“This is it?” Shepard was singularly unimpressed.
“Sorry Shepard. This is what I told you about. This is a qwib-qwib.” Tali was wringing her hands, nervous that she was disappointing Shepard.
The commander walked a wide circle around the device, examining it. It was nearly as long as three shuttles, and about twice her height. Liara stood off to one side, waving her omni-tool in ever wider circles. “I don’t detect any power readings.”
Tali shivered self-consciously. She felt exposed on the high plateau. Rannoch might be home for the quarians again, but for all the emotional ties her people had to the planet, it still felt like one more uncharted world when they were as isolated as this.
“No, the device? Entity? Hasn’t had power for centuries. It spoke with the first people to reach it after it crashed. It talked to our scientists for weeks, but it eventually shut down as its systems failed.”
Shepard squatted down to try to look inside. Some of the outer shell looked armored, while other parts appeared translucent. “And you never tried to take it apart? Never made it inside?”
“This was the third of its kind to crash on Rannoch, Shepard. It was also the first to remain functional at any level. That’s how we know it was a qwib-qwib.”
“It had a name?” Liara walked over to stand beside Shepard.
“We think qwib-qwib was a race, or a kind of device. It said that it was a qwib-qwib, not that its name was Qwib-qwib.”
“And that’s why you never took it apart? Because you thought it was an AI?” That didn’t make sense to Shepard. The quarians had tried to annihilate the geth, and they knew the geth were sentient. Her interactions with Admiral Xen had taught her that the quarians did not have the best history of racial relations when it came to synthetics.
“No…” Tali’s embarrassment was obvious even through her helmet.
“Then why?” Liara pressed gently. “You can tell us.”
“It wasn’t like that,” started Tali. “Keelah, at least I think it wasn’t. So many records have been lost…”
“Focus, Tali.” Shepard brought her back to the moment.
“Sorry Shepard,” Tali repeated. “There were two others, one much more heavily damaged. That was the one we looked at first. It had a power source unlike any we’d ever seen before. When we tried to take it apart, it exploded. It leveled a province, Shepard.”
The commander took a couple of steps back from the device, as if that would help.
“So, it’s a weapon.”
“But a weapon of a scale that could possibly defeat the reapers,” added Liara. “Conventionally. Even without the Crucible.” She looked around. “That much power, and your people left it here? In the open?”
“It was guarded then. No one wanted to take it into a city for further study. Would you?” She indicated the expansive plateau around them. “At least here it was isolated. There were scientists, weapons specialists, other researchers. There were temporary structures for miles around.” She paused, “Not all that temporary. The scientists were here for hundreds of years.” She bent down, picking up sand that blew away in the wind. “All gone now. Only the qwib-qwib is left.” She brushed off her hands.
Liara turned to Shepard. “There is nothing like this in the galactic archives. No other race has encountered one before.” She turned to Tali, “Why have your people kept this a secret?”
“As if the galaxy didn’t have enough reason to hate us after the Geth Rebellion,” Tali replied bitterly.
“This would have been before the rebellion,” reminded Liara. “Possibly before the geth even existed.”
“I wasn’t there, Liara. I don’t know!”
“Enough. Calm down you two.” Shepard re-entered the conversation. “Tali, you said it was an AI, that it talked to your people. What did it say?”
Tali took a deep breath to calm herself. “It said it was a defender, Shepard. A machine made to fight other machines. It called these other machines ‘berserkers’. They were a doomsday weapon, created to destroy any and all life they encountered.”
“Sounds familiar,” Shepard nodded. “Go on.”
“That’s it Shepard. If a qwib-qwib encountered a berserker, it would try to destroy it. Berserkers destroyed life, qwib-qwibs protected life. It never told us anything else. I don’t think the berserkers were reapers, if that’s what you’re thinking. The qwib-qwib described itself and the berserkers solely as machines, not as a hybrid of organic and synthetic.”
“And did your people ever see a berserker?”
“No, Shepard, but the qwib-qwib did say it had been damaged in battle.”
The asari was still looking at her omni-tool. “Much of the damage seems to have been caused by the crash, but some of it could be consistent with weapons fire.” She looked at the commander. “Weapons of a type I am not familiar with.”
“So is it worth the risk to take it back with us?”
“A moment, Shepard.” Liara walked from Shepard’s side to be closer to Tali.
“Tali. Your people encountered an AI hundreds of years before any other species.” She waited for Tali to nod before continuing. “An AI that was designed as a weapon of mass destruction.” Tali was slower to nod this time. “Do you know if the knowledge gained from researching this AI was used in the creation of the geth?”
Tali had seen where Liara was going. “I don’t know, Liara. I hope not, but my people would have had the qwib-qwib for a long time. It’s possible.”
That was enough for Liara. “I believe the risks are too great. A sentient weapon that can destroy planets would be a huge liability if we could not control it.”
“Good enough for me.” Shepard started for the shuttle. “Let’s go. We can hand the idea over to Alliance R&D. Hunter killer missiles sound like a grand idea, but not when your weapon might change its mind and go over to the enemy.”
Shepard watched the plateau recede below them from the shuttle’s doorway.
“At least now I know where Zaal’Koris’ got his ship name.”