Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

The Gift of Greatness

Location: Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis System, Approaching Orbit Around Aeia, Normandy SR-2

Jacob paced impatiently next to the Kodiak as the Normandy approached the planet Aeia. He looked over the message EDI gave him once again. It was the distress signal the VI of his father's ship was transmitting.

"General distress: MSV Hugo Gernsback, registration BW4610034087. Impact at unscheduled suborbital deceleration recorded. Message repeats."

Unsurprisingly, the message was brief, uninformative, and frustratingly unhelpful. No details or names or anything that could help him find out what the hell was going on. It was shit like this that was putting him in an irritable mood. And it was that mood that made him turn to see Shepard standing nearby and greet him with impertinence. "Captain," he curtly said before realizing his mistake. "I mean-"

"Its fine, Jacob," Shepard said, forgiving his faux pas. "Remember: this is a rescue mission. We're to recon and secure the area before calling in the Alliance."

He knew that this was way more than a rescue mission, but he was put at ease by Shepard's easy confidence. "Understood, Captain." He took a deep breath to calm down. Shepard was already going out of his way to help him out. This was something that he couldn't let himself take for granted. "Thanks for this."

Shepard gripped his shoulder and tried to boost his morale. "Don't mention it. I just hope we'll find some good news about your father."

After all this time? Yeah, right. Jacob remembered the last message his father had prepared if the worst had come to pass. Reading it hurt, but like the rest of his past, it healed. There were too many missed opportunities, too many missed moments, that any promise Ronald Taylor made was expected to be hollow and artificial. Jacob had no reason to see why the trend would change now. At this point, it was better to expect the worst than presume the best. "I'm not getting my hopes up, but thanks."

"We're almost in orbit. ETA: 10 minutes," Joker announced.

He and Shepard were about to board the shuttle when Miranda's voice called out. "Shepard!"

Turning around, Jacob couldn't contain his curiosity at her presence. While he confided to her about the possibility that his father might be alive, he didn't think she really cared. Just enough to lend an ear for him to vent, but not much more.

She approached them, dressed in full gear and armed with her pistol. Like both men, she had also forgone her helmet.

"Going somewhere, Miranda?" Shepard asked.

"Permission to come along," she requested.

Shepard turned to him. "Your call."

Jacob's surprise increased. He stared at her, trying to gauge her intentions. As always, she presented an aloof façade that he could never hope to read. Thinking quickly, he decided there was little harm in it. She already knew everything and if she wanted to come, then there had to be a reason for it. "Yeah, she can come."

"Permission granted," Shepard stated formally.

Goldstein popped out from the door of the shuttle. "Captain? According to the scans, there's a suitable LZ near the wreckage of the Gernsback."

Shepard climbed into the shuttle first and offered a hand.

Accepting the gesture, Jacob allowed himself to be pulled into the cabin and seated himself. Already, he could feel antsy again. The lack of information about what he could find down there settled into his stomach like a rock. He always hated surprises.

After Shepard and Miranda settled themselves in, the Spectre closed the doors and gave the signal. "Prepare for launch!"

"Aye, aye, Captain," Hawthorne acknowledged. "And don't worry. I don't feel hung over at all!" he cheerfully added.

"Hawthorne, if you kill us, I swear to God, I'll disembowel you," Jacob retorted.

Shepard couldn't help but laugh as he settled in and awaited the signal to depart.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jacob cracked a smile when Shepard laughed and managed to relax a bit.

~o~O~o~

Location: Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis System, Aeia, Crash Site of the Hugo Gernsback

When the Normandy achieved geosynchronous orbit above Aeia and the crash site, the shuttle hummed to life and took off. Hawthorne was able to pilot the shuttle with his usual skill, lending credence to his earlier remark that last night's party was not affecting his abilities. They entered the atmosphere smoothly and leveled out, flying at a steady velocity toward the landing zone. Within a half hour after departure, the wreckage of the Hugo Gernsback was seen from the shuttle's windows.

Jacob pressed himself against the glass, trying to divine any clue as to the condition of the crew. Or his father.

The ship was a total wreck. It seemed like the crew crashed their doomed vessel in the water before it collided with the land. The front portion was practically sunken in the sea while the rest of the ship was beached on land or partially submerged in the shallow parts of the ocean. The overall tonnage made it impossible to land it in one piece. From the look of things, the Gernsback was in three separate parts with debris found everywhere for miles.

"You okay?" Miranda asked, her voice laced with concern.

"There it is. And more intact than I would've thought," Jacob whispered.

"Captain, the scanners estimate around 50 survivors. Only a dozen are in the camp. The rest are scattered in the surrounding areas. Thermal imaging shows active mechs just outside the camp."

"It's been years. Who knows what we're going to see," Jacob said. "Or happened during all that time."

As Goldstein promised, the Kodiak flew just past the Gernsback and landed on some flat ground that overlooked the downed ship. When the doors opened the team was greeted with an uncomfortable blast of humid air that quickly flooded the cabin.

Shepard stepped out first, pausing at the doorway to survey the surroundings. Jacob and Miranda followed after, emulating the Spectre's example and observing the immediate area.

"We're clear," Shepard said to Hawthorne once everyone got off. "Fly up to high altitude and await further orders."

"Roger that. We're gone." The Kodiak ignited its thrusters and took off. Within minutes, it was well out of sight.

"Let's take a look at the wreckage before going to the settlement," Shepard suggested. "There might be some information about the decade-long delay there."

Neither Jacob nor Miranda had any objections and followed along wordlessly.

Trudging down the hill and toward the beach, the full extent of the damage to the ship became readily apparent. What wasn't seen from above was the work done to salvage what resources the survivors tried to make use of. A long metal bridge extended from the beach to whatever part of the Gernsback was above water. Boxes, crates, and other, now useless, supplies littered their surroundings as they approached. Nearby, the beacon was on. A holographic VI interface was active and repeating its automated message over and over again.

"Looks like it was stripped after the crash," Jacob observed. "They'd have tried to get a beacon up as soon as possible."

"If it was possible at the time," Miranda reminded. "I'm amazed the ship is in the condition it's in. Vessels this large aren't meant for atmospheric entry. Who know what was damaged or how much the initial casualties were."

The beacon VI continued to speak as they approached. "Repeat: Toxicology Alert. Danger of rapid neural decay. Local flora chemically incompatible with human physiology." The beacon flickered erratically. "Override: Beacon resumed. Pause time: 8 years, 237 days, 7 hours."

"On the other hand…" Miranda muttered when they heard the beacon mention a 'pause time'.

Shepard knelt down and observed the base of the holographic projector closely. "There's a lot rust here. A lot of growth on the base of this thing, too. Actual plant growth, not just moss or fungus. This has been here for a while. Why wait years to signal?" Shepard asked to his companions.

The VI assumed the question was directed itself and answered. "Pause beacon protocol: 8 years, 237 days, 7 hours. Pause is recorded as: RECORD DELETED by Acting Captain Ronald Taylor."

"Dad…?" Jacob whispered. "He's alive… He's actually alive…"

"It said: "Acting Captain". I suppose Captain Fairchild didn't survive the crash," Miranda speculated.

"Ronald Taylor was promoted under emergency command protocols," the VI explained. "Other flagged issues: Unsafe deceleration. Local food and neural decay. Beacon activation protocols."

"Where's Ronald Taylor?" Jacob demanded harshly.

"The location of the remaining crew of the Hugo Gernsback is unknown. This beacon has been unattended for several maintenance cycles."

"Why'd the ship crash?" Shepard asked. "And what happened after?"

"Cause of malfunction is unknown. Following an unspecified impact and sublight drive failure, the Hugo Gernsback made an unscheduled descent at 465% of theoretical recommended sub-orbital velocity. The Hugo Gernsback then decelerated at 782% of theoretical recommended approach velocity, sustaining significant damage to investment and crew."

"Theoretical speeds?" Jacob asked in confusion.

"The Hugo Gernsback was constructed off-world. It is not rated for suborbital descent and doing so exceeding operational parameters."

"As usual, VI's tend to be quite literal about their interpretations," Miranda commented with a shake of her head.

"This is why I hate pop-ups," Shepard muttered in annoyance.

"All right. Why the hell did it take so long for the beacon to be turned on?" Jacob pressed impatiently.

"This emergency beacon became functional after 358 days, 12 hours, following unscheduled suborbital descent of the Hugo Gernsback," the VI answered. "Activation was triggered remotely after 8 years, 237 days, 7 hours, on the authority of Acting Captain Ronald Taylor. Pause in beacon protocol is recorded as: RECORD DELETED."

He could've called for help for years and he didn't. What the hell is going on?"

"The local fauna impairs brain functions," Miranda reiterated to the holographic avatar. Her omni-tool was on and transmitting. "Describe the effects."

"Impairment of mental function due to chemical imbalance begins within seven days of ingesting local flora, regardless of decontamination or preparation. Impact on higher cognitive abilities and long-term memory is cumulative, but significant within a standard month."

"That doesn't sound good," Shepard said.

"Is this damage, this 'neural decay', permanent?" Miranda asked.

"Unknown. Data collection was not completed," the VI replied.

"Did you get all that, EDI?" Miranda asked.

"Received. I am forwarding all information to Dr. Chakwas and Dr. Solus," EDI said.

"And this is why I'm warming up to AIs," Shepard said approvingly. He turned to the others. "We should be careful approaching the crew. If they're affected by the neural decay, who knows how they'll behave now," he carefully cautioned with a glance at Jacob.

Jacob knew Shepard was only trying to point out the worst case scenario with as much tact as he could, but it didn't make the blow any easier. He was still reeling from the news that his father was alive all this time, but didn't call for help after nine years. While he had more news than before, all it raised was more questions than answers and any answers he got was either unhelpful or painting bad picture. "Let's check the ship. See if there's anything that can tell us what happened. Logs or something. The beacon was ready for almost nine years. Maybe… maybe that neural decay affected him."

"Maybe," Miranda agreed uncertainly, perhaps even dubiously.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Jacob asked in an accusatory tone.

"What she means is that the beacon was activated remotely. If the neural decay is as bad as it sounds, how could he do that?" Shepard logically answered in her defense.

"Avoiding it for a decade does seem… unlikely," Miranda hesitantly finished.

Identifying the uncharacteristic uncertainty in her voice, Jacob took a breath and tried to calm down. "Let's just keep moving."

Shepard led the way again. Taking Jacob's advice, he carefully preceded the group as they made their way to the downed ship. The metal bridge was rickety, but serviceable. The water wasn't deep and the distance was short. Inside, remarkably, there was still power feeding a few terminals, but not much more. Plant and evidence of animal life lined the interior in every nook and cranny. The only other thing that surpassed the life growing inside was the rust that covered every inch of the hull.

Jacob walked over to one of the few working terminals. The holographic interface didn't even appear at his presence. The monitor just continued flickering. Activating his omni-tool, he wirelessly tapped into the terminal and played the most recent log.

A few seconds of static crackled before the audio log began playing. Even then, it was degraded and full of hissing noises in the background. "… will… okay… crash you can't expect the luxury of due-due-due process, but this i-i-i-isn't a military ship. Just bumping the command line up a notch doesn't work. C-C-C-Captain Fairchild knew this crew. His replacement doesn't command the same level of respect. I'm hoping the man has it in him, but I doubt-"

Jacob shook his head. He knew his father wasn't the greatest man in the galaxy. Looking around the derelict ship, he couldn't even begin to imagine what was going through the minds of the survivors. Would they get rescued? Were they stranded, to be doomed on this planet? What would happen? All those questions needed answers. Those answers rested on one man's shoulders. The same man who couldn't even handle his raising his own family. Privately, Jacob couldn't help but agree that Ronald Taylor might not be the best leader in a situation as desperate as this. He even had doubts that he could do better.

The sounds of the waves crashing against the beach were all he could hear in the following silence. Turning away from the flickering terminal, he sought out the others when the sounds of another degraded log played from around the corner. Following it to the source, he saw Miranda running her omni-tool over another damaged terminal. Judging from the surroundings and broken down equipment, the room was probably once the Med Bay of the Gernsback.

"What… what was her name? Sarah. S-Suzanne. My God, I can't remember… I can't remember her face! We need to get out… so I can remember, can think straight. They have to hurry!"

The woman, the doctor presumably, sounded frantic. Desperate. Completely expected considering the situation.

"It sounds like the neural decay began affecting her," Miranda said to him without turning around. She studied the time stamp on the log. "Strange. This log was created not long after the crash. I suppose they lost most of the food and resorted to eating the toxic plants instead."

Turning around, she nodded to him and moved on to explore the rest of the ship. Both of them checked the nearby rooms, but couldn't find Shepard anywhere. They did find another working terminal though.

"…don't… never… pretty… always said no. She even threatened a report if I didn't stop sending messages. But now she's so innocent. They all are. And that look she gives when she smiles… It's sure is easier now. What's the harm? We're stuck here any-"

"Bastard," Miranda hissed in disgust. "Probably taking advantage of the neural decay."

Jacob said nothing. There wasn't anything to say.

Suddenly, another audio log echoed through the ship. Both of them tracked the source to near the entrance. Shepard was there, fiddling with the terminal and trying to fix it physically.

Guess we just missed him somehow.

After another minute, the log finally began to play.

"… along with this anymore. We've done horrible things to this crew. The condition they're in, they don't understand what we're doing to them. Distract them for two seconds and they forget what you did before the bruises show. It's got to stop. I'm talking to the others as soon as-"

The log degraded from there and all that was heard was static.

Jacob narrowed his eyes. Coupled with what he and Miranda just heard from the last log, the incident wasn't isolated. "What the hell is going on here…?"

Shepard turned to face them. "This is all I got, you?"

"The doctor was eating the local food and began feeling the effects," Miranda said. "We discovered another log where one of the officers appeared to take advantage of the toxic effects and used it as a kind of 'date rape' drug," she finished with no small amount of loathing.

"Sounds like it happened more than once," Jacob couldn't help but add.

"With nearly a decade? Who knows?" Shepard said. "Let's forward everything to Mordin and move on. I think we've learned all we could here."

Learn. Yeah, right.

Jacob had entered the remains of the Hugo Gernsback looking for answers. He was leaving with only more questions and a sick feeling in his gut that the answers would be something he wouldn't like. For a brief moment, he entertained the idea of leaving; let Shepard and Miranda handle everything and he'd catch up on the details later.

He snorted quietly to himself and shook his head at the idea. He wasn't a coward. Whatever he'd find, he'd see it to the end. All he could do was hope that things weren't as bad as it seemed. And that his own father wasn't into this kind of shit.

It was almost a relief when Shepard held up his arm and stopped them when they returned to the beach and near the beacon. "I hear something."

Straining his ears, Jacob could hear the sounds of the ocean, the cries of alien birds, and the creaks and groans of the massive ship beached nearby. A few seconds later, he heard the sounds of crunching sand coming closer and closer. "Someone's coming."

"Someone's running," Miranda corrected.

Shepard jogged forward, toward the piles of rusted debris. He stopped when a solitary figure appeared from around the cliffs, running right toward them.

It was a woman. At one point, she might've been considered pretty. Time on this planet had taken its toll, however. Her uniform was in tatters, her hair was a tangled mess, and her eyes had a wild look in them.

Guilt welled up in Jacob at the sight. When he found the message indicating that the Hugo Gernsback was sending out a distress signal, he just sat on it. All he could think about was his father and not the people that were working with him. It was only thanks to Shepard's mild rebuke that he even started wondering about the state of the crew and that someone else might've activated the beacon, not just his father.

Leave it to Shepard to see the big picture.

She stopped a few feet away from them and panted heavily from exertion. She was doubled over and had her hands on her knees to support herself. "You-you came? From… from the sky?"

"Calm down," Shepard soothed. "Just breathe."

The woman ignored the advice. She just stared him like he might've been a hallucination, a cruel trick of the mind. "You're real?"

"We're real," Miranda assured. "Where are the others?"

"At the camp." She smiled in relief, though it was strained. Almost as if she hadn't smiled before in years. "The leader said someone would come! He delayed for so long, but he still has power!" The stranger finally took a deep breath and stood up straight. Her face took on an upset look. Deep worried lines marred her face. "Some have lost faith. The hunters! They will have seen your star! They will not let you help him!"

"Slow down," Shepard said. "I don't understand what you're saying."

She furrowed her brow and rubbed her hands together in agitation. "I… I… uh… I don't remember how to say it." Her eyes were unfocused and distant as she tried to pull her scattered thoughts back into coherency. "He's our leader and we serve so… we can go home. But some want to fight him. They were… they were cast out."

Jacob listened intently. While leader may not mean 'acting captain', she was suffering from the neural decay. Her words could be interpreted in a variety of ways. Like Shepard, he couldn't make sense out of what she was saying either.

A flicker of movement in the distance caught his eye. Miranda and Shepard noticed it too and moved around the woman to better see.

It was a man. He was running low to the ground, as if he was trying to be subtle in his approach. He stopped and was trying to hide behind some rocks. Trying and failing. He could be seen easily.

The woman didn't notice the alert posture the three rescuers were presenting and continued talking. "He exiled them, so they hunt his machines and those who help him. They don't believe-"

"Watch out!" Shepard yelled. He leapt and pushed the civilian out of the way.

The man pulled out an old looking pistol and was shooting right at the spot the woman was standing at moments before. Jacob and Miranda reacted immediately and returned fire. Jacob's shot tagged him in the arm and he went down screaming. No kinetic barrier materialized to protect him. "They don't have shields!" Jacob reported.

"Hold fire!" Shepard ordered. "Hold your fire!"

"Hunters!" The woman screamed with her arms over head. She cowered behind the rusted crates. "They won't stop until the leader is dead!"

Additional sounds of gunfire ricocheted off their impromptu cover.

"Kill them! Agents of the liar! He will not escape!" a guttural voice rang out.

Miranda took a peek. "10 of them. Looks like they're using some older version of Hahne-Kedar pistols."

"Kessler," Jacob supplied. "I recognize it. They sold that stuff to the Alliance at bulk until a couple of years ago."

"They should overheat in a second if they keep this up," Shepard said. "They always had an overheating problem."

Sure enough, the sounds of gunfire petered out, save for the occasional burst from one or two that hadn't overheated yet.

"Avoid killing them. Shoot to wound. They're civilians, so they won't have kinetic barriers," Shepard ordered. "Use your biotics to try to bring them down non-lethally as best as you can."

Both Jacob and Miranda acknowledged his orders and used their superior abilities to outmaneuver and overpower the wild and untrained Hunters. Even without using advanced tactics, the advantage of having the protection afforded from shields and armor practically ensured they would be all right.

Without shields, the civilians were getting beaten almost handily. Any shot that hit brought them down. Their feeble and clumsy attempt at ambushing the protagonists amounted to nothing without training and better tech. The only fighting chance they had was the standing order to bring them in alive. Unfortunately for them, that advantage did little to help. One Hunter went down, clutching his wounded leg. Another fell from a biotic Throw. Shockwave blew through their meager cover and rendered many unconscious from the explosive and concussive blasts. Overload disabled their ancient weapons, prompting the civvies to drop their useless guns and run. Within minutes, all was quiet again save for the low moans and cries of the wounded.

"Secure their weapons. Ensure they're no longer a threat," Shepard ordered as he gestured to the injured men on the ground. He tapped into his radio. "Normandy, this is the ground team. Do you copy?"

"Reading you, loud and clear," Joker said.

"Get Mordin. Assemble any of the squad that's cleared for active duty. Get Rolstron and Patel to supplement them. I want the second team down here and securing the area around the LZ. We have civilians wounded here."

"I'll pass it along."

"Kodiak, do you copy?" Shepard asked.

"Kodiak, here. You're five-by-five," Goldstein acknowledged.

"Rendezvous with the Normandy. Get the second team down here."

"Roger that, Captain. Kodiak, out."

Jacob listened to the conversation with half an ear. He was glancing at his omni-tool to check his shield status and looking over his pistol for a quick thermal clip count. Finishing quickly, he walked back to the woman that greeted them and did a cursory examination.

"You killed them!" she yelled. She was still cowering behind the crates. Her head was tucked between her legs as she curled into a ball to instinctively protect herself.

"We didn't kill anyone," Jacob tried to assure.

"There are more every day! They want to fight, but I just want to go home!"

"Relax. We're not here to hurt anyone if we can help it. You'll get to go home," Jacob said. He knelt down and placed a hand on her shoulder in an effort to comfort her.

Before he could pose any more questions, the woman looked up at his touch. Her eyes regained a semblance of focus as she stared at him. Then she screamed.

Jacob backed away quickly. "What? ! What'd I do? !"

Shepard and Miranda ran up to them and looked around quickly, trying to find the source of the threat.

"What's going on here?" Shepard demanded.

"I don't know. She just started screaming," Jacob replied.

Miranda produced a sedative from her field kit and injected the contents into the hysterical woman. Seconds later, she was out like a light. "What did you say?"

"I was telling her that she'd be fine. That we weren't here to hurt anyone!" he defended hotly.

"Might be the decay," Shepard postulated.

"For her, maybe," Miranda stated. She pointed at the wounded civilians they were forced to injure. "That wasn't 'neural decay'," Miranda stated. "Those men are feral."

"Something is very wrong here," Jacob said.

"And getting worse by the second. Let Mordin and his team take care of the wounded. They'll live long enough to get treatment. We need to get to the camp," Shepard ordered.

Jacob couldn't agree more. "We need to find someone who can make sense of this."

If they haven't gone crazy from all the toxic food.

~o~O~o~

After gathering the old Kessler Pistols and disarming the 'Hunters' to ensure they were no longer a threat, the small team made their way up the beach and around the cliffs toward the settlement.

The signs of battle were easily visible. Bullet holes, blood, and destroyed mechs paved war-torn path toward the camp.

Jacob knelt down and inspected one of the earliest models of LOKI mechs. "Stripped for parts. Tech's wearing out. Those Hunters must be laying on the pressure."

"That might explain why the beacon was finally activated. The distress call wasn't because they were stranded, it was because of this schism between groups," Miranda theorized.

"So this has been happening for nine years on purpose. Why?" Jacob muttered to himself.

"The blood is fresh. Hours, maybe a day or two ago in this humidity," Shepard said when he inspected some of the bloody tracks. "Judging from the droplets, the Hunters were running away from the camp."

Their investigation of the clues around them completed, they marched up the hill. After several minutes of walking, a rocky archway was visible in the distance. More supplies and salvage from the Gernsback was seen lying haphazardly all over the place.

"There's the settlement," Jacob said. "They'd better be friendlier than the beach group. I need answers."

"Shepard. Mordin here."

Shepard put his hand to his ear and moved back between Jacob and Miranda as they continued moving to the settlement. The call would most certainly distract and without knowing the threat level, both Cerberus operatives could cover him in the few precious seconds in the beginning of an ambush if it were to happen. "I'm reading you, Mordin."

"Have arrived at LZ and secured area. Assisting wounded civilians. Brought sedatives in case they turn violent."

"See if you can't do some sort of preliminary work on the plant life too," Shepard requested. "Find any data that can help the Alliance medical teams to treat these people."

"Of course. Will try, but must maintain priorities," Mordin reminded.

"Civilians come first. But we can't let them on the Normandy. Just do your best here."

"Understood."

"We've reached the settlement without encountering any more problems. You and your team and push ahead once you're finished at the LZ," Shepard said.

"Will be there shortly."

"Joker?"

"Joker here."

"Prepare to call the Alliance and transmit the SOS. Give them our location, but not our names. I want to be gone before they arrive."

"Roger, Captain."

The group arrived at the settlement, but once again, it wasn't like anything that they expected. And given what they had learned from the Hugo Gernsback crash site, their expectations were already low.

The camp had only a dozen or so people inside, just as EDI said there would be. What she didn't say was that it was filled with only women. The tents or fire pits were ramshackle, but given what they had to work with, it was probably the best they could do. None of the people made eye contact. At their approach, every female bowed their heads and turned away.

The only time Jacob had ever seen people act like that was when he broke up batarian slave outposts. Even rescued, the slaves were conditioned similarly. Speak only when spoken to, bow your heads, and do whatever you're told. It was sickening. He hoped that none of what he was seeing matched to what he was thinking. He spotted something glitter off to the side and moved to examine it. Brushing away the layers of dirt and grime revealed it to be the plaque for the Hugo Gernsback. The last time he saw this, it was when his father had taken him to the ship and given him a tour. It was proudly hung at the Captain's Cabin. At the time, he could sit on his father's shoulders and look at everything in child-like wonder.

Must've been 5 or 6 years old when I last saw this thing.

Shepard and Miranda had stopped at the entrance and were conversing about the camp and the inhabitants within. "They're clearly docile, but in the same uniform remnants as those who attacked us."

"There aren't any men here," Shepard observed. "Maybe it affects genders differently? Makes males get violent?"

"Possibly," Miranda said. "But the woman on the beach said the exiled ones came back as Hunters."

"So is this an earlier stage or did the exile make the others violent?"

Miranda could only shake her head. "I don't know."

Dropping the plaque, Jacob regrouped with them. "It doesn't matter right now. One of these people must know what my father has to do with this!"

At his exclamation, the survivors looked up and turned to his voice. Immediately, they started shouting and pointing. "You have his face!"

Jacob snapped his head toward them as they backed away fearfully, still crying out.

"He promised to call the sky, but he sends nothing!"

"He forced us to eat! To… decay!"

"You are cursed with his face!"

Jacob looked around helplessly, unsure what to do or say.

"I think your question has been answered," Shepard said, just as bewildered as him. "I got a bad feeling about this."

Jacob could only stare at the camp and the people within. There were still no clear answers, only clues. Breadcrumbs. The more he learned, the worse it all seemed. A twisted mockery of everything he believed. What he hated most was that he was starting to think that his father might actually be the one responsible for the entirety of the hell these people were put through.

His feet moved, almost like on autopilot. He looked around, wondering how bad the situation really was.

The women had calmed down slightly, but muttered to themselves at his passing. Each time they spoke, their words drove the proverbial knife deeper and deeper in his gut.

"Go away, you are like him. You will keep us here."

"I don't want… punishing."

"The hunters will kill you. They fight because he exiled them and waited too long."

"He is bad. He has a bad face. You'll hurt me."

"He keeps us. Protects us. And we please him like he demands."

Please him? What the fuck does that mean?

In the center of the camp, there was an artificial structure. It was obviously manmade, but served no function. It was a crude statue or symbol, planted in the ground and supported by rusty beams and wires.

That's borderline worship…

The stench of rotten food filled the air at one side of the camp. Spoiled food stores. They've had to eat toxic crap the entire time…

"Shepard! Under attack!" Mordin called over the radio.

Shepard moved to one side of the camp, away from the inhabitants to avoid alarming them. "They're civilians without training, armor, shields or any advanced weaponry. Bring them down, gently. That's an order."

"Understood! Utilizing non-lethal force!"

"Speaking of attacks…" Miranda warned.

Jacob and Shepard turned to see four rusty looking LOKIs shambling toward them from the other side of the camp. Their movements were jerky and clumsy looking, showing how ancient these particular models were.

Shepard brought his arm out in an arc. Orbs of dark energy manifested around the mechs and exploded, ending the confrontation before it began.

"Patrols like that are a little much against this bunch," Miranda noted.

"Maybe it was just for defense," Jacob muttered. "Probably against the Hunters."

One of the LOKIs was still active, but crawling on the ground feebly. Jacob raised his pistol and fired twice, destroying it.

"Hey, Shep. Kasumi here. We brought down these guys. They weren't any trouble."

Shepard put his hand to his ear. "Where's Mordin?"

"Busy. Really busy. I didn't think to bring my flashbangs and we're all equipped with pistols. Except Rolstron. He has a shotgun. Either way, we kinda shot everyone and now Mordin has to deal with another group of gunshot wounds."

"Except the people Kasumi attacked," Tali added. "She stabbed a few."

"Hey!"

"We're administering first-aid as best we can on the others, Captain," Patel said, taking over the report while Tali and Kasumi were heard bickering in the background. "Just stabilizing the people here until Mordin can treat them. He's triaging as best he can."

"Some rescue this is turning out to be…" Shepard muttered.

"Shepard? This is Chakwas. I can come down to assist."

"Negative. AOE is considered hostile. I don't want you in danger. We'll handle things here."

"If you're sure…"

"I'm sure."

While Shepard was dealing with the logistics of their ever-changing mission, Jacob heard the sounds of footfalls and turned around, keeping his pistol in his hand, but in a nonthreatening stance. It was a dark-skinned woman. Something about her was different from the others of the camp though.

"Here! Over here!" she cried.

He recognized her voice. She was the one on the log in the Med Bay of the Gernsback.

She ran up to him and looked at his face before peering into his eyes. He endured the scrutiny silently and studied her in return. He could tell the doctor was affected with the neural decay, but appeared to have more of her mind than the others in the camp. Her eyes were slightly dull, but retained some clarity within. She was focused, intent, and trying very hard to push through the toxins to keep her rational mind. She was prettier than the others, less evidence of being tired and worn out, but what made her stand out from the rest was in the way she carried herself. A measure of defiance, pride, and strength still lingered in her body language.

Evidently, she liked what she saw in him as well, because she stood straighter, more confident. "You… have his face… but you fight his… machines. You might stop this."

"That's what I'm going to do," Jacob replied. "No matter what."

The doctor nodded and pulled out a datapad from her pocket and handed it to him. "This… I forget how to… read, but this… was the start. What he promised and what they did to us." She backed away, her strength fading. She looked like the others now, hunched over and head bowed. "We need the sky," she whispered desperately. As she walked back to the camp, she pleaded once more to him, "Take us back to the sky."

"Jacob?" Shepard asked, getting his attention. "What does it say?"

Tapping the datapad, Jacob quickly perused the contents. "It's a crew logbook. Some of them thought the beacon repair was taking too long. They were afraid they'd run out of supplies and lose their minds to the decay." His eyes zoomed in on an entry that had Ronald Taylor's name attached. "My father restricted the ship food for himself and the other officers so they wouldn't be affected. Everyone else had to eat the toxic food and hope for treatment later."

"Hard decision to make," Shepard said.

Jacob read the next set of lines and frowned. "The rest is a casualty list. A few mutinied over the decision. My father and the officers turned the mechs on them."

"Hard decision that people didn't appreciate. Once the pressure built, everyone wanted to look out for themselves. The only way to keep the crew in line was violence," Shepard said. "Desperate times led to desperate measures and someone needed to fix the beacon."

Jacob knew he was only trying to rationalize it, make it easier to swallow. Make it like his father wasn't the monster he seemed to be. It didn't work. A glance at the camp told one frightening story. The datapad told more. "It might've been the right call in the beginning. If everyone gets the decay, who's left to fix the beacon? You'd never get out. But it didn't stop there. More incidents, harsh punishments. It's like they're cattle. Or toys." He scrolled down the pad. "In a year, all the male crew members are flagged as 'exiled' or dead. They separated out the women. Assigned them to officers like pets."

Miranda and Shepard glanced worriedly at each other.

Jacob continued reading. "And after the beacon was fixed, the officers appear in the casualties, too. After! My father took control and didn't stop it."

Miranda looked around the camp. "He had the officers killed?"

Jacob poured over the logs. "There were five after the crash: medical, engineering, and the remaining bridge staff. Should've had no problem fixing the beacon and keeping people safe. All killed within the same week. About a month after the beacon was repaired."

She waved her arm at the camp. "And all this? Do the logs say why he separated the men and women?"

"Or is it as bad as it seems?" Shepard asked carefully.

Jacob shook his head. "Turns to gibberish. Maybe the men got violent early on, but from the state of this place, I think the Hunter thing is recent. The beacon was fixed, but the signal wasn't sent until now." He growled angrily as he looked over the victims. "What he allowed here… I don't see any justification."

All the clues finally added up to the answers. The story had become clear. And it was nothing short of monstrous.

Jacob gripped the datapad tightly in his hands. "The beacon was broken. Ronald Taylor was in charge. He and his men would eat the ship's rations while the crew suffered with neural decay. Some of the crew mutinied and were killed by the mechs. As time when on, some of the officers saw the females had become docile and took advantage of the situation. A year later, when the beacon was finally fixed, Captain Taylor didn't want to be rescued. One of the officers from the log at the ship said he didn't like that and was killed for standing up to him. The rest followed a week later. Assassinated to ensure no further threats to his authority," he summed up in barely restrained rage. "Abuse of power doesn't get any clearer than this. The time here had transformed him into a monster. He let this happen and now it's biting him in the ass."

"Quite the regular 'Lord of the Flies' happening here," Miranda commented in equal parts revulsion and contemplation.

The reference was completely lost on Jacob, but Shepard understood if his scoff was any indication.

"Instead of a stupid shell, we get decade-year-old mechs," he bitterly said as he gazed around the camp.

"You're more well-read than I had assumed, Shepard," Miranda said with a hint of approval.

"Thanks," he replied wryly. "Occasionally, I have been known to read a book or two. And they might not actually be filled with pictures."

"What are you two talking about?" Jacob asked.

"It's nothing, just a reference to classical literature. Basically, it's about what might happen should we be left far away from civilization. Stranded with no amenities and no hope, even the most well-educated may regress to a primitive state. A descent into savagery."

Though Jacob had never read the book, as he looked around the 'prison', he realized that the reference was too close for comfort. "I need to find this man."

Nodding in agreement, Shepard pointed at a path at the other end of the camp and led the way there. "Sounds like your father is following the 'will to power'," he said as they marched.

Jacob glared. "What the hell does that mean?"

"Now you're just showing off," Miranda chided to Shepard. Her admiring look could still be seen in her eyes. "Friedrich Nietzsche," she explained to Jacob. "Nietzsche described the 'will to power' as the main driving force in man. The motivation to reach highest possible position in life."

With one last look at the settlement, Jacob snarled. "And this is what he does with it…"

Father or not, he needs to pay.

~o~O~o~

A crude fence was placed at the far end of the path, reinforcing Jacob's opinion that the camp was really a prison.

A blast from Shepard's biotics removed the obstacle easily.

Just before crossing the threshold, a voice crackled on the radio on a general broadcast signal. A voice he hadn't heard in more than 10 years.

"This is Captain Ronald Taylor. Thank God you're here! My crew went insane. I only just got free!

"Goddamnit. It's really him," Jacob muttered. He heard the logs, read the records and talked to the people, but this is the first time he had actual verification that his father was alive. It was that shock the almost made him miss the other half of the call. "Wait, 'just got free'? He's covering his ass!"

"Take a look at this," Shepard called out.

He was standing over a pile of corpses. Each one was shot. The oldest corpse stood out from the rest though.

"The old corpse has been posed, like a warning. The newer ones were left where they fell," Miranda observed.

"The Hunters started fighting back," Jacob muttered.

Moving up the hill, more salvage from the ship littered the area. Metal barriers were also placed semi-strategically all over the place.

Defilade. He made himself a fortress.

The sounds of clunky marching could easily be heard long before they made it to the top of the hill at the 'checkpoint'. Without fanfare, the aged machines started shooting, but their stock weaponry was little threat against the newer tech in their armor.

"Careful. I automated my defenses after the crew turned violent. They keep attacking! I had no choice!"

Bullshit! He had plenty of choices. Now all he can do is blame the victims? Bastard.

What the LOKIs lacked in strength, they made up for in numbers. Even then, they were outdated. Miranda's Overload easily tore them down, Shepard's Shockwave blasted through their ranks, and Jacob's Incendiary Ammo in his Carnifax Hand Cannon gunned down any he shot at. Against unshielded and untrained civilians, the mechs would have little trouble suppressing the threat. Against three trained operatives, it was child's play.

Jacob felt his anger bubble over and started tearing his way through the meager resistance. Pull sent several into the air, allowing Miranda and Shepard to take some easy shots. He pushed forward, blazing a trail toward the end. The rusted armor protecting the mechs proved to be little trouble against him.

Another batch of LOKIs rounded a bend of the cliffs.

"I had to keep them busy, distracted, but it's getting dangerous. Thank God you've come!"

The reinforcements weren't any better than the ones Jacob blew through and were destroyed in short order. He bared his teeth and suppressed the urge to abandon his teammates to run up the hill by himself and riddle the old man with bullets.

He had his fun and now he wants out. That son of a bitch!

Shepard and Miranda were able to keep pace with him. Neither one appeared to want to stop him, so he continued the charge up to the top of the hill. Ahead were set of 'gates' leading into the 'castle'.

At their approach, Ronald Taylor called again. "It took years to train my guards. I'm afraid you'll have to fight them to rescue me."

"That motherfucker," Jacob snarled. "Throwing people's lives away just like that. That… thing… is no father of mine."

"We're here to save them," Shepard pointedly reminded. "Don't-"

"Kill them," Jacob finished angrily. "I know. There's only one man I'm planning to kill."

Before Shepard could say anything more, Jacob ran up to the threshold of the gate and peeked inside. A quick glance showed that this gate was an outer gate, with an inner gate leading deeper in. Just like the sanctum of a fortress. "Damn it. At least 10 civvies. And something that looks like a YMIR mech."

The fanatical guards opened fire the moment they saw Jacob's head poking out from the side of the gate. Focusing on his biotics, he engaged his newfound talent, Barrier, and rushed inside to take cover deeper in, firing as he did so and striking a survivor in the arm.

The zealot went down screaming and clutched his wounded limb.

The YMIR mech turned slowly, trying to track Jacob. Unlike the modern versions, this mech only had one mass accelerator cannon on one arm and one rocket launcher on the other. It still proved dangerous as it began firing on Jacob's cover.

Shepard dashed in and slid behind suitable cover. Letting his shields take the brunt of the attacks from the small arms fire, he readied his shotgun and started pounding away at the primitive YMIR. The shielding around it flickered from the attack, already on the verge of breaking down from brute force alone.

Miranda ran through the gate next and used Overload immediately before hiding behind some crates to avoid the gunfire from the Kessler pistols.

The heavy mech's shielding failed and it started seizing. The actuators made horrible grinding sounds as it jerked and shuddered. All of a sudden, it pointed its cannon at the nearest human, one of the civilians, and open fired.

The man lurched forward as the massive bullets tore through his back and out through his chest.

The YMIR turned its rocket arm at the next guard and obliterated him.

"Oh shit," Shepard whispered. He turned to his teammates. "The IFF system got fried! It's going to kill them all!"

Miranda popped out of cover to use Overload again, but a burst of gunfire from the frenzied guards threw her aim off and she missed the mech completely. "Damn it! They're still attacking us!"

Despite the mech rampaging through their ranks, the guards still fought the would-be rescuers with a crazed single-minded focus.

"We need to save them!" Shepard ordered. "I'll take care of the mech! You two, do whatever you can to help them!"

"They're trying to kill us!" Jacob argued.

"Do it!"

Growling in anger, partly at the mentally impaired attackers, but mostly at his father for putting them in this position, Jacob ran directly at a group of four guards, letting Miranda handle the surviving three. Letting his Barrier and shields take the brunt of the assault, he leapt right over the cover the civvies were using and engaged them in hand to hand. They rushed at him clumsily, but ferociously. Jacob lashed out with a kick to one man's knee, fracturing it and bringing him down.

The second tried to use his pistol like a club, but Jacob managed to catch his arm and shoulder throw him into the third man. Both went down, but Jacob still held the limb of the second. Twisting sharply, a cross between a pop and crack was heard, signifying that the arm was dislocated. The man screamed and lost his grip on his pistol.

Kicking the weapon away, Jacob grunted when the fourth man managed to hit him in the head from the side. Shaking the dizziness away quickly, he blocked the next attack and rabbit punched him. The guard fell to his knees choking, unable to defend himself from the follow-up knee to the head, rendering him unconscious.

"Damn it! Jacob, look out!" Shepard warned as he tried to regain the YMIR's attention again.

Jacob turned to see the mech was looking at his direction, but not directly at him. It was heavily damaged. One of its legs was spraying hydraulic fluid, making it limp around and robbing it of its mobility. The arm containing the rocket launcher was completely torn off, but other arm was raised and taking aim.

Following the direction it was targeting, he saw the mech was about to shoot the third guard that was just getting back to his feet to continue the fight. Cursing, he leapt and tackled the civilian back to the ground just as the mech fired its cannon. Using his body to protect the struggling man, his Barrier flickered, almost at his limit to maintain.

A crashing sound was heard and the hail of bullets stopped. Looking up quickly, he saw the YMIR was crushed by a giant rock. He noted that both Miranda and Shepard had aura of dark energy that was already fading away.

The man beneath him continued struggling and was trying to fight back, but he lacked the leverage to lend power to his blows. Growling again, this time in annoyance, Jacob grabbed the man by his collar, reared back, and gave him a solid head-butt. The guy was out like a light.

Standing up, he looked around and saw that the other guards were too wounded or dead to be any further threat.

"Everyone okay?" Shepard asked. He was sporting a head wound of his own, a thin gash at his temple that was trickling a little blood. The cut had already scabbed over, but his sweat kept the some of the blood from congealing.

"I'm fine," Miranda said. She had a small cut above her eyebrow, a little deep, but nothing she couldn't handle. She had removed a bandage from her first-aid kit and was applying it to her wound after dabbing away as much blood as she could. The sweat and grime she accumulated during the mission would prevent the cut from properly healing until it was cleaned and disinfected.

"I'm alright," Jacob parroted. He head throbbed a bit, but no blood. He wasn't dizzy anymore, so probably no concussion. At most, he'd have a bruise.

Shepard touched his head lightly and hissed. Staring at the film of blood on his glove, he shook his head. "From now on, always bring helmets. Doesn't matter what the mission is. Always wear a helmet."

"Lesson learned," Miranda said sagely. She looked at his wound closely. "The bleeding has already stopped. Another hour and it'll look like you were never hurt." She lightly touched her own injury and winced a bit. "I wish I could say the same. No doubt Chakwas will want to inspect us all when we return."

Satisfied that everyone was all right, more or less, Jacob turned to the last gate and snarled impatiently. "Let's go. Enough is enough. I need to look at this man in the eyes and hear him justify this." He stomped over to the gate and gripped one of the doors. Giving it a mighty tug, it creaked and slid open a bit. Shepard hurried to help.

Between the both of them, the door yielded to their efforts and opened wide enough to enter. The group cautiously walked past the gate and into what appeared to be a long trail that led to a balcony overlooking the bay. Everything in this area was definitely manmade, taken from what was useful from the Hugo Gernsback and used it its construction. The railings, the walkway, the terrace…

The goddamn throne. Motherfucker.

Jacob narrowed his eyes at sight of the man, monster, at the end. He was standing next to the makeshift throne and looking absolutely relieved at their presence.

Time hadn't been kind to him. He looked as if he aged 20 years, rather than ten. His hair was thinning, with gray hairs sprouting everywhere. His once neatly trimmed beard had grown to shaggy proportions. His clothes were torn and unkempt. Dark rings lined his eyes, suggesting many sleepless nights.

Had he not introduced himself as Ronald Taylor, Jacob would have never physically recognized him as his own father. Given what he had seen, heard, and learned, he could barely believe that everything that had happened was because of him. It was almost enough to make Jacob wish that he had died in the crash.

"You're here!" Ronald Taylor cried out. "I knew a real squad would blow through just fine. Sorry if the mechs scuffed your pads."

Shepard walked passed him without as much as a glance. Stopping at the railing, he leaned against it and looked as if he were appreciating the vista.

Jacob felt his anger rise to new heights. His father had rebuffed his presence, choosing to focus on Shepard.

He doesn't even recognize me.

Maybe his anger was irrational, that the likelihood that his father was expecting him to be the rescuer was slim to none, but he was beyond caring. The crimes Ronald Taylor had committed were well beyond forgiveness that anything more was just another inch deeper in the hole he was digging.

Ronald looked a bit off-balance by the cold dismissal Shepard was presenting. "I'll get you something nice when we get back to Alliance space," he offered. "I've got to have some back-pay coming."

"What about your crew, 'Acting Captain'?" Jacob harshly asked. He crossed his arms and glared.

Ronald gave him a glance before turning to face Shepard's back. "Total loss. The toxic food turned them wild. They propped me up here in some kind of ritual behavior."

Shepard still hadn't favored him with so much as a look. Miranda scowled, but thankfully remained silent. Jacob assumed that he was still the voice for the group and scoffed. "That's the best you can do? You had all this time and that line of shit is all you came up with?"

Ronald glared at him this time. "You let all your people talk back like that… uh…" He turned to face Shepard again. "Who are you exactly?"

Shepard finally turned around and leveled a glare that would've even given the Illusive Man pause. "Captain Shepard of the Normandy." He waved his hand at Miranda. "My XO, Miranda Lawson." She coldly glared at him. He didn't introduce Jacob. Yet. "You are running a very questionable setup here, Captain. Explain yourself. Now."

Jacob found himself enjoying the sight of him squirming under Shepard's piercing stare.

Ronald wiped the sweat building on his forehead and nodded. "Of course. It was chaos after the crash and the crew never really accepted me as captain. They rebelled and trapped some of us here. Once they started eating the toxic food, I couldn't control them and I couldn't get to the beacon."

"You really gonna spoon feed us this bullshit and call it candy?" Jacob belligerently asked. "We know what you did to your crew. Why let this go for ten years, huh?"

Ronald's patience and apparent hospitality had finally reached its end. He turned and glared at him again. "Who the hell are you?"

Jacob marched right up to his face. "Taylor. Lieutenant Jacob Taylor."

The blood drained out of Ronald's face instantly. He staggered back from the words as though they were physical blows. "Jacob?" he whispered in utter shock. "My Jacob? No…"

"Why not me? Would ten years of everything you've done look better to anyone else in the galaxy?" Jacob snapped.

"Not who you expected, Captain?" Shepard spat out the title like a curse.

"I was hoping not to have to explain this to him. Or anyone, really," Taylor admitted.

Jacob thought it was probably the first time he told the truth in ten years.

"Now that we're all acquainted or reacquainted, I want to hear the truth. All of it," Shepard demanded.

"I… well, that is… it's not…" Taylor stammered out before sighing in defeat. "Please. You have to understand, the realities of command, they change you. I wasn't ready for that." He could barely meet Jacob's eyes. "I made sure you were taught right. Before I left. I had hoped to leave it at that."

"Bullshit," Jacob shot back.

"We're not biting, Captain. We've heard the logs and spoken to the crew. At some point, you chose to do this to your crew. You," Shepard said.

Jacob walked right into his father's face and jabbed him in the chest. "What was the moment? I want to know that there was an actual reason!"

Ronald stepped back until he bumped into the railing. "There was resistance to the plan. Mutiny. We had to take a hard line to keep order. And things finally settled down. As the decay set in, we made sure the crew was comfortable."

"How benevolent of you," Miranda sarcastically said and breaking her silence for the first time.

"Their expressions… Some seemed happier," he said defensively. "Ignorance is bliss, right? And they were grateful for guidance, like an instinct. Pure authority was… easy. At first." He turned away from Jacob's accusing glare. "Months set in, the effect lowered inhibitions. They got territorial. Rank, protocol; they didn't understand. We had to establish dominance. After a while the perks seemed… normal."

"That's it? That's all you can say? You created a harem and played king? Ten years in a sick, juvenile fantasy?" Jacob asked with disgust. Even in his anger, he noted that Shepard was holding his pistol loosely in his hand and occasionally glancing back at the entrance.

"I can't point to where it all went wrong," Taylor said before he turned back around. "But when the beacon was ready, revealing what happened didn't seem like a good idea."

"What happened to the other officers?" Shepard asked.

"Anders found his conscience a little late to step back. He had an accident."

Jacob sincerely doubted it. At this point, if his father had said that water was wet, he wouldn't have believed him.

"Things got… tense. End of the day, I was the one with the mechs," Ronald explained. "I got a little basic in setting examples, but I was kind to my people-"

Jacob's disgust grew tenfold at the words: 'my people'.

"-once things settled down. Seemed like I'd earned some peace."

"You fought and used people like they were toys. Things," Jacob said.

"Ten years of hell for these people, just because of you, Taylor. There's no way I'm letting this slide. You don't get to walk away without paying a price," Shepard said.

"You're damn right he doesn't. What happened here, I should vent his head." Jacob drew his pistol and pointed it right between his father's eyes. It was close thing. He could feel his finger itching, a twitch away from pulling the trigger.

Ronald backed away slowly, his hands in the air and his wide eyes fixed on the gun.

Throughout their 'reunion', he didn't apologize, not that Jacob expected him to. He never made apologies. Instead, he'd tried to make things right or own up to his mistakes, just like how he taught him. Here, he wouldn't even acknowledge his crimes. Instantly, Jacob knew there was nothing left of the memory of his father left in the man in front of him. Nothing to admire, respect or even love. Lowering his weapon, his face held nothing but contempt at the man in front of him. "He's not worth pulling the damn trigger. I don't know who you are. Because you're not any father I remember."

"We'll secure him for an Alliance court. For every here year, he'll have ten to think about it," Shepard said.

"Give him all the time in the galaxy. The man who did this doesn't know right from wrong," Jacob coldly said with one last glare. Despite his words though, the idea was more appealing than cold-blooded murder. He remembered something his old CO once said: 'Kill a man and his pain is brief; destroy his life and his pain is forever'. The more he thought about it, the better he liked the idea. Turning away, he made to rendezvous with Mordin's team to assist in helping secure the civilians. He couldn't stand the sight of Ronald Taylor anymore.

"I'm sorry, Jacob. I did the best I could," the unknown man/monster said. The despondence in his voice was tangible, but it wasn't enough. Too little, too late.

"I'm ten years past believing that," Jacob said without a backward glance. He saw that some of the Hunters had followed in their wake. Shepard and Miranda easily held them at bay. He moved around them and continued down the path by himself.

Ronald Taylor didn't move to stop him or call out to him as he left.

~o~O~o~

Location: Rosetta Nebula, Alpha Draconis System, In Orbit Around Aeia, Normandy SR-2

The women at the camp were secured and were being treated by Dr. Chakwas and Dr. Solus. It took a bit of time, but the Hunters realized that Ronald Taylor's reign of oppression was over and surrendered peacefully. They were all disarmed and placed in restraints to ensure they would be no danger to themselves and to others. Ronald Taylor himself was secured and placed far away from the main group. He was in shackles and prepped for pickup and processing.

Joker reported that the Alliance were on their way with an ETA. The crew of the Normandy remained on Aeia to ensure all was in order. One hour before the Alliance was expected to arrive, everyone was shuttled off-world quickly.

Shepard, Jacob, and Miranda were the last to leave. They boarded the dropship and were en route to the Normandy.

Just minutes before the Kodiak docked, Jacob remembered the strange message he received and wondered who sent it. Remembering the level of secrecy that surrounded the message, he could only assume that the Illusive Man did it or knew who did it.

His contemplative look wasn't missed by his companions. "Something on your mind, Jacob?" Shepard asked.

"I need to talk to the Illusive Man. I need to find out who sent me that message about the Gernsback. Him or whoever else," Jacob replied.

"I sent it."

Both Jacob and Shepard turned in surprise at Miranda.

"You did? Why?" Jacob asked, completely off-guard from her admission.

"There was a time when it mattered to you," Miranda said in a soft tone. "Sending it along seemed like keeping an old promise."

The shuttle jerked lightly as it completed its docking procedures.

Miranda stood up and opened the door. Before she left, she glanced at the two men that were still seated. "And I keep my promises." With those parting words, she left.

"You had no idea Miranda did that?" Shepard asked as he stood up.

"No," Jacob honestly said. He stood up as well and followed Shepard out of the shuttle. "She's got a good memory. Selective, but good. I haven't thought about those days in a long time." He racked his memories trying to figure out when they talked about his past to when she evidently gave her word, but nothing came to mind. "Can't figure which promise she meant. Not sure I really want to know."

They entered the elevator when it arrived and made their way to the CIC.

Jacob glanced at Shepard's profile and regarded his CO thoughtfully. "She… requires a better man than I," he admitted.

Thankfully, Shepard didn't comment further on that. "You good with all this, Jacob?"

"It's all bull, Shepard. Captain Taylor can rot in prison. It doesn't change who I am or what I know. I've already mourned the man he used to be." The wound was well-healed. Even now, he couldn't dredge up the same anger he had before. He was still appalled at the crimes committed, dedicated to stopping those crimes and saving the innocent people, but it no longer felt personal. He smiled dryly. "I guess he was a good enough father that even he can't screw up what he taught me."

The elevator reached their destination. Stepping off, Shepard nodded to him. "Come on then. We got work to do."

"Aye, Captain," Jacob replied easily. Before the Spectre could reach the galaxy map, he called out to him. "Shepard? Thanks for the help."

Smiling back, Shepard reached out and shook his hand. "Anytime, Jacob."

As Jacob made his way to the Armory, he heard Joker's voice overhead.

"Krogan DMZ Cluster, Aralakh System, Tuchanka. Coordinates locked in. IES Stealth Systems engaged. We're running silent. Alliance ships are inbound to secure Captain Taylor and his crew. We'll be long gone by the time they get here."

"Don't even give them the tail lights."

"Roger that, Captain."

Entering the Armory and leaving his weapons on the nearest table, Jacob turned on his terminal and inputted his passwords to get into his personal files. After a few seconds of searching, he found what he was looking for.

To: Jacob Taylor

From: Ronald Taylor

Subject: I'm Sorry

Son,

If you're reading this, then I'm gone. With the inherent dangers of these missions, it seems foolish not to have some letter like this ready, so I'm sending this before we get too far from your last relay.

I remember the look on your face when I left. You wanted to ask me not to go, but you didn't. You've grown to be a wise young man with a strong sense of duty. I wish I could take credit for that, but it has more to do with who you are than anything I taught you.

The truth is: I haven't been around enough. And if you're reading this, then I'm never going to have the chance to fix that. My job is an important one, but a man can't hide behind the pressures of work. This was to be my last trip. Easy for me to say now, I know, but the money from this expedition would have let me settle down with you and your mother to carve out some kind of peaceful quiet life far away from the pressures of space. Before I left, you were talking about joining the Alliance. I hope you find the same kind of peace and camaraderie with your team that I've found on the Gernsbeck.

I love you, son, and I'm proud of the man you've become. I wish I could have told you that one last time.

Love,

Dad

Jacob breathed one last sigh of regret before hitting the 'delete' command. The message vanished from the screen. Logging out of his personal files and returning to his professional ones, he started logging the weapons and sorted which needed maintenance in order of priority.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

The final tally was: 52-18 in favor of arresting Ronald Taylor.

One of the things I wanted to do in this chapter was the plot holes/continuity errors. The Hugo Gernsback crashed in 2175. The events of Mass Effect 1 occur in 2183. The events of Mass Effect 2 happen in 2185. Thermal clips were invented between 2183 and 2185, well after the ship crashed.

Why the hell are there thermal clips everywhere? And why where they equipped with weapons that use thermal clips?

Next was the level of weaponry they were using. These guys were supposed to establish a colony on the planet. Stake the claim in the name of the Alliance. Why would they have something more than a pistol that was probably used by security guards on the Gernsback? And given the damage from the crash, how many weapons could function if they were found at all? Not likely that they were using military grade hardware. And if anyone had kinetic barriers, it would be a few guys acting as guards. Who probably died in the crash.

Finally, my gripe is the mechs. Fine, if there were dangerous animals or some such, mechs would be perfectly disposable. Even having only one YMIR mech would be used for huge security concerns. But why the hell are they so advanced for 10 year old mechs when ME 1 barely employed drones? Boggles the mind.

So, I dumbed down the weaponry, made them shoot like they might hit the broadside of a barn with enough bullets, and no shields since all I saw was them wearing rags. Without knowing when mechs were employed, I just said they were old, poorly maintained, and crappy all around.

Credit for the quote Jacob thought about is to Skyllian Blitz from SpaceBattles. Com forum. Credit of the find goes to reviewer Amir-015.

There is a new Kasumi poll up. I deleted the old one. Thanks to reviewer someone (), who gave me some massive inspiration regarding Kasumi's Loyalty Mission. Instead of making a concrete choice, I leave it to her, but I don't actually say what the choice is, thus, leaving the ending up to you and your imagination. The poll has been removed and a new one is placed so that everyone that voted can vote again in light of a new choice, dubbed "cliffhanger." Vote now!

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