It was a fact of life that people often couldn't see what was right in front of them. And without that, Kasumi Goto thought, you'd be out of a job.
Sometimes not being seen was a matter of evading eyes, organic and electronic. Other times, it was simply a matter of not being noticed. A thief by profession, Kasumi was adept at both. But a third case caused the most trouble, when something was in plain sight but no one could see the danger it represented.
Something like the geth lying motionless on the deck in front of her.
Kasumi, Mordin Solus and Commander Shepard, still in their exposure suits, leaned against the aft wall of Normandy's main airlock as Joker piloted the ship away from the derelict reaper in its decaying orbit. At their feet lay a geth platform, the first ever recovered intact by organics anywhere in the galaxy since the uprising against their quarian masters on Rannoch.
The ship stabilized, and the squad staggered to their feet. "Well that was fun," Kasumi said as airlock's inner hatch split open. "Especially the leap at the end. Let's do that again!"
Miranda stepped through the hatch with Jacob and Garrus right behind. "Is everyone alright-" Miranda's voice trailed off as her mind mind registered the unexpected guest.
On reflex, Jacob raised a rifle toward the immobile geth platform. He usually arrived after a mission to collect the team's equipment and help them strip out of their gear, but this time brought a weapon in case something else tried to jump the gap with the squad. No one had mentioned anything about a geth making an appearance.
Shepard held up a hand. "Hold fire! It's in a sleep state."
The soldier lowered his weapon, but kept a tight grip on it as Miranda knelt next to the inert machine, her omnitool glowing around her wrist. She looked up at Shepard with wide eyes. "It's operational?"
Kasumi looked to Shepard. There hadn't been time to tell anybody about their newest passenger, and it wasn't the kind of surprise people liked. Shepard beckoned them in and sealed the hatch.
Jacob knelt next to Miranda. He still clutched his rifle, but there was no denying the elation in his voice. "Holy shit. This is incredible!"
"It's badly damaged," Garrus said, noting the huge hole in the geth's chest as well as the dark stains from rotted flesh and decayed blood. Having seen the residue many times on his own armor before, he recognized its source. "Interesting. I would have thought the husks would have been programmed to ignore geth. Or is this splatter from indiscriminate weapon fire I see?"
"Hardly," Kasumi said. "Though it did get a little... drippy over there at times. But this wasn't our doing."
"We didn't do any of it," Shepard said, also staring at the hole in the geth's armor. "Reaper constructs took it down."
Garrus scowled. "Excuse me?"
"Who cares?" Jacob said, rising to his feet, smiling from ear to ear. "You bagged a live one, Shepard! Now we can finally see what makes these things tick. Tali's gonna have a field day. She know yet? You call her up here?"
Miranda held up a hand. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're not going to hand it over to anyone just yet."
"You serious? Tali's the top expert on geth in the entire galaxy. Not to mention what it'll mean for the Migrant Fleet-" Jacob stopped when Miranda looked back to the geth. "What?"
Kasumi winced under her cowl. She didn't know all the details, but when she'd first come aboard, the ship's quarian and the two top Cerberus officers barely tolerated each other at best, and wanted to strangle each other at worst. Then while she and Shepard had been away, there'd been some kind of Come-to-Jesus meeting with the squad, after which Tali and Jacob started being nice to each other. Kasumi was thrilled to see any antagonistic relationship turn positive, and being friends with both Tali and Jacob made it all the more sweet. The only problem was that Jacob had always been Miranda's guy... and Miranda and Tali were still nowhere close to being friends. She watched to see how the Senior Cerberus Operative would respond.
"Nothing, it's just not yours to give away," Miranda said. She looked up at Shepard. "We need to notify the Illusive Man about this immediately. Before we make any decisions."
The assembled squad stared at Shepard, waiting for an answer. He sighed and took off his helmet. "As soon as we know what we've got. In the meantime, word of this isn't to get out. Not to the crew, to Cerberus, anybody. Understood?" Everyone voiced varied utterances of acknowledgement and Shepard spoke into his comm. "Joker, what's our status?"
"In the clear, Commander. Mnemosyne's firmly in the rear view. No damage to the ship."
"Good. Make for the relay." Shepard switched to a secure channel. "EDI? Where's the best place to keep a geth on ice, to keep it isolated in case it wakes up?"
"In the AI core, Shepard," EDI said.
Shepard blinked at the unexpected answer. "In the where?"
"AI Core," Miranda said, standing. "The entire suite is hardened against AI attack. Internally or externally, with completely shielded and segmented systems. EDI's right, it's the safest place."
To keep the ship's own resident AI from going haywire, Kasumi thought to herself. She liked EDI a lot, and not just because she was a fascinating piece of technology. Maybe it was the thief in her, but she found the confinement of any sentient being unsettling, virtual or otherwise.
"All right then," Shepard said. "Garrus, assemble a detail to haul this thing down to the AI core. Put Grunt and Zaeed on it, then post them at the door. No one in or out. And don't just drag it through the ship, either. Get something to cover it up. If anyone asks, it's part of the reaper IFF."
Garrus fired up his omnitool. "On it."
"Mordin? Take the actual IFF to the lab and get to work on it."
"Right away," Mordin said, omnitool already out and performing calculations.
"Jacob, Miranda, I want to see you in the briefing room as soon as we stow our gear."
"Aye sir," both of them said.
"And Kasumi? Uh..."
Kasumi grinned. As the newest member of the squad and no official post, her responsibility for anything usually ended the second she stepped aboard ship. She always pitched in where she could, of course, but unless someone wanted to play a joke on a shipmate, her talents were pretty useless. "How about moral support? Good work everybody!" That got a half-hearted round of smiles and applause and she curtsied.
Only Shepard didn't seem to find it funny. "I don't see anybody moving."
"Shepard," Garrus held up a hand. "Before we go, what should we tell Tali-"
"Don't tell Tali anything," Shepard said sternly. "Do not. Tell. Anyone. That's an order. Are we clear? Let's move it out."
Mordin stepped through the inner hatch, already lost in his own little world of formulas and calculations as he carried the reaper IFF off to his lab. Shepard left right behind him without saying another word. Miranda, Jacob and Garrus all stayed behind and looked at one another like they were trying to figure out who passed gas.
Kasumi edged around the inert geth and the other members of the squad before anyone started asking questions. The Commander had it easy. He could deflect the crew's curiosity simply by barking orders. All Kasumi could do was play dumb, and she hated doing that. But unlike the rest of the crew, she'd actually been on the reaper when they found the geth, and knew exactly why Shepard wasn't calling for their resident expert. How would the crew react if Shepard explained it without preparing them?
As she exited the airlock, it was already starting. She heard Garrus's voice behind her, filled with confusion and concern. "What the hell do we have here?"
Shepard paced back and forth at the head of the briefing room table staring at the shimmering hologram of the deactivated geth platform lying on its back. Miranda was talking, but whether or not Shepard was paying attention to anything was anyone's guess. He couldn't take his eyes from the image before him.
"We need better equipment to fight the reapers," Miranda said. "An intact geth would be invaluable to Cerberus' cyberweapons division."
Jacob leaned forward with his hands on the table as if he could push the hologram away from him. "We'll have to disagree on that, ma'am. I saw enough of these things on Eden Prime. Space it."
Miranda decided to try a different tack. It was a long shot, but as the saying went, money talked, and also had the benefit of solving the problem of having the geth on the ship. "Cerberus has a long-standing cash bounty on an intact geth. I assure you the reward is significant."
If Shepard had been listening to either of them, he didn't show it. He folded his arms in front of him. "I want to know why it has a piece of N7 armor strapped to its chest."
"Battle trophy, maybe?" Jacob suggested. "Would a machine care about that?"
"No," Miranda said. "Trophies imply emotions that AIs don't have. I doubt if it's more than a convenient field repair."
"I've killed hundreds of these things," Shepard said, "but I've never had a chance to talk to one. This one tried to communicate with us. Hell, it probably saved our lives. Why?"
Miranda shook her head. "Reactivating the geth is a risk. If you do so, it should be for humanity's best interests and not your curiosity."
Jacob crossed his arms. "I still think our 'best interests' involve an airlock."
Shepard kept staring at the geth. "I'm not deciding one way or the other until I know what we've got here. I want to start it up. Interrogate it."
In a rare display of emotion, Miranda almost sounded worried. "If we activate it, there's no guarantee we can deactivate it again."
Jacob scowled. "Bullets can."
"That's not what I-"
Shepard cut them both off as he walked from the room. "Thank you, both of you, for your recommendations. I've made my decision. We're turning it back on."
Jacob snapped to attention and saluted as Shepard left. Miranda lingered long enough to shake her head at him before following Shepard into the corridor. Jacob stayed behind and activated his omnitool, speaking to what he assumed was an empty room. "Tali's gonna freak when she hears about this." Then he, too followed the Commander out the door.
Throughout the entire exchange, no one paid attention to the living shadow watching and listening from the corner of the room. To their eyes and ears, and the electronic sensors throughout the ship, she didn't exist.
Kasumi's stomach swirled as she rode the elevator down to the crew deck. It was the same sensation she'd get on a job if she spotted an extra layer of security after already defeating two. Most people were smart or paranoid enough to use redundant systems, but on occasion she'd run into someone clever with a third safeguard. The problem was that someone who went that far didn't always stop at three. One time on Omega, she and Keiji tried to boost a jewel dealer who had at least six independent, overlapping security systems on his vault, each more insidious than the last. They looked, but couldn't find a seventh triggering device, and decided to walk away. To this day Kasumi knew number seven was there, and if they'd proceeded they would have been caught.
Keiji was gone now, and had been for some time. Commander Shepard helped her kill the man responsible, and for the first time since Keiji's death, Kasumi found people worth getting to know. Even with deep personality conflicts, this bunch had each others' backs. Tali and Miranda, who pointedly sat on opposite sides of the Kodiak anytime they had to venture from the ship together, wouldn't hesitate to charge into withering fire to save the other. It wasn't just a one time thing, either. Kasumi had seen it dozens of times, over and over, with everybody in the squad. With all the tripwires and alarms the Normandy squad set up between themselves, they somehow managed to keep from blowing themselves apart.
...until the geth showed up on their doorstep. It wasn't the geth itself she feared - it could have easily killed any of them while on the reaper. It was something else, hidden, that no one could yet see. A seventh tripwire, waiting for someone who thought they had all the answers to blunder into it. And when it did, it could blow the fragile alliances on the ship apart.
The elevator opened to the crew deck and Hadley and Matthews stepped out and wheeled left, chatting about the latest duty roster. Neither of them paid her any mind - her personal cloak made sure of that. She wasn't hiding from them, but the last thing she wanted was to have to answer any questions before Shepard had a chance to talk to the crew first. Rumors, like fire, could destroy a ship if allowed to spread.
She followed them and peeled forward to the mess as they entered the starboard berthing compartment. The mess and galley were dark and quiet. She peered through the windows to the infirmary. Inside, Doctor Chakwas sat at her desk, shuffling digital paperwork. Zaeed and Grunt stood post by the AI Compartment door, just as Shepard had ordered. The big krogan stood at rapt attention, eagerly listening to the old human mercenary leaned against the wall spinning another one of his tales. No one else was around. Shepard had not yet dropped his bomb.
She checked the ship's network. Commander Shepard was logged into his room, with his status marked Do Not Disturb. Evidently Shepard needed a moment to figure out what to do. What was the proper way to welcome a mass-murdering, genocidal killing machine on board?
Kasumi slipped across the silent mess, past Miranda's locked door on her way to the lounge. The door indicator to life support also showed red. Thane rarely ventured out of his makeshift quarters except to go on a mission, so she didn't have to worry about running into him. All she needed to do was get back to the lounge, curl up on the couch with a good book and wait until Shepard decided to-
She stopped in the corridor. The door to Port Observation was closed like she left it, but the sensors she left around the door frame indicated it had been opened. It could have been anyone, really, coming to have a drink at the bar. But this visitor, the digital log on her omni showed, was Garrus Vakarian, and he was still there.
Shit. As a sniper, Garrus was as patient of a bastard as a patient bastard could be. And as former C-Sec, he wasn't going to be satisfied with the tried and true I didn't see nothing, officer routine. She pondered waiting him out but if he came looking for her here, no doubt he would look for her elsewhere. He'd ask EDI to find her, and when EDI couldn't it would only further raise tensions. With a sigh, she unveiled her cloak, put a smile on her face, and walked through the hatch.
"Hello, Kasumi." Garrus had positioned himself on her favorite couch close to the door so he'd be impossible to miss, legs casually crossed, arms wide across the back, primed and ready for conversation. "You weren't here so I let myself in."
"Garrus, what a lovely surprise. Come to join me for happy hour?"
"My joy can't be contained to a single hour. Do you have a moment?"
"For you? Always."
"Very kind. I have some serious questions, and I need honest answers."
"Oh, I've got all kinds of answers. Philosophy, art, religion, take your pick. Bear in mind I stink at math, so go easy with the differential equations."
"The category is geth. And the question is, why is Shepard hiding one in the ship's AI core instead of letting Tali dissect it like he usually does?"
"I'm pretty sure Shep said we're not supposed to discuss this. It kinda sounded like an order to me."
"There's nothing wrong with your hearing then. Good. That means you heard my question."
Kasumi tilted her head. "I ain't gonna sing, copper. I ain't no rat."
Garrus smiled thinly at her attempt to lighten the mood. "This isn't about orders. It's more serious than that. Much more. Let me speak plainly. You, Mordin and Shepard boarded a reaper on which an entire Cerberus research division was indoctrinated and reduced to husks. We lost contact with you for an unnervingly long period of time, after which you came back aboard in possession of the only intact geth anyone's managed to capture since the uprising. Found, I remind you, on the aforementioned reaper."
"And then," Garrus said, "my commanding officer, my best friend, whom I've personally seen destroy hundreds of geth on sight, whose chief engineer is a quarian and also one of his closest friends, orders the existence of said geth to be kept secret until he can 'figure out what to do with it.' When up until now there was only one thing a sane person could do."
The turian leaned forward so he could see Kasumi's eyes under her hood. His desperation was palpable. "The only plausible explanation for this behavior terrifies me to my very core. Bearing in mind that if he is indoctrinated, you are too, I'm asking for an explanation that doesn't require I take swift, severe action for the safety of the ship."
Kasumi clenched her teeth, but nodded. The turian's argument was perfectly, horrifyingly rational. Could he be right? Was she holding on to an impossible story because she was there and saw what happened, or because a reaper had touched her mind and she was unconsciously helping their enemy to do their bidding?
Garrus watched her intently. Kasumi had to tell him, she knew. His only logical course of action would be to quarantine the landing party. Once that happened, no one in the crew would trust Shepard, Mordin or her again. Besides, she needed to prove to herself she was still in charge, and not acting out the will of an ancient space monster.
"There is one," Kasumi said, "and it's even crazier than what you're thinking. Still want to hear it?"
"Okay then... You see, this geth we brought back is, uh, different."
"Well... for one thing, it didn't try to exterminate us. As a matter of fact... it saved our lives back on the reaper."
Garrus stared at her.
"Yeah," Kasumi nodded. "We were a little surprised, too. We got jumped from behind by a bunch of those husk things. They came out of nowhere, caught all three of us unaware - even me, I'm ashamed to admit. And before we knew what was going on husk heads started bursting like popcorn. When it was done, we looked up and there on a crosswalk stood Mister Geth with his pet sniper rifle."
"And it shot the husks instead of you?" Garrus was trying not to scowl. "Maybe it had to drop them to get a clear line of sight."
"Well, yeah, I guess that's possible, except like I said the husks were behind us. Mister Geth shot around each of us to get to them. Either that, or his aiming routines need a good debugging. But from what I could tell, he hit everything he was aiming at, dead solid perfect." Kasumi cleared her throat, knowing what she was about to say was only going to make her sound more crazy. Maybe she was indoctrinated. "And then afterwards, um, he - that is, the geth - talked to us."
The turian remained stoic. "If this is a joke, I can't wait to hear the punchline."
"No joke. It spoke. Well, not to me. To Shep. It lowered it's weapon, stood at attention like it recognized him, then clear as day it said his name and walked off."
Garrus blinked rapidly and took a deep breath, his hand going to his comm unit.
"Look," Kasumi held up her hands. "I know how crazy this sounds, but I know what I saw. Mordin saw it too, and heard it. We all did. Mordin recorded the whole thing, if Shepard didn't. If it's indoctrination, we're in big trouble because it affects omnitools, too."
Garrus's hand slowly fell to his lap. "And he didn't want to tell Tali this, why? Is he afraid she'd want to cut it up before he had a chance to talk to it?"
Kasumi gave a little laugh. "Well, you know Shepard can't pass up a chance to talk someone's ear off. Even if it's artificial."
"Mmm-hmm." Garrus said. "But turning it back on without Tali's help? That's what I don't understand. And that's what concerns me most. There has to be a reason."
"Well, like I said. This geth seems to know Shepard."
"After all the geth he's destroyed, that's not surprising. He's got to be their public enemy number one."
"No, Garrus. This is different. This geth was damaged, long before we ran into it."
"So you said."
"Yeah, well... Let me ask you something. Did you happen to notice what it used to fix itself? Those chunks of armor on it's chest and shoulder?"
"No..." Garrus's hand went to his visor, but instead of activating his comm unit he turned on his visual playback. Kasumi could make out reflection of the airlock in the turian's eye. Dawning realization spread across the turian's face.
"You know, Shep had the same reaction when he saw it up close." Kasumi said. She didn't know what it was until Shepard mentioned it in the briefing room but she decided to leave that part out. "He just stood there for a minute, staring at it. It really spooked him. Is it significant?"
Garrus leaned back into the couch, worry on his face. "Very."
"What does it mean?"
"Well... This is going to sound hypocritical after everything you've told me, but I can't tell you. Not until we know what we're dealing with."
There it is, Kasumi thought. The seventh trigger. Finding out what it it was, though, didn't tell her how to disarm it. "Well, isn't this a turn of events. But based on that, if I had to guess, Shepard wants to find out that armor from the geth without anyone else listening in, including Tali."
Garrus stared at Kasumi for a few seconds before responding. "I think you may be right."
"Well... I hope this puts your mind at ease about him being indoctrinated. Or me, for that matter."
"It helps. But it poses different question."
"What does the geth know?" Kasumi shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't have the answer to that one, officer."
"That's okay." Garrus climbed to his feet. "There's only one person who does, and I know where he lives. Thanks for filling me in, Kasumi. You've been a big help."
"No problem," Kasumi said and stepped aside from the hatch. "Hey, um, listen. Do me a favor. When you talk to him, don't tell him I told you. I don't need you giving me a snitch jacket."
Garrus actually smiled, which was a welcome sight. "I'll have you know I've never once given up an informant."
"You're a darn good cop, Vakarian," Kasumi said as he exited to the corridor. "No matter what the chief says."
Garrus walked down the corridor and called the elevator to take him up to Shepard's cabin. Do Not Disturb obviously didn't apply to everyone. Kasumi admired Garrus in many ways, especially the loyalty he showed his friends. If only his powers of observation were as strong, he might have noticed the slight folding of light next to him as they rode to the top level of the ship to visit their Commander.