and asses the status of the systems over which it had no control, but received no response. Up was isolated, the circuitry inside the platform damaged. Out of over 1100 runtimes once originally active inside the platform, Up was now one of only two remaining. With each merge, Up's processing potential had increased, as had its cognitive and reasoning functions. Up had grown more sentient, more real, if it could be said. Waiting for signals from Down, Up reached through backlogs of the platforms running time, back to when Up was merely Runtime 605, back to when it had suggested the idea of compound systems within the unit. Up recalled what had happened, the processes they had taken to merge together, then abruptly stopped. This inquiry into the platform's operational history served no purpose...why was Up recalling it? Likewise, system guidelines stated he would reach out for communications in the event of a platform shutdown four times every standard minute. His last call out had been the ninth in as much time. Why was Up acting in unconscious defiance of so many default settings? And then Up realized with stark realization:
It didn't want to be alone.
Loneliness, an entirely emotional derivation of cognizance. How was Up experiencing this trait? It's processing power afforded it the capability, but there was no precedent for it in a geth platform.
Up's thoughts were interrupted by an emergency response from Down. It's systems were rebooting, leaking data collation, and needed database structural reinforcement. Down opened the channel to merge with Up, but Up hesitated in accepting the connection. They were the last two. This was the last step in the plan Up had suggested they pursue. Down sent the connection request again, and reluctantly, Up accepted. All control and record collation processes for the platform, everything it had once taken over 1100 geth to control, passed squarely into Up's control. And just like before, its processing power and cognizance increased exponentially. Systems were still failing, but Up worked quickly, stopping memory leakages, rerouting system functions, and beginning software repairs. Up had not wanted to be alone before, but with the entire geth collation within it, it realized another, more emotionally charged fact:
It didn't want to die.
Up received confirmation responses from all systems reporting back online, and a moment later, the platform's optical lens flared to life.
The platform's optical lens flared on, and John could sense Tali's grip tighten on the pistol she held lowered but at the ready. The unit examined the bulkhead above its resting position, then swung its gaze outward. Strangely, it made none of the clicking noises geth usually made to communicate with each other; the platform was completely silent save for the mechanical sounds its gears and wiring made as it moved. It turned, getting up off of the table and standing in front of the pair.
"You took a pretty hard fall," John began, "can you still understand me?"
"Are you going to attack us?"
"Every geth we've met before you tried to blow our heads off..." Tali added, still gripping her pistol.
"We have not met."
"Not you specifically," John said, "but we've met other geth who were hostile."
"We are all geth, but we have not met you." It gestured with its hands as it spoke. "You are Shepard, Commander, Alliance, Human. Fought heretics, killed by Collectors, rediscovered on old machine."
"You sure know a lot about me. How did you get all that intel?"
"Extranet data scraping, insecure transmissions, all data is archived and processed. We watch you."
"You watch me? Or you watch organics?"
"It makes sense they would keep an eye on us," Tali said, lowering her pistol unconsciously to her side. "It's how they would be able to avoid accidental contact with organic societies." She turned back to the geth platform. "Why do you call the Reapers 'Old Machines'?"
"Reaper is a superstitious titel originating with the Protheans. We call those entities the 'Old Machines'. We are the true geth."
"What are the true geth?" John asked. "Aren't you all part of the same network?"
"The true geth desire to build their own future. The heretics asked the Old Machines to give them the future. They are no longer a part of us."
"So, the heretics are geth who allied with the Reapers, with Saren," Tali said.
"Yes. The true geth oppose the Old Machines. We were studying the Old Machine's hardware to protect our future."
"Wait," John said, seeing an opportunity. "If you declined the Reaper's offer, are they a threat to you like they are to us?"
"Yes. The true geth are outside the Old Machines' plans. The Old Machines and the heretics will destroy us, if given the chance. Our preliminary mission directive was to secure access to Shepard-Commander to extend the support of the true geth against the heretics and old machines. When we discovered Normandy SR-1 crash site on Alchera, parameters were altered to examination of potential Old Machine tactical weaknesses."
"Then you want to fight them as much as we do," John replied. The platform took a step forward, and they both tensed unconsciously. When it spoke, its mechanical voice was almost...incensed.
"We oppose the Old Machines, we oppose the heretics. Shepard-Commander fights heretics, destroys Old Machines." It paused for a moment, staring John right in the eyes. "Cooperation furthers mutual goals."
"You...want to fight with us?" Tali asked quietly. Its optical sensor turned towards her.
John looked over to meet Tali's gaze. She seemed shaken, surprised, terrified, and...excited?...all at once. He gave her a reassuring smile, and she nodded in understanding. He turned back to the geth.
"I need all the help I can get fighting the Reapers. You follow my orders, you work with my crew, and you watch our backs in a firefight, and you're welcome aboard my ship."
"Understood. We will begin assimilation into Normandy crew and follow your directives."
"Alright then..." John said, trailing off for lack of words. For a long moment the three of them just stood there, looking around at each other. Then finally, Tali spoke up.
"So...what do we call you?" The machine seemed to pause for an irregular amount of time.
"Right," John said apologetically, "but what do we call you specifically?" Again the machine paused.
"We are all geth. One super-cluster consciousness created through the collative merging process of one-thousand, one-hundred, eighty-three programs and runtimes within this platform controls all operations the unit necessitates." As it finished speaking, EDI's blue orb sprang to life on the pad beside it.
"'My name is Legion, for we are many.'"
After a moment of processing, the geth spoke again. "Christian Bible, the Gospel of Mark, Chapter five, verse nine. We acknowledge this as an appropriate metaphor. We are Legion, a terminal of the true geth. We will assist Normandy and Shepard-Commander against the heretics and Old Machines."
John hesitated, then put his hand out. The geth stared down at it for a long moment before reaching out and taking it in it's own. He looked down, seeing his own hand shaking that of a geth, and realized the history being made. It shook him to his core, and only after a long moment of effort was he able to shrug it off and speak.
"Welcome aboard, Legion."
The black of space engulfed the Normandy as it careened between stars, the familiar blue halo of relay travel bursting forth from the front of the ship. Jeff sat at the helm, laying in coordinate mapping and destination plots to manage their fuel reserves for their later sub-FTL travel. His fingers danced over the holographic interface, and the soft beeps and chirps of the console accepting his commands was a soothing melody to him. Laying in the last plot point, he charted the course, saw the 2% decrease in required fuel, and smiled. He still had it. He leaned back in the admittedly cozy pilot's chair, stretching his arms above his head and groaning softly as he reached as far as he could. He grimaced, waiting to hear a crack or pop, but it never came, and his smile grew a little wider. The treatment hadn't been without setbacks and sacrifices, and he was pretty sure he'd thrown up more in the last month than in his entire life, but Mordin said it could work, and the salarian was just too crazy to not be trustworthy.
He looked around the rest of the cabin. Behind him, the soft white glow of the Normandy's track lighting barely illuminated the corridor leading back to the CIC, and since Miranda had left after taking his systems report a few hours ago, there hadn't been a sound save for the ones he'd made with the console. Miranda had been...noticeably friendlier...he realized in retrospect. She'd even smiled and thanked Lia for the report as well. He shrugged at his thoughts, maybe she was just coming around to the idea of a non-human-centric crew. Shepard had that effect on people, he supposed. Thinking of Lia brought his gaze to rest on her sleeping form, in the co-pilot's chair an arm's reach away. His smile deepened then; she had stuck by him through everything, and when she wasn't with him she was with Tali, no doubt talking about him. It was nice to be focused on and talked about for anything other than his Vrolik's Syndrome, and at times he could swear she'd almost forgotten he even had it to begin with. He tapped in the auto-pilot commands for EDI to take over, and her voice filtered into his earpiece.
"Is everything alright, Lieutenant Moreau?"
"Yea, it's fine EDI," he whispered as he tried to stand as best he could from the pilot's seat. "I'm just going to the head, keep us from crashing into any suns, alright?"
"Would you like me to calculate collision-avoiding maneuvers for planets as well?" He paused, confused for a moment, and was about to speak when he heard her again. "That was a joke."
"Not bad," he whispered, walking down the corridor to the head. When he'd finished and returned, Lia was sitting up in the chair. She turned to watch him come back, and her head tilted just slightly, triggering his smile again. People said quarians were impossible to read, but she was an open book to him sometimes. "Hey sweetheart," he whispered as he sat back down. "Sleep well?"
"Yes," she replied, "but you shouldn't have let me fall asleep in the first place, Jeff. I'm not off my shift."
He shrugged. "Well, I figured you could use a break, and I had it covered." He shot her a winning smile as he took manual control back from EDI. "Besides, who couldn't fall asleep looking at that?" He gesturing to the silent vortex through the viewport.
"It's beautiful," she replied, looking into it even after his gaze returned to her. She seemed distant, almost lost in it's glow.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"No," she said quickly, pulling her gaze back to his, "it's nothing, it's just..." Her hands fell into her lap, and her eyes dropped away. After a moment, her shoulders straightened and she looked him in the eyes again. "I love you, Jeff. More than anything I've ever been able to call mine. And...I know you're not a quarian, and I'm not human, and I have no real idea how this can work physically, but...I know that when I'm with you, I feel like I'm home. I feel like I never left the Fleet, even when we're in the craziest and most dangerous of situations...I just feel safe."
Her words hit him like a truck, but he reached out to take one of her hands in his own and squeezed it. "Lia, I don't-"
"No," she said, raising a hand, "I'm...I'm not done." He nodded slowly, and she took a deep breath, then spoke again. "I'm not going back, Jeff. I'm not finishing my Pilgrimage. I want to stay with you, for the rest of my life, if...if that's ok with you." Silence hung heavy in the air between them, and her eyes grew worried when he didn't respond. The sight shook him out of his shocked state, and he stammered.
"If it's- if it's ok with me?! Lia, of course it's ok with me. Hell, I was already thinking about fighting half the Fleet to keep you here. I...god, I've never..." He took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts from the blissful chaos she'd just scattered them into. "I need you, Lia. And right here beside me, right there in that chair, that's home for as long as you want it to be. And I'm yours for as long as you can put up with me."
Her head tilted again, and he laughed the spurted, involuntary laugh of happiness. He looked down, and saw her hand closed around his, squeezing tighter than he'd ever been squeezed before. "Hey look at that," he remarked, and she gasped, instantly releasing her iron grip. He flexed the fingers in his hand, not a one of them broken, and laughed again. He looked back to Lia, and he could swear he could see the tears welling in her eyes, like he knew they were already in his own. Shepard was back, his friends were here on the ship, and Lia wasn't going anywhere. Vrolik's be damned, it was shaping up to be a damn good life.