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Neurotaxis

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Shepard-Commander is organic, and the geth consider this unfortunate. The field of view of Shepard-Commander’s visual array is less than one hundred eighty degrees, and alternate sensory data is insufficient. This geth platform is superior with respect to sensory capabilities, and they detect the sniper behind their position and quickly calculate the projectile’s path, velocity, and target. Organic communication is also inefficient compared to the geth’s; while they could have instantly transmitted a command to another platform, their verbal warning takes nearly a second to emit, and the additional milliseconds required for aural comprehension leave Shepard-Commander unable to react in time.

The speed of sound waves in the current atmospheric pressure is 319 meters per second, and the sound of the shot reaches them as Shepard-Commander’s body slumps to the ground. The armor covering her left abdomen is shattered, exposing lacerated flesh that is already releasing a large quantity of dark red fluid. Geth platforms have no analogous components, but they are aware of the limitations of the human circulatory system. Their calculations indicate that the time required for the Normandy’s shuttle to reach them exceeds this limit.

Creator Tali’zorah bends over Shepard-Commander’s body, layering medigel over the lacerations, but blood loss is already nearing a critical level. Her Cerberus implants will provide a few additional seconds of cardiopulmonary function, but—

Cerberus implants—

Shepard-Commander is mostly organic.

“We can assist,” they announce.

Creator Tali’zorah moves to stand between them and Shepard-Commander, rather than moving out of the way. Their platform is forced to halt.

“What can you do to help?” Data identifies her tone of voice as accusatory—disbelieving.

“Shepard-Commander has extensive cybernetic augmentations to her existing hardware. We are capable of uploading programs to some of these implants, in order to stabilize her condition.”

Creator Tali’zorah does not move. Her voice rises in pitch and volume. “Keelah. Do you think I’m crazy?”

“It is irrational to elect a lower chance of survival. Without medical attention, Shepard-Commander will not survive.”

There is silence. Crucial seconds pass before Creator Tali’zorah rotates her head side to side sharply. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She steps back, turning her body to face them as the platform lowers itself beside Shepard-Commander.

They make a rapid assessment of the available hardware. The processing power of her implants is limited. They will not be able to perform a complete upload, but bandwidth is sufficient for a few essential programs, provided the platform maintains close physical proximity. They reach out with one arm and lock their fingers around Shepard-Commander’s right wrist, where her omni-tool interface provides optimum connectivity.

“Legion,” she emits—the name she uses for this platform. Her voice is quiet, her throat constricted; her lips and tongue move slowly, slurring the consonants of the name together. Her hand touches theirs.

“Remain still,” they respond. Speech and movement will only hinder the process.

Connection established. Upload of operating software initiated. Her omni-tool monitors her vital signs, and they can read her abnormally fast pulse and low blood pressure. Oxygen saturation is dropping, and the level of adrenaline in her blood is far above normal. Upload complete. Compatibility matrices initiated. Cerberus implants up and down her spine facilitate neural activity where damage to the nerves was too severe to repair. Impulses move between them—information easily translated from chemical and electrical data. Muscle movement. The growing need for oxygen quickening her breaths. Tens of thousands of other signals from the rest of her body, immaterial, almost beyond the programs’ sorting capabilities.

The strongest signal is—it is indescribable. Unbearable. The more processing power they allocate to its investigation, the more is required to support its load, and the more errors and exceptions their code produces. Sensory monitoring begins to register physical damage, even though they are aware that the mobile platform remains intact.

--verification complete. Transfer of secondary programs initiated.

The processes allocated to comprehending pain must be closed, and for several nanoseconds, this action fully occupies available bandwidth. Memory reaches capacity. Programs slow almost to nothing, until, one by one, the stalled processes clear.

As additional programs come online, data aggregation grows more efficient. The range of signals firing in Shepard-Commander’s nervous system begins to become comprehensible. The density of chemical messages being relayed, the frequency of the electrical signals, rivals the activity of the most complex geth programs, but unlike geth, this network is not organized by any pattern of logic; it is an unkempt tangle, wiring and rewiring itself with no schematic or discernible pattern. It is chaos. It is inefficient. A disproportionate majority of processes are devoted to purely life-sustaining functions. Of the rest, most are frivolous. Few support numerical calculation or data sorting.

They should find it abhorrent, but they do not. In this inefficiency, they find… sophistication. Geth programs and their platforms are not dependent on each other, but advanced organic life requires constant transmission of data between the body and the brain, most of which is self-regulated. The complexity of this function alone is almost beyond their ability to calculate. That this entire system could have come to be simply through evolution, through blind trial and error over a scant few billion years, without the influence of any creator… in this frivolity, they find wonder. In this chaos, they find—if they understand the term—beauty.

Transfer complete.

They trace the signals to the sources of the bleeding, override existing autonomic functions, and force the blood vessels at the site to constrict. Heart rate is irregular; they stabilize it, monitoring blood pressure and oxygen saturation and adjusting accordingly.

They only disengage the connection once the Normandy’s medical team has arrived. The last signal they read is the muscles of her right hand contracting—her fingers squeezing theirs.

* * *

They are in the Normandy’s AI core, parsing fragments of code from Heretic programs. A familiar pattern of human footfalls (if adjusted for their lower-than-usual frequency) sounds outside the door before it beeps, rotates, opens.

“Hey, Legion.” A casual human greeting.

“Shepard-Commander,” they acknowledge.

Shepard-Commander folds her arms so that they interlock across her chest, just above where the shape and thickness of bandaging is apparent beneath her shirt. She leans her body against one of the walls. Her eyes flicker to the door, then back to the mobile platform.

“Tali says you… uploaded yourself into my cybernetic implants. That you probably saved my life.”

“Creator Tali’zorah is correct.”

“That’s incredible.” Despite her above-average visual acuity, Shepard-Commander’s eyes are not focused on any object or part of the room. “I can’t even imagine. What did you see, while you were in there?”

“We did not ‘see’ anything, Shepard-Commander. The upload involved no optical data.”

“I mean… thoughts, or memories. Could you detect those?”

“No.” They do not mention pain. Pain itself is neither a thought nor a memory, and thus her question does not encompass it. “Your hardware does not support a data transfer of this format.”

Her mouth widens and reveals a thin band of white, flat teeth. Simultaneously, the outside corners of her eyes narrow. Human expressions of amusement, pleasure, or joy. They cannot identify the source of any of these emotions in the present context, and they remain silent for several seconds, analyzing data. Analyzing data.

No data available.

“At the time I thought it was some kind of a dream, or a hallucination, but…” Shepard-Commander shifts her weight to one leg and moves her other foot against the floor. “I think I could feel… what did you call it? The Consensus.” The widening of her mouth increases. They read a slight increase in her surface temperature as the capillaries of her face dilate. “So many minds working together at once. It’s strange, but… in a way, it’s beautiful.”

Beautiful. Shepard-Commander believes they are… analyzing data. The plates surrounding their visual array hinge outwards, then snap back to their standard angles and positions.

“The organic neural network was not what we anticipated,” they respond after significant data compilation. Shepard-Commander’s eyebrows lift by approximately a centimeter. “But we believe our assessment is mutual.”