"Okay, just take that stuff over to the Armory, Grunt," Shepard directed when everyone boarded the Normandy. "EDI, unlock the Normandy. Hawthorne… I mean, Joker," Shepard corrected when he glanced into the cockpit. "Get us out of here. Head for the relay, I'll see what our next destination is soon." Turning to Jack, Shepard said, "Just hand over your equipment to Jacob. He'll set it up for you."
Jack turned to see Jacob approach when he heard his name called. Narrowing her eyes at the Cerberus operative, she wordlessly handed the shotgun and armor case over to him. She still kept her M-3 Predator heavy pistol, though.
Shepard decided to let her keep it. It was against regulations to carry arms aboard a vessel since there was always a chance of altercations turning violent, but in Jack's case, death by gunshot might be better than death by whatever she could do with her biotics. "Let's go," Shepard said to her.
Moving toward the Armory and Briefing Rooms, Shepard noted that Miranda fell in step with him as well.
Entering the Armory and moving to the door on the left, Shepard called out to Garrus, "Make sure you see Dr. Chakwas about that wound."
"Got it," Garrus responded distractedly as he placed his new assault rifle on the table and started talking to Jacob about modifying it.
Reaching their destination, Shepard stopped at the table and turned around to regard his newest crew member.
After Miranda placed her helmet on the table, she turned to face Jack as well and started with the introductions. "Welcome to the Normandy, Jack. I'm Miranda, Shepard's second-in-command," she began. "On this ship, we follow orders," she pointedly added.
Jack leaned on the bulkhead lazily and glanced at Shepard. "Tell the Cerberus cheerleader to back off, Shepard. I'm here because of our deal. Both of them."
Shepard crossed his arms. "Miranda will get you access. Let me know what you find."
"Hear that, precious?" Jack mocked in a tone reserved for children as she stood straighter to face Miranda. "You, me, and every embarrassing little secret."
This might not go well, Shepard thought worriedly.
To her credit, Miranda didn't look fazed at the insult. She merely crossed her arms and glared, but held herself professionally.
"I'll be reading down in the hold or somewhere near the bottom. I don't like a lot of through traffic," Jack said when it was apparent Miranda wasn't rising to her baiting.
Satisfied that he was holding his end of the deal, Jack turned to the door. "Keep your people off me. Better that way," she said before she left.
Miranda whirled around to face Shepard. "You weren't authorized give her access to anything," she said angrily.
"She has a history with Cerberus, Miranda," Shepard defended. "If she didn't want to know, I would." When Miranda didn't say anything, he continued, "I'm going out on a limb here and guess that she was part of the more clandestine operations Cerberus conducted on biotics. She's powerful, but she's young, so I can't help but wonder how much help she had?"
Miranda narrowed her eyes. "I wouldn't know," she honestly said.
Shepard shrugged, expecting that answer. "You wouldn't, but the Illusive Man would. I'm positive he knows about her and he still gave me her dossier anyway, while conveniently omitting the fact that Cerberus has tried to recapture her more than once." Shepard stepped closer to Miranda. "How much does he know about her situation anyway?" he asked rhetorically. "Because I think he knows way more than he lets on. Can you tell me that this wasn't an outcome he expected?"
Miranda sighed, but didn't refute any of his points, for which he was glad. There was loyalty and there was idiocy. "Just give me the holo-pads on any information regarding her and only her. I'm sure the Illusive Man will allow that much. I'll give it to Jack myself."
"Very well, Commander," Miranda acquiesced before she picked up her helmet and headed for the door.
Before she left, Shepard added, "And let the crewmen know that they should avoid Jack as best they're able. I'm not asking that they go in the opposite direction of her, but they should try not to start any kind of trouble. I'll talk to Jack and let her know that the crewmen are going to avoid her, but this is my ship. I won't let her cause trouble either."
Stopping at the door, Miranda offered a small smile. "Understood."
Shepard offered a tired smile in return. "This mission is getting… interesting, isn't it?"
"Recruiting doesn't seem like the right word for what we've been doing, hasn't it?" Miranda teased.
Shepard rolled his eyes. "Just once, I want things to be simple. I really do."
Miranda shook her head as she left. "With you, I wonder if things ever are simple," she said as she left.
An hour later after dropping off his weapons in the Armory, his armor in his room, a long hot shower, and a change of clothes, Shepard finally felt relatively human again. Destroying two Blue Suns' bases in two days… not too shabby, he thought tiredly. Making his way to the Crew Deck to get some food, his elevator stopped at the CIC to let Garrus and Kelly in on the way down.
"Oh! Commander, Garrus and I were just talking about Jack," Kelly said as they both entered the lift.
"Nothing too bad, I hope," Shepard said.
"Nothing that wasn't true, Shepard," Garrus answered.
"Her tattoos are beautiful; as colorful as her past, I'm sure. I have concerns with her temper, though," Kelly commented thoughtfully.
Shepard nodded absently, knowing that Kelly was creating a full psychological workup on Jack. Concern. That's a mild way of putting it. A full psych profile is probably impossible. Her life story easily transcends everything modern psychology is capable of dealing with. She really has no idea what she's getting herself into, Shepard pessimistically thought. "Such as?" Shepard asked obligingly when the elevator began moving.
"Well, I know she'll be solid under fire, but her attitude suggests deep personal issues," Kelly started.
Garrus tried to suppress his snort, but failed miserably if the glare Kelly was giving him was any indication.
Clearing her throat meaningfully, she continued as the elevator reached their destination. "She pushes people away, yet approaches sex casually. I don't think she understands her own motivations," she theorized. "I wouldn't be surprised if she makes advances on you. If you want her respect, think twice."
Shepard nodded as they all stepped off the elevator and moved toward the common area. "I'll do my best not to piss her off."
"Please warn me if you fail. I want a chance to hide," Kelly joked.
Shepard smiled at her before reaching behind himself and grabbing Garrus by the back of his armor when the turian tried to make a beeline for the forward batteries. "Not so fast," Shepard said before pulling his captive toward the med bay. "Go," he ordered, giving Garrus a hard push from behind.
"Yes, mother," Garrus mocked sighed as he headed toward Dr. Chakwas.
Shaking his head in exasperation at his friend's stubbornness and Kelly's giggle, Shepard walked to the galley to pick up his meal.
"Here you are, Commander," Rupert greeted with a tray full of food.
"Thanks Sarge. Smells good," Shepard gratefully said, taking the tray.
"Not a problem."
As Shepard ambled toward a table, he heard Matthews talking to Hadley. "So Hadley, how're you going to spend your next furlough?"
Hadley snorted. "You really think we'll have another shore leave?" he asked cynically.
"Of course! Shepard's forming the best team this galaxy has ever seen. We're going to kick some ass!" Matthews confidently declared.
"I'm sure you're right," Hadley said distantly.
Shepard stopped behind the two men. "How're you holding up, Hadley?"
Both crewmen started at Shepard's voice and looked up. They moved to stand at attention when Shepard waved them off. "Uh… I'm fine, sir," Hadley answered hesitantly from his chair.
"Are you sure?" Shepard asked empathically.
Hadley sighed morosely. "Just thinking about my brother, sir," he answered truthfully. "I just want to know when we'll finally kick Collector ass. I know getting the team together is important, but those bastards are still flying around out there."
"Their time is coming," Shepard said, injecting confidence in his voice. "Just hang in there until then, all right?"
Hadley took a deep breath and nodded. "Yes, sir," he said with conviction.
Giving the crewman a rallying pat on the shoulder, Shepard moved to the next table over and sat down across from Ken. Greeting the engineer with a nod of his head, Shepard started eating as Gabby approached with a tray of food of her own.
"Commander," Gabby greeted.
Shepard nodded again in greeting, preoccupied with his chow.
Gabby sat down next to Ken and started eating. After a minute, she turned to her cohort. "So, Kenneth, did Executive Lawson tell you that we've got a crazy woman squatting down in the sub-deck?"
Shepard almost choked on his food and took a discrete drink to cover up his surprise.
Ken's head snapped up at the news. "What? If she touches anything, I'll kill her," he declared.
"Oh, and the only thing she wears from her waist up is tattoos," Gabby added as if she just remembered.
Ken looked much more interested at that bit of news. "Oh! Maybe I should go down and welcome her aboard."
Gabby smiled evilly. "And she's a murderer. Has biotic powers that could crush you in a blink. Hates everyone in Cerberus," she listed off, finally twisting the proverbial knife.
Ken leveled a glare at her. "Damn it, girl! Stop toying with me."
Shepard snickered at their banter. Gabby flashed a victorious smile at him and a self-satisfied grin at Ken before returning to her food.
"I see you've informed Engineer Donnelly about Jack," a cultured voice interjected.
Shepard looked up to see Miranda take a seat next to him. Placing her tray on the table and acknowledging both of the engineer's greetings, she turned to face him. "Here is the data you requested, Commander," Miranda said.
Shepard took the holo-pads and glanced at them before placing them inside his pocket. "Thanks, Miranda."
Miranda nodded before giving a pointed glance at Ken and Gabby. The latter got the hint immediately. "Come on, Kenneth," she said, grabbing his arm.
"What? But I'm not done yet!" he complained.
"Then take it with you! Come on!" she said, trying to drag him away.
Ken looked across the table and realization dawned on him. "Oh! Uh… sorry," he apologized, standing up and gathering his food.
Miranda waved off his apology. "Its fine, Mr. Donnelly," she said before giving a grateful look at Gabby.
"Come on you lazy ass," Gabby ribbed as they both moved to the next table over.
Shaking her head at their antics, Miranda turned toward Shepard. "It appears that you were right. The Illusive Man had the information ready, well in advance. It was forwarded to me the moment I asked."
Shepard frowned. "Asked? It wasn't here on the Normandy?"
Miranda shook her head. "We keep operations separate. If the Normandy were to fall into the wrong hands, at the very least, the data inside wouldn't compromise all of Cerberus… just a large portion."
"Right," Shepard said. Taking one of the datapads out, he gave it a quick glance. "Any of this go through the censure's pen?"
"The data appears legitimate and unaltered if that's what you mean," Miranda assured.
"I know why she was placed in cryo."
Shepard looked up, giving her his undivided attention.
"I found it strange that she needed to be in cryo-stasis when all the warden had to do was confiscate her biotic amp. Turns out that her amp isn't removable. It's completely custom made, just for her and only for her. It's also why she's so powerful. Her entire system of implants was designed specifically for her. To boost her talents well above the norm," she explained. "Some of the results those researchers produced were used to give you your biotics actually."
"You sound like you're surprised," Shepard observed.
"Biotics was a field that I was never involved in for Cerberus. You were my first, actually," Miranda admitted, poking at her food.
"I'm sensing there's more to the story," Shepard probed.
"I feel I should warn you, the reports are a little… off," Miranda deflected.
Shepard looked at the datapad in his hand again. "Off, how?"
"It seems like the researchers were intentionally leaving certain results out, omitting news, or simply skipping their daily reports altogether," Miranda said. "I may not have a high opinion of Jack, but I suspect something was very wrong about their methods. That the personnel crossed lines that shouldn't have been crossed, certainly nothing I would ever resort to."
Shepard sighed. He shouldn't be shocked, he really shouldn't, but he still felt a chill when he thought about what Cerberus could be capable of if they really wanted results. "I'll ask her."
"If you're sure. Jack strikes me as the type to keep the past buried as deep as possible," Miranda noted.
"There's only one way to find out."
"Just be careful."
Shepard entered the sub-decks to see Jack sitting on a cot, surrounded with four trays, each laden with food. She was shoveling as much as she could into her mouth, pausing only to drink something, and breathe. That last point seemed to be a minority in her list of priorities.
"Glad to see that you're enjoying my hospitality," Shepard said by way of greeting.
Jack mumbled something, but continued eating.
"Here's the data you wanted," Shepard said, holding out the holo-pads.
Jack stopped eating and looked up. See the datapads, she reached out, grabbed them, and hid them under her cot. "Thanks," she mumbled through a mouthful of food. Swallowing, she pointed at the trays with her spoon, "And thank for the food. Way better than that crap I got in prison."
"Just remember to bring the trays back up to the mess sergeant. Everyone pulls their weight on this vessel," Shepard reminded.
Jack rolled her eyes and kept eating.
Shepard took the opportunity to study her. She was cleaner, probably from a shower, and dressed in a new set of clothes: Dark blue, low slung jeans and a black tank top. She was still wearing the prison-issued shoes though. "Nice look," Shepard commented.
Jack swallowed her last bite and put down her first tray. "The red-head, Kelly something or other, gave me some of her 'civilian' clothes. I didn't like any of her shoes, though," she explained as she grabbed the next tray. "That other guy, Jacob, said that he could score me a pair once he's finished with my armor."
"Glad to see that you're adjusting well-enough," Shepard said approvingly.
"Red creeped me out. You won't believe the different things she wears when she's not in that shitty Cerberus uniform. And Jacob doesn't know who he is, but that's not my problem. He's useful enough I guess," Jack said before she started eating again.
"So how'd you get caught?" Shepard asked, making conversation after a few minutes of silence.
Jack scowled. "This one old, one-eyed, bastard; He was tough and stubborn as hell. He hunted me for a month without stopping. Managed to drug me and wire me up with explosives if I tried to use my biotics. Then I had to spend time in a cargo hold with him in some crap ship, listening to his fucking war stories about his stupid rifle or how he wanted some Blue Suns merc dead before he dropped me off at Purgatory." She shook her head. "Then he goes on saying how he could have used a 'destructive little bitch' like me on some job he had." She snorted. "Bad enough he caught me, but he didn't need to torture me after."
Shepard suppressed his grin by clearing his throat. "Whenever you're ready, I'd like to learn those biotic techniques."
Jack glanced at him from the corner of her eye, before picking up two of her trays. "Get the last one and my water bottle," she said.
Shepard obliged her. "This way," he said.
Guiding her to the hanger where he practiced his biotics, Shepard called out to the various crewmen mulling about inside. "Clear the area!"
In no time at all, the Cerberus crewmen shuffled out of the hanger, leaving Shepard and Jack alone. Placing her tray and bottle on a nearby crate, Shepard turned to his new 'teacher'. "So?"
Jack sat down on the same crate next to her tray and placed the other tray down next to it. "I'll start with Shockwave. Blowing shit up is easier than trying to figure out Charge and I want to see if I'm wasting my time," she explained with her mouth full.
"So? How do you 'blow shit up' then?" Shepard asked.
Jack glared at him. Leaving her spoon on her tray; she moved her arm out in a wide arc, almost casually. At the other end of the hanger, small orbs of dark energy manifested in a small empty area. Moments later, the spheres exploded, though less violently than their earlier fight. "You know Warp, which helps, most biotic moves need you to aim and shoot. Shockwave is different from most in that you make dark energy appear where you want it. No signs or warning. You just make a crap load of unstable dark energies, kinda like Warp, and let them explode around the area you want."
Shepard studied at the area where Jack did her demonstration looking pensive. "Show me again," he requested, studying the ex-convict this time.
Jack rolled her eyes in annoyance. Polishing off her second tray, she swung her arm out again, still from a sitting position.
Despite the ease in which she used her biotics, the effect was still the same. A dozen small spheres of dark energy appeared at varying heights and distance, all contained within a small area. Moments later, the dark energy detonated.
Shepard's gaze was piercing at both her movements and the effect. "One more time."
Jack huffed in irritation. "Are you going to do anything?"
"One more time," he repeated.
Jack glared before she stood up and swung her arm out aggressively. This time, instead of dark energy appearing at a set location, a small trail of explosions started a few feet in front of her and traveled the length of the hanger before violently erupting into larger explosions at the same place she demonstrated.
"That's it. Your turn," Jack said smugly as she sat back on the crate and picked up her third tray.
Shepard didn't answer her. He looked fixated on the target area they were practicing on. Suddenly, Shepard threw his arm out similar to how Jack did her last demonstration.
Her eyes widened and her spoon fell onto her tray as she saw around five or so tennis-sized balls of dark energy appeared before they blew up with enough force for the deck to rattle a bit. She sharply turned her gaze to Shepard. "How the fuck did you do that?"
Shepard swayed a bit and sat down on the nearest crate. "Whoa…" he said, holding his head in an attempt to stem the vertigo. Spots were dancing in and out of his vision. Taking a deep breath, looked up at Jack, still a little disoriented. He reached out with his biotics and took Jack's water bottle and began guzzling the contents.
"Hey!" Jack protested before she used her own biotics to take the bottle back. Checking to see how much water was left, she glared at the Spectre. "How the fuck did you do that?" she repeated slowly, as if Shepard suddenly became mentally impaired.
Shepard shook his head as the water cleared his thoughts. "Just lucky, I guess," he shrugged modestly.
"Bullshit," Jack retorted.
"I'm complicated," Shepard deflected. "I think we should hold off on more lessons until I get this one down."
Jack glared a bit more before shaking her head. "Whatever."
They stayed silent for a while save for the sounds of Jack's eating and Shepard's deep breaths.
"What are you looking for in those files anyway?" Shepard asked suddenly.
"Your friends at Cerberus are into some nasty things," she answered after she finished her third tray. Picking up her last one, she looked to see Shepard was unsurprised. "You knew already, didn't you?"
"Let's just say that we've crossed paths a few times before and we weren't friends then," Shepard said.
Jack smirked at his answer. "I'm going to find something I can use. I just know it," she declared quietly.
"What if the answers aren't what you expect?"
"I'm not looking for answers," she corrected. "I'm looking for names, dates, places."
Shepard narrowed his eyes. "What happens when you find what you're looking for?"
She smiled grimly. "I go hunting. Anyone who's screwed with me pays. Their associates pay. Their friends pay. The galaxy's going to be a lot emptier when I'm done."
Shepard found himself conflicted. He really couldn't decide if she was justified in her actions against Cerberus or if she was just thinking about another killing spree. He resolved to wait until he had more information.
Jack picked up on his reticence. "I'm here for your mission. After that, what I do is my business," she warned.
Shepard adjusted himself on the crate. As soon as he was comfortable, he boldly asked, "What's your history with Cerberus?"
Jack stopped eating. Placing the half empty tray on her crate, she stood up and faced away from Shepard. For a moment, he thought she was going to leave when she spoke up. "It's like what you said back at that prison. I was an experiment. They raised me in a research facility. I escaped when I was a kid. Been on the run ever since. And they've been chasing me ever since. But soon, I'm going to chase them," she explained as she started glowing with dark energy.
"You think about this a lot, don't you?" Shepard asked, standing up and crossing his arms.
She turned around and met his eyes uncaringly. "I go to sleep with this. I wake up with it. Everyone I kill, I pretend it's the ones that did this to me."
Obviously not budging on this particular issue, Shepard observed to himself. There's no way Kelly's psych-eval will be anywhere near the mark. "You sure want to sleep in that pit?" he asked, deciding on changing the subject.
"It's dark, quiet, and hard to find. That spells safety to me," she responded. She walked up to Shepard until they were standing within inches of each other. "You know, this ship is a powerhouse. You could go pirate, live like a king," she smirked, before adding, "I could help."
"You just want to screw Cerberus over. Stealing one of their top frigates sounds like one of the best ways to do that," Shepard said, neglecting to tell her that he had already salvaged credits and weapons from mercs, pirates, and the occasional criminal syndicate. Not to mention the millions of credits he had in his account already.
"When this is done, we'll either be dead or out here, in space. With this ship," she replied. "Think about it: lots of creds. Freedom to go wherever you want. And all the mayhem and fighting I could want."
Shepard shrugged with disinterest. "Sounds like my job as a Spectre."
Jack snorted in aversion. "Nothing but a government pawn. That ain't freedom."
Shepard shrugged again. "On the other hand, if we do things your way, one-eyed bounty hunters catch you and you end up in prison. So I guess we both have our little problems."
When Jack glared, Shepard asked, "What is it about killing that fascinates you so much?"
"I figure every time someone dies and it's not me, my chances of survival go up. Simple," she said shortly.
A rumbling laughter startled both of them. They turned around to see Grunt approaching them. "I like that answer," he grinned, proving that he eavesdropped on the tail end of their conversation.
"How're you doing, Grunt?" Shepard greeted with a nod of his head.
Grunt looked around. "The hold is too open. Not enough cover. Armor is limited," he listed off before shaking his head. "Warlord Granth would target here to scatter heavy cargo, and then focus on engines." Looking around again, he snorted. "Shows what he knows."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Jack asked in confusion.
"Just checking how accurate my tank imprints are," he said. "It's how I learned – old pictures where memory is."
"Grunt is a tank-borne krogan," Shepard explained to Jack. "A genetic super-soldier experiment we picked up yesterday."
"Huh," Jack simply said. "How the hell does that imprint stuff work?"
"It doesn't," Grunt growled in annoyance. "Like holding a book for a child. Just 'remember this,' picture after picture. No help with finding a reason to care."
"What other human info is floating around in there?" Shepard asked curiously.
"Less than a finger deep to sever your spine," Grunt said, pointing at Shepard and Jack for emphasis. "You're soft. Salarians, asari, all soft. Quarians, not so much. Turians, you have to work the blade, I guess. Don't see much point to it though," he shrugged before chuckling. "Heh, 'much point'," he said while miming quotation marks. "Ah, never mind."
"Huh," Jack repeated. "I gotta remember that."
"Something must move you," Shepard said. "You're as genetically krogan as you can get."
"I see suffering, the dead, and I think 'weak'," he answered.
"I have to agree with that," Jack nodded as she sat back down and started eating again.
"I'm supposed to be strong. My guts were grown from thousands more worthy," he continued, pacing away from them. "The dead were weak. If they were strong, I wouldn't be needed. I don't know why Okeer started teaching… When he turned on the tank for the first time, I screamed. Weak, pitiful."
Shepard noted that Jack was scowling into her tray. Probably similar experiences. "So you started small. But you became what you are. Not everyone gets that chance," Shepard said to the krogan, though Jack looked up as well.
"I'm built for strength, but didn't earn it," he refuted. "I just am. Those dead were strong enough to try, even if they lost," he said with a tone of respect.
That almost sounds like something Wrex would say, Shepard thought.
"I'm the perfect krogan. Ignoring what made me. No strength in that. Even that little human had to fight harder for strength than me," he said, jerking his thumb at Jack. "That was some nice work you did on that ship," Grunt said to her with grudging respect.
Jack gave a nod of acknowledgement before turning back to her meal.
"What did Okeer want you to feel about this stuff?" Shepard asked.
"Hate," he said shortly. "He spent all his time on old hatreds." Grunt turned around and started stomping toward the cargo bay. "I'll take another look at what happened to the krogan. Find a reason to care about it."
After Grunt left, Shepard turned around to see that Jack left too, taking her trays with her. Sighing in resignation, Shepard looked around the empty cargo bay one last time, before turning to leave.
After one step though, EDI called him. "Commander? The Illusive Man wishes to speak with you."
"The comm. room?
"Yes, Commander. He's currently waiting for you."
"Thanks, EDI, I'll meet with him now."
"Understood, Commander. Logging you out."
Turning around, Shepard glowed briefly as he swung his arm out in a wide arc. This time, eight spheres of dark energy appeared before detonating forcefully. Feeling only slightly dizzy, but much better than his first attempt, Shepard nodded in satisfaction before leaving.
Wow. I'm on some kind of groove here!
I know the chapter is a bit on the short side, but Horizon is just on the horizon, so things move forward.
Expect the next chapter… semi-soonish. It's proving a bit difficult.
For all that caught the Zaeed reference, I figure if there was anyone tough enough to catch Jack, it's him.
Also, don't forget to vote on my profile page if you want Kasumi in or not.