Buried beneath one of the tallest towers in the shining metropolis of Singularia, an alien was toiling in her lab. Everything within it was state of the art, from the floor tiles capable of neutralizing the strongest acid to the ceiling panels capable of producing glarefree light or holographic displays. Its location underground was ideal, allowing for minimal interference from outside electromagnetic radiation. It also kept things cool in the summertime.

Bent awkwardly over a bench at the far side of the glimmering shrine to technology was the alien in question, a woman with no home to go back to. Habitually clad in swirling red-and-white patterns that obscured almost the entirety of her body, Janya of clan Xen's hands moved surely from one electronic component to the next. Assembling them separately had taken her the majority of a single workday.

Even the word "workday" was a formality in this place. Her superiors had offered living accomodations elsewhere in the subterranean complex, but she politely declined. Instead, one corner of her workspace was curtained off and served as a sleeping and hygeine area. After a life aboard tiny metal ships and even smaller habitation areas in space, to her eyes the lab was still a palace. Natural light tended to burn her skin and make her eyes hurt, natural reactions after countless years hidden away. The darkness suited her.

In contrast to the rest of the lab, Janya's workbench was an absolute mess. Covered with scratches and burn marks from careless tool-use, it was where she spent most of her time. While computerized voice commands and automated assembly made it possible to create and build without involving one's hands, Janya preferred to do things manually. If asked, she would drone on and on about the physicality of tools and creating with one's hands. 

The truth of the situation was far less philosophical. While her contract with the company carefully and thoroughly stated that all her designs would remain hers, Janya still refused to utilize the automated interfaces in her lab. The artificial voices still sounded too foreign, too human. All her life humans had been hounding or oppressing her, even while fighting alongside them during the Reaper War. Creation was a very personal thing for the daughter of Rannoch, and she wasn't about to share that process with a nameless computer just yet. Not after her experience with -

Shaking her head, as though to clear it of exterior thoughts, Janya got back to work. Laid out in front of her was a matte black housing made from things not readily available even in Singularia. For two weeks her only task had been customizing the laboratory and assembling the object now laid out in front of her, or at least reassembling it. The individual components were easy enough to repair with the tools and materials made available to her, and after another exhaustingly lengthy day it was finally time.

Holding a needlelike probe in her three-fingered hand, Janya slotted its tip into the housing and flicked a microswitch into its closed position. With the circuit complete, electricity began to flow into the book-sized object, causing components to come alive one at a time in a predetermined sequence. Silently the Quarian's lips recited the names and specifications of each individual piece of electronic machinery as it came online, and finally bit her lip once they all were up and running.

Three days ago, she had attempted this same process and was rewarded with a red warning light for her trouble. Half the relays burned before she could disconnect the power, and since then her daily task was to replace damaged components for fresh ones. More than one had to be fabricated anew, a painstaking process that confined her to the workbench for hours at a time. The error had been difficult to find and correct, but a long debugging process had finally ended with multiple corrections being made.

This time, the process went exactly according to plan. Once all the secondary components were up and running, they fed signals into the main memory core - which registered as "active" on the small debug display overhead. Data began to scroll past as the tiny virtual intelligence took stock of resources available and put them to use.

Letting out a relieved sigh, Janya leaned back from the workbench and arched her back, arms stretched high over her head. One or two popping sounds reached her ears, and she let out a soft exclamation in her native tongue. "I've been down here for too long," she said quietly, rising from the ergonomic workstool. It was one of her first creations upon arrival in Singularia, designed to support her digitigrade legs for long periods of time. Still, she took a moment to stretch those out as well, three toes spreading atop the sanitary metal flooring.

After her quick round of physical activity, Janya resettled the folds of cloth around her body. As always the act reminded her of the first time she was able to shed her protective environmental suit, how it felt to have unfiltered air rush into her lungs. Sometimes she still woke up in the middle of the night in a panic, flailing in search of her mask and visor, breath held tight. Simple wrapped cloth served as her clothes during most workdays, which she either loosened or tightened depending on the needs of the moment.

A voice behind her made Janya twirl around, facing the workbench. "Hello," it said politely. "I am Virtual Intelligence Firmware version six-point-nine-point-three. Who am I addressing?"

With a smile, Janya sat back down on the stool. The object's chassis was equipped with a powerful microphone and speech recognition software, meaning all she needed to do was speak to it like another living person. Someone she had made herself, not a personality created by her superiors.

"I am Janya of clan Xen, child of the starship Rayya, crew of the starship Yaska. And your name is Sparks. Confirm?"

"Confirmed," spoke the soft artificial voice. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Janya. How may I be of service?"

Her mind swimming with pleasant memories, Janya sat back on her stool a bit. "Sparks, we have a lot of work to do. So listen up."