Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

The Convict

Location: Hourglass Nebula, Osun System, En Route to Purgatory Prison Ship, Normandy

"Report," Miranda ordered as she entered the CIC in her Cerberus Assault Armor, carrying her helmet held loosely in her hand.

"Ma'am. We're approaching Purgatory. They've queried us," Hawthorne reported from the helm.

"Put them though," Miranda said as she stepped up to the raised platform that overlooked the deck. The status of the Normandy was currently displayed in lieu of the galaxy map.

"Aye, aye, Ma'am. Establishing contact," Crewman Matthews responded.

"Approaching vessel, this is Purgatory Control. Identify yourself," an operator demanded.

"This is Normandy SR-2. I am Executive Lawson. We have a business arrangement with Warden Kuril," Miranda answered.

"Stand by Normandy," the operator said.

Miranda waited for several minutes before another voice called her. "Executive Lawson? Transmit your given clearance codes."

Stepping off the platform, she moved to the command terminal and sent the codes the Illusive Man attached with Jack's dossier.

After another minute of waiting, the operator cleared them. "Codes verified. We're transmitting vectors to you now."

"What's the status of the prisoner?" Miranda asked.

"I'm afraid you'll have to speak to the warden about that, Normandy," the operator answered.

"Then put the warden on," she insisted. "I don't like wasting time and money."

There was a moment of silence before image of the Normandy changed to an image of a turian in Blue Sun's uniform and armor. "This is Warden Kuril. To whom am I speaking to?"

"Executive Lawson, second-in-command of the Normandy. I want the status of Jack," requested Miranda as she walked back up to the platform to stand in front of the projection.

"Jack is in cryo-stasis. We've been monitoring vitals ever since we've entered negotiations with Cerberus. The prisoner is in good health, you have my word on that," Kuril assured. "I understand that the commanding officer wishes to personally inspect the merchandise?"

Merchandise… nothing but bloody slavers in the end, Miranda thought in disgust as she maintained a neutral façade. "Yes. Once he's established that Jack is fit to travel, we'll transfer the funds. His is the final say on the matter."

"Then to whom should I be greeting?"

"That doesn't matter," Miranda promptly said. "He checks Jack and determines whether we pay or not. You don't need to know more than that."

"I'm afraid that I can't simply allow anyone to board my vessel without some knowledge of who they are… not unless he's coming aboard as a prisoner. We have strict security measures in place and I will not comprise our operations for your need of secrecy," Kuril challenged.

Miranda narrowed her eyes as she tried to judge Kuril's intentions. He might recognize Shepard anyway, but there's something off about this… "Spectre Agent Shepard is the commanding officer and he will be coming aboard."

The warden's eyes widened before he quickly adopted a neutral look. Miranda still caught his surprise though and had an uneasy feeling about this particular mission.

"Understood. Please inform Agent Shepard that he is not allowed to carry arms aboard my vessel and that he is to come alone. We will escort him to inspect the merchandise. Once he is satisfied, we'll await confirmation of the agreed payment before releasing Jack into your custody."

"I'll pass your message along," Miranda said evenly.

"I'll look forward to meeting him in person," Kuril said before he cut the link.

"Helm, initiate docking procedures. EDI, inform Shepard that he's wanted in the CIC and that I wish to speak with him immediately. Finally, call Garrus and… Grunt, to the armory," Miranda commanded.

"Initiating docking procedures. Aye, Ma'am," Hawthorne acknowledged.

"Understood, Executive Lawson," EDI acknowledged.

"EDI? I want you to tap into their security network as well and be subtle. I want eyes and ears into everything that goes on in there," Miranda added.

"Understood, Executive Lawson. Logging you out."

Location: Hourglass Nebula, Osun System, Purgatory Prison Ship

"Shepard…" Kuril mumbled to himself. "I thought he was dead."

"He probably faked it. Some sort of deep cover operation or something," one of the Kuril's subordinates speculated.

"Didn't the Shadow Broker have some sort of bounty on Shepard some time ago?" another guard asked.

"Yes. Yes he did," Kuril said. "He hired our group a few years ago to recover Shepard for him. I don't know what happened to that team though."

"How much was the bounty worth?"

"I don't know," Kuril snapped. "But find out. If the Shadow Broker was interested, then he's worth a lot of money. More than Jack, I'm sure…"

"Found it!" a Blue Sun's technician yelled out. "It's right here… uh… wow…"

Kuril stepped up to the holo-monitor and perused the relevant information. He could see why the techie was rendered speechless. It was a standing bounty that Shepard can be taken alive or dead and the amount was at least 20 times more than what Cerberus was paying for Jack. Kuril's mind whirled with the new information and the possibilities. "Change of plans. Since Cerberus hasn't bought Jack yet, we have no obligations or business with them. Let's greet our new 'guest'."

Location: Hourglass Nebula, Osun System, En Route to Purgatory Prison Ship, Normandy

"What do we have?" Shepard asked when he exited the lift, clad in full armor sans helmet.

"We'll be docking with Purgatory momentarily. Warden Kuril is expecting you…" Miranda reported before she trailed off.

Shepard noticed her brow was furrowed in worry as she tried to find the right words for her concerns. Gesturing that she follow him, Shepard made his way to the armory. "Something wrong?" he asked.

"Kuril asked that you go alone and unarmed."

Stopping momentarily to glance at his executive officer, Shepard shook his head and snorted. "Like hell," he said before moving again.

"I know. Considering our last mission and our encounter with that particular mercenary group, I doubt his intentions are anything honest," Miranda commented. She hesitated again before adding, "He seemed rather interested in you."

Entering the armory and greeting Jacob with a nod, Shepard turned to face her. "How interested?"

"More than I'd like," she answered.

"Why would he care about me, anyway?" Shepard asked. "We're here to pick up a prisoner, not cause trouble."

"I'm not saying you're going to cause trouble, I'm saying that you're going to walk into it," Miranda corrected. "He seemed much more interested in our conversation the moment I told him that you were coming aboard his ship." Sighing, she ran her hand through her hair before leaning on one of the tables next to Shepard's weapons locker. "Look, recovering your body for the Lazarus Project wasn't actually easy. To be honest, we weren't the first," she admitted.

"Wait, what?" Shepard asked with confusion evident in his tone.

"The Shadow Broker wanted your body first. He hired the Blue Suns to retrieve you," she explained.

Jacob crossed his arms. "Never trust a mercenary," he said. "So you're thinking that they might want to cash in now?"

"I don't know. I just think that we should proceed with caution," she advised.

"Fine. I'll take Garrus and Grunt with me."

"Kuril won't like this," Miranda warned.

Shepard smirked. "They're mercs. They want money. Either from Jack or from me. They're not going to turn us away just because you forgot to pass on his 'request'."

Jacob chuckled while Miranda smiled. "Well, then. Orders, sir?" she asked.

Shepard opened his locker and started to check over his equipment. "Only Garrus and Grunt are coming along. You have the Normandy in the meantime."

Miranda frowned. "Just the three of you?"

The door opened, admitting Garrus and Grunt into the armory.

"Arm up, both of you," Shepard said. Turning to Miranda, he explained, "You said it yourself. Kuril didn't know it was me until now. Any trap he makes will probably be half-assed or just made-up on the spot." Equipping his weapons, he continued, "If there's any trouble, the three of us can probably fight our way through the ship, take Jack and blow through whatever he throws our way."

"Wait," Garrus interjected. "Did you say 'Kuril'?"

Shepard turned to Garrus curiously. "You know him?"

"Barefaced bastard," Garrus muttered to himself before explaining. "Ignoring the fact that Purgatory is run by the Blue Suns, C-Sec launched a few investigations into Kuril himself."

"What kind of investigations?" Jacob asked.

"Slavery, torture, extortion; that kind of thing," Garrus listed off. "Buying prisoners isn't something new on Purgatory, but with a few legal loopholes, they can cover their tracks if they're selling slaves too. C-Sec hasn't had any luck so far making any charges stick."

"Considering we've just destroyed a Sun's base, our welcome will probably wear out quick, if he knows it was us," Shepard speculated.

"I'll say," Jacob agreed. "What does 'barefaced' mean anyway?" he asked Garrus.

"It's turian slang and an insult really," Miranda answered when Garrus looked preoccupied with his M-8. "Turians tend to have their colony origins designated by elaborate markings on their face, such as you see with Garrus."

Garrus looked up when his named was called to show his clan markings before returning to his prep.

"Turians without such markings are turians that can't be trusted in their culture. Thus the term 'barefaced' was born," Miranda finished looking thoughtful. "Come to think of it, Kuril didn't have any markings on his face."

"Bah! Who cares? Are we fighting them or not?" Grunt asked.

"That depends how greedy and how stupid Kuril is," Shepard answered as he stood up, his preparations completed.

"Considering he's a merc, the answer is yes. To both," Garrus said to Grunt, as he completed his own prep.

"Good. I've been waiting for this," Grunt said in anticipation as he equipped an M-8 Avenger Assault Rifle and an M-23 Katana Shotgun.

"If Kuril has a surprise waiting for us inside, then he'll definitely try to make a move on the Normandy. I'll leave it to you to decide how best to handle the situation. You, Jacob, Mordin and whatever crewmen that's able to fight ensure that they don't get her," Shepard said to Miranda.

"I don't know how much help Mordin's going to be," Jacob said as he glanced at the door leading to the lab.

"Something wrong?" Shepard asked, concerned.

"No. He mentioned something about a breakthrough and asked not to be disturbed. Then he locked the doors," explained Jacob.

"We should leave him be," Miranda declared. "We still need the countermeasures against the Collector's seeker swarms." Grabbing her rifle from her locker, she added, "I've asked EDI to begin hacking into their security network, so we should have the advantage."

Shepard nodded appreciatively. "Thanks, Miranda."

"We're docking with Purgatory now," Hawthorne called.

"All hands, stand by for docking procedures," EDI added.

"EDI, give me ship-wide intercom," Shepard requested.

"Intercom on, Commander."

"All hands. This is Commander Shepard. Report to general quarters. I repeat: all hands report to general quarters," he ordered before gesturing to EDI to close the comm.

"Are you sure you're going to be all right by yourselves?" Miranda asked.

"It's fine. If worst comes to worst, it's still a prison, which means they have to be careful or any fight might set off a riot. That'll definitely keep them busy," Shepard smirked. "Let's go and no helmets. I don't want to look we're on our guard, at least nothing out of the ordinary. Let them think they have the upper hand over us," Shepard said to his away team. Before he left the armory, he turned and looked Miranda directly in the eye. "Someday, we're going to talk about what hell happened during the last two years."

Miranda had a small smile on her face, the kind that told him that she knew more than he could ever guess. That smile irritated him to no end. "We'll see."

Shepard gave her a mock parting glare before turning around and leaving.

The Normandy slowly approached the former 'ark ship'. Purgatory was massive, with a long cylindrical main body and 10 arms jutting out from the port and starboard sides.

After reaching the designated dock, magnetic clamps attached themselves to the frigate, securing, or shackling, her in place. Almost as if the Normandy herself just became a prisoner of Purgatory.

Dossier: The Convict

Jack (No last name known)

Exceptional biotic ability

Note: Criminal background, currently in custody

Jack is rumored to be the most powerful human biotic ever encountered. Very little additional data regarding Jack is available, except that the subject has a history of violence and should be approached carefully. Currently, Jack is being held on the turian prison ship Purgatory. Cerberus has negotiated for the prisoner's release.

Location: Hourglass Nebula, Osun System, Purgatory Prison Ship

Shepard and his team stepped out of the airlock and made their way down the docking bay. Ahead, they could see a trio of armed guards that were waiting to greet them.

The middle merc stepped forward. "Welcome to the Purgatory, Agent Shepard. Your package is being prepped and you can claim it shortly," he said.

Shepard had to suppress a sneer when the merc said 'package'. Since he wasn't wearing a helmet, he had to be careful not to show any expressions that might be misinterpreted. Damn slavers.

The guard looked over Shepard and his team. "You were told to come alone and leave all weapons behind. As this is a high-security vessel, you'll need to relinquish your weapons before we proceed. The other two must turn back."

As quick as any gunslinger, Shepard had his pistol out and trained on the merc in front of him. Garrus and Grunt followed suit almost as fast with their own pistols. The three mercs looked startled at the sudden show of force, but still had the presence of mind to raise their weapons as well.

"I'll relinquish one bullet," Shepard threatened. "Where do you want it?" he said evenly as he pointed his pistol at various body parts.

The door behind the mercs opened and another turian entered the room. "Everyone stand down," he ordered.

A turian without markings. This must be Kuril…

"Agent Shepard," the warden greeted with a nod of head. "I'm Warden Kuril and this is my ship." He stopped behind his subordinates and observed the Spectre. "You weapons will be returned on the way out. You must realize this is just standard procedure. As for your friends…"

"I'm not surrendering my weapons and they're here to help me keep a reign on Jack. I don't give a damn about your procedures," Shepard growled.

The warden of Purgatory and the Spectre agent glared at each other, their gazes locked in a silent battle of dominance. Finally, Kuril's mandibles open and closed slowly in agitation. "Let them proceed," he eventually said. "Our facility is more than secure enough to handle three armed guests." Kuril turned around and started for the door. Shepard holstered his pistol and followed, keeping a wary eye out for anything amiss. "We're bringing Jack out of cryo. As soon as the funds clear, you can be on your way." Stopping at the door, he turned sideways to regard Shepard. "If you'll follow me to Outprocessing for the pickup, Agent Shepard."

"After you," Shepard said coolly. Miranda was right. This guy needs a bullet or two.

"Cellblock Two. As you can see, we keep tight control over the population," Kuril said as he gave a brief tour of his prison.

They were in a long hallway, long sheets of framed glass serving as walls. They passed by several Blue Suns mercs standing at a myriad of posts inside the hallway, overlooking the cellblock.

Looking out the window, Shepard could see mechanical arms reaching out and grabbing containers, only to move them to various locations. Cells, probably.

Kuril confirmed his suspicions as they moved along the tube. "Each prisoner's cell is a self-contained, modular unit. I've blown a few out the airlocks as an example," he stated remorselessly. "The ship is made up of 30 cell blocks identical to this one – we house thousands of criminals." Stopping, he turned around and placed his arms behind his back. "We can put the whole place in lockdown on a moment's notice. Nothing goes wrong here."

Shepard maintained his poker face throughout Kuril's speech. For your sake, you better not mess with me or I'll be the first to change that. Crossing his arms, Shepard regarded the warden and tried to figure out his motives. "How did you end up running this ship?"

Kuril turned to look out over the cell block before he answered. "I was in law enforcement in Palaven and got sick of seeing criminals escape out into the galaxy to carry on with their crimes. Bounty hunters aren't dependable." He gestured to the cellblock, as he continued. "Eventually I hit upon this idea. Keep the criminals in space and the galaxy is a safer place. "

"So you do this because you think it's necessary?"

Kuril's jaws and mandibles twisted into a turian version of a sneer. "Every day I see the worst sapient life has to offer. Governments are soft, unwilling to make the hard choices. Someone had to stand up and make the galaxy safe."

I can't believe he's actually trying to spoon feed me that line of bullshit, Shepard thought incredulously. He almost sounds like he believes it. Glancing out the window Kuril was gazing through, Shepard causally remarked, "Maintaining a population this size can't be cheap."

"We can cut corners that governments can't," Kuril replied. "And each prisoner brings in a fee from his homeworld. These individuals are violent and their home planets pay well to keep them here."

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "And if the homeworld doesn't want to pay?"

"We explain that we can't maintain the prisoner without their help, so we'll be forced to release him back onto his homeworld," he answered before adding, "At an unspecified place and time."

And there goes his 'stand up and make the galaxy safe' speech. So much for 'getting sick of letting criminals escape'.

"Huh. So you scare the homeworlds with the prisoners," Grunt said with touch of appreciation.

"An extortion racket then," Garrus said succinctly, his tone at odds with the krogan.

Kuril glared at his fellow turian. "You don't have to agree with my methods, but don't question my motives. These are despicable people and I'm keeping them locked up," he defended.

Shepard was glad that Garrus' expression remained neutral. We all have questions about your motives, 'Warden'. "What can you tell me about Jack?" Shepard asked.

None of them were prepared for the look of fear that crossed Kuril's face. His mandibles began opening and closing agitatedly. "Cerberus hasn't told you?"

Shepard frowned. "No," he simply said.

"Jack is the meanest handful of violence and hate I've ever encountered. Dangerous, crazy, and very powerful. You'll see soon enough."

Despite Kuril's less-than-kind words, there was a disturbing reverence, maybe even admiration, in his tone that actually made Shepard doubt if he wanted Jack on his squad. If we're here, we might as well go all the way… "Let's get on with this." Famous last words.

"I bet people try pretty hard to get out," Grunt commented as the group moved through the corridors.

Kuril snorted. "We're in space – they have nowhere to go and they know it. But still, we exercise extreme caution. These are dangerous individuals."

As if to prove his point, he gestured at the window to point out two prisoners arguing. A batarian guard nearby used his omni-tool to activate a nearby force-field projection tower to separate the prisoners before things could get out of hand.

"We have many ways to control the population," Kuril smugly added.

As they passed through a doorway, Kuril stopped and turned to Shepard. "Outprocessing is straight down this hallway," he directed, pointing down the hallway. "Jack will be there. Once you're satisfied, I'll release the prisoner into your care after I confirm that the funds from Cerberus have cleared. Just keep going past the interrogation rooms and the supermax wing." Turning to leave, Kuril gave the Spectre one last parting glance. "I'll catch up with you later… Shepard."

Shepard merely nodded. Not very subtle.

The trio moved down the corridor as directed, passing by several more guards that watched their every move. After a few minutes, they heard the sounds of pained screams, each accompanied by the sounds of a savage beating.

Rounding a bend, Shepard saw a line of rooms to his right. Each one was occupied by a prisoner. In the first room he came across revealed the sources of the sounds. A turian guard was working over a prisoner with a club. The prisoner was curled in a fetal position and screaming as the guard continued his thrashing.

Grunt actually looked disgusted at the display. "Bah, let him die on his feet at least."

Garrus shook his head. "You don't even get good information that way – after a point, victims admit to anything to make the pain stop."

Shepard did his best to remain stoic in the face of the brutality – for the benefit of his squad as well as ensuring that the guards around them don't perceive any signs of weakness. Turning away, he said in an even tone, "What makes you think that they're interrogating him?"

"You think they're not?" Garrus asked.

Continuing toward their destination, Shepard said, "I doubt most of the prisoners here have any real information the Blue Suns are interested in. 'Interrogation Rooms' is probably just the official name. I'm betting they use these rooms for corporal punishment."

"Prisoner gets out of line and the guards will take'em somewhere for a lesson," Grunt translated.

"Probably," Shepard said, ignoring a prisoner's pleas to buy him or the other prisoner's insane mutterings.

"I'm not sure what's worse then. Torture for information or torture for obedience," Garrus said with revulsion.

"I don't see the difference," Shepard said quietly to him. "It's still torture and I despise the idea entirely. I actually find myself agreeing with Grunt. They should give these people some measure of dignity."

"If these idiots are going to attack us, it'd better be soon," Grunt growled. "I actually want to tear this scum apart."

As they approached the door to Outprocessing, EDI finally called Shepard. "Commander, I've successfully tapped into the security network of Purgatory and I have bad news."

"Thrill me," Shepard deadpanned as they entered a large room. A single technician was working at a nearby console.

"Outprocessing is through the door on the far side of the room," he informed them.

"Reports indicate that they have not moved Jack from cryo nor is there any activity indicating that they intend to do so," EDI reported.

"So we're just wasting our time here," Garrus whispered, wary of the cameras tracking them.

"Also, they have just conducted a search regarding a bounty for you, dead or alive, issued by the Shadow Broker minutes before your arrival."

Aw, hell. They stopped in the middle of the room. "So they really want to cash me in, huh?" Shepard stated quietly.

"They have security teams amassing for an assault on your position should you attempt to resist, Commander. Another group is near moving toward the docking bay where the Normandy is currently at."

"Garrus," Shepard said, before pointing at the tech.

Garrus understood immediately and walked over to the only other soul inside the room. Grabbing him roughly by the collar and ignoring his frantic cries, Garrus threw him under the nearest table. "Keep your head down. We don't want you to take a stray bullet or get caught by the explosions."

"W-w-wha…?" the techie stammered.

"All right, Kuril! I know you're watching me!" Shepard called out.

"My apologies, Shepard. You're more valuable as a prisoner than a customer," Kuril responded via intercom.

The door on the far side of the room opened to reveal yet another cell.

"Drop your weapons and proceed into this open cell. You will not be harmed."

Threatening me nicely is his grand plan? I think was more afraid of Jedore…

"How about you give me Jack and I won't kill you and your guards. If I'm still a good mood, maybe I won't destroy your damn ship too. I think that's more than generous."

"You're outnumbered, we have automated turrets tracking your every move, and we have your ship and crew hostage. You don't have much choice here, Shepard," Kuril threatened.

"He is bluffing, Commander. I have disabled much of the defenses within the ship and Executive Lawson reports that the primary ambush team has failed to take the Normandy moments ago," EDI said.

"If I had the time Kuril, I'd lock you up in your own prison just to watch the convicts rip you apart, but since I don't, I'll settle for tearing my way through whatever guards or mechs you have before killing you myself," Shepard taunted. "Congratulations, I'm now officially in a bad mood."

"Activate systems!"

"EDI," Shepard called quietly into his radio, "I need you to disable the cameras. And take control of the docking clamps on the Normandy. We may need to leave at a moment's notice. And get Jack out of cryo."

"Understood, Commander. Disabling cameras now. Be advised, several mercenaries are converging on your location."

"Firing concussive shot!" Garrus warned as he pulled out his sniper rifle and aimed it at the door.

Five guards stormed the room only to be blown back by Garrus' attack.

Grunt roared in glee as he finally engaged in his first battle. He charged forward, pumping his shotgun at the scattered mercs. They attempted to get back up to return fire, only to be shot down as Shepard covered Grunt's advance.

Grunt rushed forward and pressed his gun against the closest merc and blew a gaping hole in his chest at point blank before headbutting another merc and bringing his boot down on his neck. He looked around only to see that Shepard and Garrus took down the other three.

"Damn, Fenrir mechs incoming!" Shepard warned, before firing on the dog-like mechs charging into the room.

Garrus and Shepard began mowing down the mechs as they charged their positions. Grunt merely grabbed one before it had a chance to charge him and lifted it up to eye level before he pressed his shotgun against the mech and destroyed its inner mechanisms and then tossed the remains at the others. "Weaklings!"

"Reinforce Outprocessing! Shepard is loose!" Kuril yelled.

"Commander, I am unable to access the cryo prison remotely. To free Jack, you must manually disengage the locks yourself," EDI reported.

"Where do we go?" Shepard demanded as he and his team stacked up against the door and prepared themselves for more resistance.

"Take the next left and proceed down the hallway. Past the supermax wing is the cryo wing. Jack is in the third cryo-cell."

"Move!" Shepard ordered. All three stepped out and began exchanging fire with the guards from the opposite side of the hallway.

"Second wave incoming!" Miranda warned as she, Jacob, and crewmen's Patel and Rolston held the docking bay to prevent entry into the Normandy. The other, less experienced, combatants inside was still equipped to repel any invaders should Miranda's team be overwhelmed.

"I see them ma'am!" Patel responded as she readied her detonator.

As soon as the next wave of mercs crossed the threshold, she triggered the explosives around the entryway and ended the threat quickly.

"EDI, status," Miranda said as she kept a watchful eye for any more Suns.

"The commander is currently making his way to the cryo wing. He has encountered resistance, but probability suggests that the mercenaries stationed ahead are not skilled enough to stop him. I have gained full control of the security network and have disabled much of the Blue Suns capabilities to engage us. As per the commander's orders, I've taken full control of the docking bay. We can leave whenever he wishes. Finally, I am detecting at least 10 mercenaries closing on your position. At least four are armed with missile launchers."

"Jacob, Rolston, you're up," Miranda ordered.

"Got it." – "Yes, ma'am."

Both men prepared their own brand of heavy weapons as they watched the door carefully, on guard for any grenades, bullets, or missiles their opponents might use to charge their positions.

"Commander Shepard has reached the cryo wing, Executive Lawson," EDI reported.

Miranda mentally sighed to herself. I hope this Jack is worth all this effort.

"Shepard is here! Repeat, Shepard is in the cryo wing! Get people down here!" a technician yelled as gunfire rained on his cover. He and one last merc were hiding behind a table and exchanging fire with Grunt and Shepard.

Any reply he might have received wasn't heard when Shepard used his biotics to throw the entire table into both of them. The sounds of snapping bones indicated that both were unable to fight, one way or the other.

"Garrus, you alright?" Shepard asked, his expression one of concern.

"Yeah. Little medi-gel and I'll be alright. Lucky shot, that's all," Garrus dismissed as he tended to the wound on his arm.

Shepard was about to ask Grunt the same thing when he noted that the krogan was already healing quickly, as per the norm of his species.

Satisfied that his companions were both combat ready, Shepard turned to the console in front of him and began typing. After a few minutes, Shepard nodded. "This is it. Jack's right here."

"How much longer?" Garrus asked from his position near the door.

"Lot of security here…" Shepard mumbled to himself. "Not surprising since this is a prison. If it wasn't for the program Kenn gave me, I don't think I could have hacked my way in this far."

"What the hell does all that mean? Can you do it or not?" Grunt tersely asked.

"Almost there…" Shepard said, typing rapidly into the console. "Got it."

All of them looked through the window from the observation booth above Jack's cryo-cell. A mechanical arm extended and reached down to grasp the cell as the four locks holding it in place retracted. The arm lifted the cell, revealing the convict they were after.

Shepard was gobsmacked. She's the one we've been looking for?

"That's Jack?" Garrus asked, sounding as shocked as Shepard felt.

"Huh. That's a small looking human," commented Grunt. "Can that scrawny thing even fight?"

The convict Kuril seemed to be so afraid of, the convict Kuril deemed necessary to lock into cryo, turned out be a young woman.

Shepard saw her gasp as she woke up. She began struggling against her restraints as four doors along the walls of the room opened, revealing four YMIR mechs.

Immediately, Shepard typed the commands into the console to release her.

The shackles suddenly unlocked and Jack felt herself falling. Catching the side of her cell, she started coughing and shook her head to clear away the after effects of the cryo. The sounds of mechanical motion prompted her to look up.

Fuck.

Four YMIR mechs were stomping toward her.

I'll be damned if I'm going back in this shithole!

Already, she could feel her eezo nodes tingle as she started glowing. After all this time, it was practically an instinct to her. Screaming in primal rage, she rushed at the mechs, her fist cocked back and charged with concentrated dark energy.

The control booth shook from the impact of Jack's attack. Several smaller explosions were heard following afterward. All three men looked through the window again, but couldn't see anything through the smoke and fires. Moments later, more explosions were heard, travelling away from their location.

Grunt started laughing. "Oh, I want to see this! Let's go!" he said before running off.

Looks like his opinion of her has changed, Shepard idly thought. Not that he could blame him, since Shepard had similar thoughts about his soon-to-be recruit. Suppressing a sigh, he nodded wearily at Garrus. The duo turned to follow Grunt in search of their wayward convict.

"Commander…" EDI started before Shepard spoke up.

"More bad news, EDI?" Shepard interrupted as he and Garrus caught up to Grunt at the stairs.

"I'm afraid so. The explosions caused by Jack have triggered Purgatory's emergency response system."

Shepard halted at the door and held his rifle ready. "Speed it up, EDI. We're having something of a crisis here," he hissed.

"The cells within the cellblocks were to remain closed and locked during an emergency. However, due to my interference with disabling Purgatory's security network, the cells have all opened instead. A mass riot is now in progress."

"Beautiful…" Garrus groaned.

Opening the door, Shepard's eyes quickly swept the room for any signs of trouble. The only things he saw were four wrecked YMIR mechs. Wow.

Grunt laughed again. "Let's move! I want to see how long she'll last!"

This time, Shepard couldn't suppress his sigh.

"Warning, warning," an automated voice droned.

Jack ignored the voice and the bullets striking her cover as she biotically reached out and grabbed one of the arms that were used to transport cells. Tearing it out from the ceiling she threw the massive hunk of metal on the mercs attacking her. Feeling satisfied at the sounds of their screams of fear and pain, she continued her rampage toward the bridge.

That fucking warden thinks he's so smart. Keep me trapped in space and I'll have nowhere to go, huh? How about I kill him and all the other bastards in the way and steal the entire prison ship? Bet that fucker didn't think of that! Jack thought gleefully to herself.

She turned a corner and saw some other prisoners standing over some mercs, grabbing whatever weapons they can. Snarling, she let her rage bubble over as she prepared to rip into her next victims.

And no one is stopping me this time!

"All guards: restore order! Lethal force authorized! But don't kill Jack! Techs: lockdown! Lockdown!" Kuril yelled.

"I wonder why he cares so much about Jack?" Garrus asked as they followed the trail of destruction she left behind.

"I got a few ideas and I like none of them," Shepard snarled, his opinion of Kuril hitting rock bottom and more.

Pushing forward, they carefully moved through what looked like a utility tunnel. Pipes and walls were twisted and warped, exposed wires were sparking erratically, and the bodies of guards and convicts alike were littered all over the place.

Finally coming to a gaping hole in the wall, Shepard cautiously peered out. Wow, he thought again. He could see the remains of an automated arm that transported cells now lying in a pile of twisted metal on the far side of the cell block. Above, in one of the hallways, Shepard could see some of the mercs fighting with the escaped convicts. Severed wires were dangling from the remains of the various transport mechanisms, electricity arcing out dangerously from the exposed power cables. Another automated arm suddenly fell right next to them, forcing them to duck down.

"She's blowing everything up! I like her!" Grunt grinned.

Gunfire and shouts were heard past some debris. Shepard stayed down and instructed his team to do the same. "EDI, can you tell me where Jack is?"

"Jack is two cell blocks away from your current location, Commander, however, your progress is impeded by a significant amount of debris. You will need to take an alternate route if you wish to reach her."

"I'm open to suggestions," Shepard invited as he listened to the sounds of combat. He instinctively started to judge enemy numbers, types of weapons used, and distance.

"There are a number of utility tunnels you can use to circumvent the cell blocks. Be advised: while it is not likely the prisoners are aware of these tunnels, the Blue Suns are. They are currently using these tunnels to fortify several chokepoints throughout the ship."

"Any idea where Jack is going?" Garrus asked.

"Her movements appear random. I believe she is lost," EDI answered.

"Is she alright?" Shepard asked.

"I detect no significant injuries. It appears that her biotics are actually growing stronger. She has likely recovered from being placed into cryo-stasis."

"Keep an eye on her for us. We're on our way," Shepard said.

"I have to admit, this girl is powerful, but she lacks subtlety," Garrus commented as he observed the destruction around them. The mechanical arm nearby shifted a bit more as it finally settled from its drop.

"All prisoners: return to your cells immediately or I'll open every airlock on this ship!" Kuril yelled from the intercom.

"Sounds like he's having a bad day," Shepard grinned.

"We didn't bring helmets. We going to be okay?" Garrus asked.

"EDI won't let him do that, we're fine," Shepard assured. "Let's go."

All three moved closer to the sounds of the battle nearby. Climbing over some of the wreckage, they saw some convicts fighting guards that were backed up with an YMIR mech.

Shepard saw Grunt grin out of the corner of his eye and put a hand on his arm to restrain him. "Not yet."

Grunt growled at the command, but held his position. Satisfied that Grunt wouldn't charge into the fray, Shepard turned to Garrus. "We'll take the YMIR out first, then the guards. The cons won't have shields, so they should be easy pickings."

"Got it, Shepard," Garrus nodded.

Garrus climbed higher to get a nice perch while Shepard and Grunt made their way down. "We'll be handling the heavy mech. Wait for their numbers thin first before we move in."

"Where's the fun in that?" Grunt grumbled.

"I guess it was too much to think that Okeer implanted you with combat tactics," Shepard retorted. "You want to be an idiot? Rush in there and see what happens. Garrus and I will wait."

Grunt glared at him for a moment before turning to survey the battle just in time to see a prisoner get blown up by one of the YMIR's missiles. Turning back, he saw Shepard's challenging look remained unchanged. Growling softly, this time to himself, he settled down, but held his shotgun ready.

They both watched as the guards and the mech easily subdued the convicts. The mercs left their cover to inspect the bodies to ensure their kills with their mech obediently following.

"Garrus?" Shepard called softy through his radio.

"Ready," Garrus responded.

Shepard glanced up and saw several large electrical cables still hanging from where one the automated arms used to be attached. Using his biotics, he grabbed one of the cords and threw the severed end at the mech. The mech froze in place as its shields were drained instantly, its inner mechanisms fried, and its sensors rendered inoperable; then it exploded right next to the mercs.

That had to be the mother-in-law of overloads.

"Okay, Grunt. Charge," Shepard simply said, before rushing out of cover first to fire on the disoriented mercs. Hearing Grunt's roar and a distant crack of a sniper rifle, Shepard knew they had things well in hand.

Garrus saw one last merc trying to desperately run from Grunt as the krogan enthusiastically, but erratically, fired his shotgun in pursuit. "Stand still!" he yelled. Leading the target slightly to compensate, Garrus fired a clean shot right into the merc's head, downing him instantly.

Grunt stopped running and looked up at the turian hidden in the debris. "He was mine!"

"You were taking too long!" Garrus called back as he climbed down to regroup.

"I would've got him!" Grunt growled.

"Then write your name on him or something beforehand," Garrus taunted.

Grunt was about to reply with something scathing when a scream interrupted him.

Garrus looked up to see a merc floating in the air before a burst of automatic fire silenced him. Looking around, he spotted Shepard holding his HMWA loosely in his arms.

"If you're both done, we still have a convict to chase and a ship to abandon," Shepard said evenly, but Garrus could detect a hint of warning beneath his tone.

"Warning: power plant damage has led to overload. Core systems failure imminent," a VI informed, reinforcing Shepard's point.

"Why aren't we locking down the cellblocks?!" Kuril screamed.

"Commander, I have Kuril's position. He is in the next cellblock over from your location," EDI said.

"Looks like we're going through the warden then," Garrus said.

Grunt grinned. "Good. I wanted a piece of him."

Garrus didn't know if he meant that figuratively or literally. Judging by the maniacal grin the krogan's face though, he was willing to bet the latter.

"The hull has been breached in Sectors 12, 14, and 30. No survivors," the VI reported.

"Time to go," Shepard called.

All three sprinted the length of the cell block and stopped at a sealed door. Shepard got down and began bypassing the locks. In a matter seconds, the door opened and Garrus darted in with his assault rifle.

"Clear!"

As Shepard and Grunt entered, screams were heard from the other end of the utility tunnel. The trio moved as one toward the door, their weapons up and ready for anything.

Garrus paused at the door and listened closely for anything amiss. "I think I hear another heavy mech."

Shepard remained silent, trying to confirm his friend's report. "Hydraulics and explosions. That's a heavy all right."

"I hear Kuril too," Garrus added.

Grunt stepped up next to the door. "Sounds like he's pissed," he grinned.

Garrus opened the door and peered in.

"It's Kuril and he has Tech Armor. He's also got an elevated position," Garrus reported. He saw Kuril gun down two convicts with an assault rifle model he only saw once or twice on Omega. The rest of his guards coldly executed a third prisoner.

Shepard shuffled up to the open door. "There's some cover over there. Go!"

Garrus ran from the doorway, firing his M-8 wildly in the Kuril's general direction. He could hear Shepard and Grunt do the same behind him. The moment the mercs returned fire, Garrus threw a trio of grenades before using his Tactical Cloak to vanish from sight. "Fire in the hole!" his voice echoed.

The grenades did the trick. The mercs ran and scattered from their positions as their makeshift defilade fell apart from the explosions.

"Damn you, Shepard!" Kuril cursed. "You're just as valuable dead!"

"Which is more than what I can say for you, Kuril!" Shepard yelled. "You're a two-bit slave trader and I don't have time for your bullshit!"

Still invisible, Garrus moved to a higher position and readied a concussive shot in his assault rifle while Shepard kept Kuril distracted.

"I do the hard things civil governments are unwilling to do! This is for the good of the galaxy!" Kuril yelled back.

"A son of a bitch like you doesn't get to lecture me about what's good for the galaxy!" Shepard said before he used Throw on large crate and tossed it at a group of mercs.

Garrus took that as his cue to use Overload on Kuril before firing away with his assault rifle. Grunt saw more guards trying to flank their position and ran directly at them, picking up the body of a convict and using it as a projectile to knock the mercs over as he closed the distance. "I'll put them down!" he declared.

Garrus cursed when the Tech Armor held up against his attack, but the concussive rounds knocked Kuril over the railing and down on the lower floor.

A missile exploding on the wall nearby reminded Garrus of the YMIR. Ducking down, he spotted the mech marching toward him, firing its massive guns and forcing him to stay down. "Shepard! This thing has me pinned!"

Shepard looked up and saw the YMIR advancing on Garrus, still firing a nearly endless stream of bullets. In order to reach Garrus though, the mech had to move across a bridge linking the raised platforms.

Garrus checked his omni-tool and cursed. He still couldn't use his cloak yet. Another missile impacted his cover. Chancing a look, Garrus peeked over and saw the mech was still closing in on him. "Shepard! I could really use some help here!" he called out as he blindly fired his M-8. The mech's shields easily held up as it stomped across the bridge. Cursing, Garrus was about to toss the rest of his grenades at it when he saw the telltale glow of dark energy.

The bridge began warping and twisting with the YMIR still on it. The clumsy mech tried to regain its footing, but it was too slow. Garrus watched as the bridge was torn out from both sides and collapsed, bringing the mech down along with it. Looking down, he saw the mech on its back amidst a pile of scrap metal, futilely moving its limbs in an effort to stand up.

Shepard jumped on the helpless mech's chest and shoved a grenade inside its chest before ducking down as Kuril started firing at both the Spectre and the YMIR. Using Tactical Cloak, Shepard vanished just before the grenade and mech exploded.

Shepard reappeared moments later, shooting back at Kuril.

"Thanks!" Garrus called out. Leveling his own assault rifle at Kuril, Garrus starting firing as well, prompting Kuril to duck back down. A flicker of movement above caught Garrus' eye. When he looked up, he spotted Jack running through one of the hallways. "I see Jack! She's right above us!"

"Garrus! I'm going after Jack! Can you handle him?!" Shepard called from across the room as Kuril fired down on their positions.

Garrus answered him by placing his M-8 Avenger on the ground while smoothly drawing his M-79 Viper and stepping out of cover in one smooth motion before firing. Kuril's shout of surprise and the sudden pause of gunfire told Shepard that his friend hit the mark.

"Do you even have to ask?!" Garrus yelled back, picking up his assault rifle and firing on some mercs near Grunt while Kuril shouted out orders to his subordinates and insults toward his attackers.

"You two take care of this group then!" Shepard shouted to both aliens. "Good luck!" he added before using his Tactical Cloak to continue his pursuit of the young woman.

"Cover Shepard!" Garrus shouted to Grunt.

Grunt just roared as he jumped from cover, heedless of the enemy attack and began firing his M-23 Katana at anything holding a weapon.

Garrus shook his head in exasperation as he picked up his sniper rifle again and scoped out more mercs, taking note of the assault rifle Kuril was holding. That's a nice piece…

Two more mercs stood in her way as Jack continued her assault towards the bridge. Using Throw to bring them both to the ground she lifted one up and slammed him into the window, satisfied at the wet crack of his broken spine before doing the same to the other.

Turning away from the fresh corpses, she noted the frigate outside the window and focused on the emblem stamped on the nose.

She recognized it immediately. She'd recognize it anywhere.

Fucking Cerberus! HERE!!!

Rage filled her as the memories flooded back. Every moment remembered and relived, every emotion felt, and everything she'd ever hated about the shadowy organization ran rampant through her mind that she forgot where she was. She screamed in fury as she paced in front of the window in a frenzy, thinking of the ways she would destroy the vessel and everyone in it.

The sound of a gunshot broke her vengeful thoughts. She turned to her right to see a Blue Suns merc go down. Turning to her left, she saw a man in black armor holstering his pistol. He ain't a merc and he ain't a prisoner. Motherfucker has to be Cerberus, she thought, a smile of glee crossing her face.

Jack didn't know or cared who he was nor did she care why he saved her or put his weapon away. All she saw was her next victim. Pushing electric impulses through the appropriate eezo modules, Jack rushed at her next target.

Shepard had a bad feeling when he saw the grim smile on Jack's face only moments before she glowed with dark energy… then she disappeared. Less than an eye blink later, he felt the wind knocked out of him when the smaller girl rammed him. Flying several feet back and landing painfully on the deck, Shepard thrust out his arm at his attacker as he slid backward, his attack catching her square in the chest and forcing her to fly back and land painfully on the deck as well. He noted that beyond the landing, his intentionally weakened attack didn't hurt her. Gotta make sure not to injure her too badly. She's no good to us crippled.

Getting up immediately, Shepard was relieved to see his shields and armor held against her charge. See her glow again, Shepard called out, "I'm not here to fight you!" She responded with a glare and snarl. "Stand down!" he ordered. "I don't want to hurt you!"

Damn. Looks like she wants to injure me plenty… Maybe I should've brought Grunt along after all…

Fucking son of a bitch!!!

Jack was completely caught off guard by the biotic talent her opponent had. The actual attack didn't really hurt, but sliding across the deck topless wasn't particularly pleasant.

Getting up, she saw him prepare himself for her next attack.

"I'm not here to fight you!" he called out.

Bullshit. Whatever you're here for, it's probably worse, she viciously thought, glaring at him and growling.

"Stand down! I don't want to hurt you!" he said as he shifted his stance.

That's your fucking problem, not mine.

Throwing her arm into the air, she tried to lift him off the deck, but his shields disrupted her attack. His biotic counterattack curved around and behind her, missing her completely. Changing tactics, she was about to try to pick something up and use it to slam his head against the nearest bulkhead when a crate slammed into her unguarded back, throwing her face first into the floor again as her concentration broke.

"Bastard! I'll kill you!!!" Jack screamed from the ground as she moved her arm in a wide arc.

Small orbs of dark energy flared into existence around her adversary just before they began exploding. His shields took the brunt of the attack, but the effect was enough to stagger him.

Getting up, she used the same crate he used and biotically threw it at the stranger. He managed to use his own biotics to blast the crate away before he retaliated with Warp. Unarmored and unshielded, Jack fell to her knees screaming as she felt like she was being ripped apart. However, growing up with a lifetime of pain allowed her to use it as a weapon, clearing her mind and focusing her own abilities. Gritting her teeth, she threw her arm out, creating a full-powered Push, breaking the shields and sending him down the length of the hallway. Shaking her head to clear away the pain and regain her focus, she saw him stand up immediately from her attack.

Stubborn asshole! Just fucking die already!

Summoning several crates around her, she threw them all at the same time. With a cascade of flotsam bearing down on the man, he managed to push a few away, but had to run and dodge the others. Jack kept up her assault, throwing larger and larger objects at him, even the two corpses nearby. She was caught off guard when he used his biotics to rip a piece of the bulkhead next to her and slammed it against her head, disrupting her concentration and allowing him to push everything away.

Fuck this! Deciding on the direct approach, she rushed forward, slamming her next biotic assault directly against his. The moment their respective attacks met, a pulsing sphere of dark energy was created between them. Jack pushed hard against the creation, looking to beat him down through sheer power.

Slowly but steadily, the ball of energy was being forced on her foe, the forces Jack was exerting far greater than what her opponent could fight against.

I got you now!

Shepard knew he was in trouble. On top of holding back to avoid injuring Jack, the differences of experience were beginning to show. Every biotic attack he needed to make had to be thought out and prepared, forcing more tactical or smarter decisions on his behalf. Jack definitely had more time to develop her abilities considering the way she was hurling attack after attack with less effort than breathing. So far, the only thing keeping him in one piece was the fact that he had armor and most importantly, shields.

Now, locked in a battle of dominance, his novice talents couldn't hold against her considerable power. In a fair one-on-one match, he definitely didn't stand a chance. Unbidden, his mind recalled one of his N7 instructors:

We're the best the Alliance has! When everyone else fails, we don't! We don't train you to fight fair! We train you to win!

Struggling against the storm of biotic energy bearing down on him, Shepard reached into his grenade pouch.

Almost there…

Jack could feel victory at hand. Another push and she'd watch him explode from the mass effect fields produced from their combined conflict. A metallic clinking sound at her feet prompted her to glance down. Her eyes widened as she identified the source.

Fucking bastard!

Her lapse in concentration cost her. The man seized the opportunity from her distraction to take control of the dark energy and released some of its power against her. The resulting explosion knocked her off her feet and slammed her body against the bulkhead. After the energy washed over her and dispersed, Jack slid painfully to the deck, barely conscious and barely aware of anything but the pain.

Struggling to fight back against the darkness, against her enemy, and against her weakness, she looked up to see her enemy bend down and pick up his grenade. His inactive grenade.

That fucking, shit-eating, son of a…!

Jack struggled to her feet, intent on paying him back when a gunshot and a ricochet next to her head prompted her to stay down.

Looking up again, she saw him holding his pistol and aiming it directly at her.

"Don't move," he growled.

Jack bared her teeth at him, but stayed on the deck. All she needed was a few minutes to recover and one mistake from her opponent before she'd kill him…

"I told you before: I'm not here to hurt you."

"Fuck off! What the hell makes you think I'd do anything with Cerberus?!" Jack screamed back. She prepared to give him another Throw, probably not enough to break through his regenerating shields, but enough to knock him back, maybe even drop the gun.

Without warning, the man began shooting around her, striking the bulkhead and the deck, next to her head, arms, body, and legs, prompting Jack to tuck in her limbs toward her body to avoid further injury. After several warning shots, he stopped and pointed the gun squarely at her head.

"Don't move!" he barked.

"Motherfucker!" Jack cursed in return. It was all she could do. This smug bastard is worse than that scarred, one-eyed freak that caught me.

Shepard glared at his 'prisoner'. She appeared to be around twenty, completely topless while wearing standard issue pants for the prisoners on Purgatory. She had a shaved head crowned with tattoos and from the neck down, her chest, arms, and presumably the rest of her body was also covered in intricate and elaborate tattoos. She could have been considered pretty by some.

If you're into the whole bad girl look anyway, Shepard thought.

"I said that I don't want to hurt you. What I want and can still happen are two different things, so don't try it," Shepard warned, savvy enough to pick up on her body language. Noting that his shields finally regenerated, he kept a wary eye the girl sitting on the ground as warning alarms continued blaring around them. Appearances really are deceiving. Hard to imagine that she almost did all this herself.

"What the fuck do you want?" Jack snarled.

"I'm recruiting people for a specific mission, the best and the brightest and the toughest and the meanest," the stranger coolly explained. "You fit the latter to a T."

"What the fuck makes you think I'm going to help you? You're Cerberus," Jack spat out. She saw a turian and a krogan walk up behind him.

"I'm offering to be your friend. You don't want to be my enemy," he threatened.

For a moment, Jack actually thought he looked hot when he looked angry. She viciously pushed the feeling away since he had at gun at her head and he was Cerberus.

"They have a way of dying," the turian commented.

"Shepard is good at this. Pay attention," the krogan rumbled.

"You show up in a Cerberus frigate to take me away somewhere," Jack sardonically said. "You think I'm stupid?"

"This ship is going down in flames and I've got the only way out. I'm offering to take you with me, so you tell me what I'm supposed to think," the human, Shepard, responded in a similar tone.

"We could knock her out and take her," the turian suggested.

"Or we could just shoot her and patch her up on ship," the krogan sadistically said.

Jack's eyes narrowed. "I'd like to see you try."

"It might just come to that," Shepard said.

"You'll have to kill me."

Another gunshot next to her told her how close death might come. "Don't tempt me," Shepard said in a low tone. "I didn't go through all this effort for a corpse."

Outwardly, Jack glared. Internally, she actually felt conflicted about her situation.

She was sitting on the deck with legs tucked up against her chest with her arms wrapped around her legs. She despised looking so helpless. Looking up at her 'recruiter', though, she couldn't help but feel a little attracted. She despised her feelings.

"Alright. Let's say I go with you. What's in it for me?" Jack asked slowly.

"We complete the mission, you go free. Anywhere you want, no questions asked. I'll even take you there myself," Shepard answered.

"What's the catch?" Jack asked.

"Our odds of surviving are slim to none. During the course of the mission, you follow my orders. This is a Cerberus mission, so you'll be working with Cerberus personnel. Finally, you have to behave yourself, because while I'm a patient man, you look like the type to cross certain lines that I won't like," Shepard listed off.

"A Cerberus suicide mission," Jack sarcastically said. "I think I liked prison more."

Shepard shrugged, but still kept his eye on her and his gun ready. "If you like."

Jack resisted the urge to get up and try to kill Shepard again.

"Look, if it makes you feel better, you'll have some freedom before we go on the mission, which is a still a ways off. I'm not going to tell you when to eat, sleep, or go to the head. You're free to make those choices. If you avoid any conflict with any of my crew or the ship itself, you have free reign to go to most areas on board," Shepard offered. "I'm not treating you like a prisoner, just another member of my squad. You'll get your own clothes, armor, and weapons. It's better than what you've got now. Plus, the food's better there."

Jack actually paused at that. Thinking carefully about his offer, she really didn't see any other problems or options. Then, something clicked in her mind. "I thought Cerberus was a human group. Why are they with you?" she asked, nodding her head at Shepard's companions.

"I'm not Cerberus," Shepard replied. "I'm just heading up the mission. Cerberus is supplying the funds and resources."

Jack licked her lips. "I want something else."

"I'm already offering you freedom. Don't push it," Shepard said, but his tone lacked any bite, so Jack took it as an invitation to continue.

"That's your ship?" Jack asked.

Shepard nodded.

"I bet it has lots of Cerberus databases. I want to look at those files. See what Cerberus has got on me. You want me on your team, let me go through those databases," she bargained.

She saw him looking at her carefully, obviously thinking about something before he turned toward the turian. "Surprise, surprise. The Illusive Man knows her and he lied to us." He flicked his pistol upward, signaling that Jack could stand up. She did so quickly, but was surprised when he put his pistol away too. "You were one of Cerberus' biotic experiments, weren't you." It wasn't a question, so Jack didn't bother answering.

Shepard looked thoughtful. "I'm already offering to let you go in exchange for your help. You want access? I want you to teach me those techniques you used in our fight. That first attack you used and the other when you made explosions come out of nowhere around me."

"You want me to teach you how to do Charge and Shockwave?" Jack asked skeptically.

"You want access or not?"

Jack stared at bit before nodding. "Fine. You better be straight-up with me."

She fought the urge to flinch when Shepard stepped closer to her and brought his face down so they were almost nose-to-nose. "Only one way to find out." Standing straight, he turned back to the two aliens. "Move out."

Jack blamed her hormones when she thought he looked hot again.

"Miranda? We have Jack and we're returning to the Normandy," Shepard reported.

"Understood, Commander. We still have the docking bay. We're ready to leave anytime." Miranda responded. "There are no problems with our newest recruit, I trust?"

"No. She's agreed to come with us," Shepard answered, subtly telling her the correct pronoun. "We'll be there shortly. We're just taking a small detour. Any problems over there?"

"Not if you count the mercenaries, convicts, and mechs," Miranda said dryly. Jack's a female?

"I don't. See you soon," Shepard quipped before signing off.

"Looks like we're almost done here," Jacob commented from his post.

"It seems so," Miranda neutrally said, as she kept vigil for any more threats.

"Wonder where they're going though. I mean, a detour? During a riot?" Jacob asked.

Miranda didn't answer. Just leave it to Shepard. Walking into a trap? No problem. Fighting through a ship full of mercenaries? Too easy. Survive a full-scale prison riot? Piece of cake.

Not that she was jealous. Why should she be jealous of someone who is working a complicated and difficult mission less than a month after he was 'dead'? Or recruit people that, she, herself, would never have imagined working with?

Miranda sighed. She really wasn't jealous, but she did envy him a little. While she was respected within Cerberus, there was something about Shepard that seemed to be magnetic. First, he managed to convince a tank-borne krogan to follow him despite his dubious origins or upbringing and now this Jack… Miranda was sure that she wouldn't be able to get similar results. Maybe that's why the Illusive Man wanted him in charge and not you, a small part of her observed. Not for the first time, she wondered what made her and Shepard so similar, but so different.

"Why does it matter if I'm with Cerberus, anyway?" Shepard asked.

"They've been on my ass for years. Anytime I get free, they put a huge bounty on me. That's why Warden Kuril figured he'd struck gold when I was delivered to him," Jack explained. The distant sounds of alarms made her smile. "It didn't work out too well for him, did it?" she smirked as she perused equipment of the armory they were in.

Their detour was for Jack. She had insisted that they stop so they could get her some armor and weapons. Currently, she was wearing a tight, sleeveless leather top that she pilfered off a dead female prisoner and was holding an M-27 Scimitar Shotgun. Grunt liked the ability of the M-27's rapid fire and grabbed one himself.

"Grunt, grab those duffle bags over there," Shepard directed. "Why don't we just take everything we can?"

Grunt stopped admiring his new shotgun and looked around the armory they were in before nodding enthusiastically and started to take everything off the racks.

Garrus chuckled, prompting Shepard to glance at him. Noting the new weapon attached to his back, Shepard commented, "Nice rifle."

Garrus' mouth shifted into a toothy grin as he expanded the gun to show it off. "Kuril didn't need it anymore. M-76 Revenant LMG. I saw a couple of criminal bosses on Omega equipped with these. Accuracy is something of a problem, but I'm hoping Taylor might do something about it."

Shepard was about to comment further when Jack suddenly whistled appreciatively. "What is this?" she asked.

Garrus and Shepard walked over to the armor section of the room and saw what she was looking at.

Garrus nodded in appreciation. "Terminus Assault Armor. As the name suggests, it's really popular out there since it isn't really legal in Citadel space." At Shepard's questioning look, Garrus shrugged. "A couple of guys on my squad packed similar gear."

Shepard looked over the armor. It was black with a slight red trim, thick armored plates and it looked menacing. "Doesn't look to be your size," Shepard observed.

"Fuck that," Jack scoffed. "I'll get it adjusted."

"We have someone on board that could probably do that," Shepard nodded.

Jack quickly packed the armor its case. "All right, if your krogan is done, I'm good to go whenever."

Shepard looked to see Grunt practically carrying the entire armory on his back. At least seven duffle bags were filled to capacity. "Let's rig some grenades so the mercs or cons can't use the rest of this stuff," Shepard suggested.

Garrus set about preparing to make another explosion on Purgatory as Shepard called Miranda.

"We're done here. Prepare for departure."

*ENCRYPTED*

Recruited prisoner known as 'Jack' for the team

Purgatory's betrayal of Shepard unacceptable

May have to take steps against Blue Suns to demonstrate consequences of betrayal

With his summery of EDI's initial report complete, the Illusive Man closed the file as he waited for Miranda's official report.

His console started beeping. Tapping his ever present cigarette into his ash tray, his other hand tapped a button. "Yes?"

"Sir, incoming communication for you. Gamma level clearance," an aide reported.

"Put it through," the Illusive Man ordered.

An image of a blonde, pretty, and most importantly, human, female face appeared on a screen in front of him.

"Sir!" the Cerberus officer said, sharply saluting him. "Captain Dawn of the scout ship Gravitas, sir!"

The Illusive Man merely nodded in return. "Report, Captain."

She finished her salute, but maintained her professionalism. "Sir, we're currently out in the edge of the Iera System conducting long range reconnaissance as per your orders. We've just received reports that the human colony on Horizon just went dark."

Though the Illusive Man's face didn't change, there was something about his unblinking stare that made Dawn shuffle a little, even when he took a smoke. "No communications at all?" he pressed, exhaling a thin cloud.

"None, sir. No long range, short range, or even extranet comms we could detect. We sent a few transmissions via drones to see if anyone was listening. So far, nothing," Dawn answered.

"I see. Good work, Captain. Report to me in exactly one hour if the situation remains unchanged. However, if communications has been reestablished or you detect any anomalies of any kind, report back to me immediately," he commanded.

"Sir, if you'd like, we could move in closer to get a better read on the situation," Dawn suggested.

"No. I don't want to put you or your crew in unnecessary danger," the Illusive Man said smoothly. "Remain at long range and stay away from the mass relay. I'm sending another, more… specialized team to handle the situation."

"Understood, sir. Gravitas, out."

Closing the link, the Illusive Man raised his cigarette to his lips and took another breath before exhaling. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as if he was merely appreciating the star that burned in the background of his office as he waited. And plotted.

Author's Notes:

First off, I want to thank reviewer Annara Ren for inspiration about Jack/Shepard meeting. When s/he said that s/he was waiting eagerly for Shepard and Jack to meet a few chapters ago, I knew I needed to make it special and different. Thus, this was created. Besides, the comparisons between Kuril and Jedore were too much. I needed a new 'boss fight'.

Thanks Annara Ren!

I thought it was strange that Kuril's motivation for Shepard was money, but with no specific reason. So I looked to the new comics to make one.

Also, since Miranda is supposed to be a capable leader, I thought I should give her a bit of a shot, but I really couldn't help but note the differences when I write Shepard compared to when I write Miranda.

Finally, the poll on my page is still up! Keep voting people; there are a few more votes to go. Do you want Kasumi or not?!

Oh, yeah. I also created a cameo here. Can anyone guess who it was?

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