Fight for the Lost

By LuxDragon

Scifi / Action

Interlude XVI

Location: Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega

As the door hissed open, Nef's laugh reverberated through the empty halls of the apartment complex. She sounded as musical as ever, even though she was a bit tipsy. She staggered into the room, but remained on her feet. Her beautiful smile grew even wider as she looked around with semi-lidded eyes. "Wow… your place is just like apartments on Vaenia!"

Morinth's entrance was far more graceful, though her gait had a subtle, predatory feel. Given the amount of alcohol and hallex running in Nef's body though, there was no way for her to know or even formulate a suspicion.

Morinth smiled as well and placed a hand on the curve of Nef's back. "It took a little work, but I'm glad you like it."

Still smiling, the human practically melted at the touch and turned to embrace the asari. After another mind-numbing kiss, Nef swayed on her feet a bit. "By the way, I wanted to tell you that I got an offer on some of my pieces!" she exclaimed happily. "Can you believe it? I mean, I never thought someone like me could have so… so… much…"

Nef's sentence trailed off when Morinth ran a thumb gently over her lower lip before tracing a path down her throat and between the valley of her breasts.

"I always knew you were special. Different. A certain spark that no one on this station has," Morinth purred. "You have a gift and I'm so glad that you're willing to share it with me."

Her prey sighed at the words and leaned into her embrace. "Whatever happens, I want to be with you forever."

As Morinth placed a trail of kisses along Nef's slender throat, she smiled darkly. "You will be."

"Really?" Nef asked breathlessly.

Morinth pulled her newest lover even closer and looked into her eyes. Her smile slowly changed from seductive to feral.

Brown eyes were memorized by inky black depths. Nef didn't resist; on the contrary, she moved even closer.

She truly had no chance.

Morinth almost shivered in anticipation as she prepared to seal their union. Even after 400 years, the feeling was as heady as it was the first time.

She despised and reveled in it.

"Embrace eternity!"

~o~O~o~

Location: Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega

Miranda sighed in frustration and pushed away from her terminal. Despite her relatively high clearance, she couldn't find any details on the nature of the now defunct Teltin cell. Not surprising, since the Illusive Man preferred that all knowledge of the inner workings or goals of all the cells were kept strictly separate so that the discovery, treachery, or failure of one cell couldn't compromise others. As far as she could surmise from the aftermath of Jack's escape, the researchers simply ignored set protocols and used whatever methods they felt like to get results and forwarded that to the Illusive Man without explanation or details of their procedures.

She couldn't help but scoff at their idiocy. Once humanity became aware of life outside their own system, the Council accepted their species into their laws and conventions. Doing so had granted them access to their public databases.

Biotics was hardly a matter of interstellar secrecy. Just about all sapient species had biotics and thousands of research papers were already published on the subject. The University of Serrice, on the asari homeworld of Thessia, had dozens of papers on the study of biotics, with many in relation to different species. It was practically a public forum. It was just a matter of understanding the differences between alien species and how to adapt that knowledge to humans.

Whoever was in charge of the Teltin cell was either supremely arrogant or a complete imbecile to think that they could find out something new in the field of sapient biotics without studying the established conventions first. Even worse, believed that humanity had something special to offer in biotics that the other species lacked.

Miranda scrolled through the lists of the surviving children and grimaced. In the end, Teltin was revealed to be a biotic death camp for children. Even the disgraceful BAaT program seemed tame in comparison and it still managed to produce some results that were still in use today.

Teltin was shoddy work. She had never conducted a mission or a cell as poorly as this. She would never stand for it.

"Executive Lawson? Captain Shepard has just established a link with the Teltin facility's mainframe. Much of the data is corrupted, but I am able to retrieve a significant portion of their final research notes. Would you like me to forward the information to the Illusive Man?"

"Please," Miranda said. "And give me a copy as well."

"Understood. Uploading data to your personal terminal. Logging you out."

Miranda sighed again and rubbed her forehead. Cerberus operations were a topic she avoided with Shepard. Besides being considered classified, need-to-know, and completely covert, he knew her stance on the issue and she knew his. Neither one of them were willing to turn their backs on their beliefs either. At this point, they simply had an unspoken agreement not to antagonize one another over it.

Still, she knew that his opinions of Cerberus would no doubt sink even lower than it already had with his visit to Teltin. Truth be told, she found herself slightly ashamed to think that those so-called 'scientists' were even a part of Cerberus to begin with.

She opened up the data and began perusing it. At first, she didn't have much in the way of expectations, but after sifting through the research a bit more, there was something that piqued her interest; a faint nugget of useful info. Before she could study the research in earnest, Joker called her from the cockpit.

"Executive Lawson, Shepard is calling for you. Report to the CIC."

She turned off her terminal and quickly made her way to the elevator. "On my way."

Once up on Deck 2, she walked up to the command post and leaned on the railing overlooking the holographic display of the Normandy's current status. "Shepard? Miranda here."

"How many can the Hammerhead seat?" Shepard asked. He sounded a bit tense.

Miranda was a bit confused at the odd question, but answered regardless. "We've modified the Hammerhead. It can hold up to five now, albeit uncomfortably. One pilot, one navigator, one gunner, and two others. Grunt would take that number down to four."

"Who's certified to drive it?"

"I am. Jacob hasn't taken the time to train himself," Miranda said, remembering that Jacob often complained about not finding the time to undergo the simulations. She suppressed the urge to laugh.

More like 'play' with the newest in all-terrain fighting tanks.

"Select four others besides yourself and stand by. I'll let you know if we need backup," Shepard ordered.

"Understood." When Shepard signed off, she considered who to pick before calling them via shipwide intercom. "Jacob, Garrus, Samara, and Thane: Suit up and stand by at the hangar. Shepard may need reinforcements at a moment's notice."

Quickly, she went back to her cabin to put on her armor, to the Armory for her weapons, and down to the hangar. She sat down on a crate nearest to the Hammerhead and opened her omni-tool. Syncing up with her terminal at her office, she got back to studying the data from Teltin. Even through their mistakes, she was lucky enough to glean some incredible information. If what she was seeing was accurate, then she may have found the answer she was looking for.

I hope this pans out.

Looking up, she spotted Mordin nearby. He was chatting animatedly to Thane. The drell looked composed as ever, but seemed to take an interest in what the professor was saying.

Miranda stood up and approached both men. She could hear snippets of what Mordin was talking about now.

"…repair limited to only recent damage to respiratory tissue. Continued therapy may even extend life expectancy however."

"Once again, I find myself in awe of your intellect, Professor. Whatever help you can offer to my people will be greatly appreciated," Thane said with a short bow. "I would be grateful for whatever assistance you would be able to give me as well."

"Gentlemen," Miranda greeted.

"Executive Lawson," Thane cordially returned.

"Evening," Mordin said.

"Are we leaving?" Thane asked.

"Not yet," Miranda answered. "We're still on stand-by until Shepard calls us for us or calls us off."

"Understood."

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but may I speak to you in private, Mordin?" Miranda requested.

He nodded rapidly. "Yes, yes. Of course."

Nodding politely to Thane, she led Mordin away from earshot of the others. Settling near the Hammerhead again, she showed him the data on her omni-tool. "Take a look at this."

Mordin was silent for a few moments as he casually perused the info, no doubt humoring her if his small, polite smile was any clue to go by. However, his face took on a more serious and intent look as time went on. His interest increased incrementally as his eyes started to rapidly move side-to-side and was quietly mouthing the words.

Miranda waited, but her usual patience was wavering as she waited for his opinion. She could practically see the salarian's mind working in overdrive.

"Hmm… yes… interesting… utilized with salarian research…" Mordin muttered. He finally looked up at her. "Yes, this might be the key!"

Miranda sighed in relief. "I thought there was something to this. I'll send you a copy. I need you and Dr. Chakwas to study everything and see if something can be done."

"Yes, of course. Will start immediately," Mordin agreed. "Excellent find!"

After Mordin left, she settled back down her crate and started studying the data again after forwarding the relevant research to Mordin and Chakwas. If the theory was right, then the next problem was to put it to practice.

Jacob wandered over and sat down next to her. "You look more serious than usual. Something up?"

"Unfinished business. You know I don't like loose ends," Miranda replied distractedly.

Jacob furrowed his brow. "What unfinished business?"

"Nothing you can help with, Jacob," Miranda said. She stopped reading to look up at him. "Just a few things I need to correct; details on the Lazarus Project that need to be addressed."

"Lazarus…? Wait, Shepard mentioned something might be wrong. Is he okay?" Jacob asked.

"Yes, I think everything will be fine now," Miranda said with more confidence than she felt. "I don't want to talk about it. Ask him if you want any details."

Jacob got the hint, he always did. It was a quality he had that she was always grateful for. Letting the matter drop, he made idle talk with her instead while she worked. She answered with one or two words though. He did enough that it kept her focused in the moment and not get too absorbed into her work, but not so much that it detracted her from her studies. It was a unique talent he had developed during the course of their friendship.

Jacob was a known contradiction within Cerberus, which meant that he had few friends within, but it was that characteristic that enabled her to often predict, even preempt, his thoughts. He was blunt and straightforward, like any career marine. He made his opinions heard, since he hated to hide. He also adhered to his own code, which can sometimes run contrary to a few of Cerberus' more clandestine operations, and often irritated the Illusive Man. It also usually meant that any mission given to him was far and few between.

Miranda often suspected that, besides her own personal recommendation, the Illusive Man allowed Jacob entry into their group to give Cerberus the appearance of a less xenophobic group while still having a capable marine on hand.

Still, Jacob was someone that could be trusted despite whatever flaws or boons he had, and he could keep a secret if it was important enough.

After a few more hours, Shepard finally called them and gave the all-clear, citing that the situation was under control and that the facility was clear of hostiles. Everyone stretched and shuffled toward wherever they felt like being at on the frigate.

Jacob kindly took everyone's weapons back to the Armory.

Miranda briskly walked back to her office. After doffing her armor and slipping back into her uniform, she made her way to the Medical Bay.

Inside, Mordin and Chakwas were talking in urgent tones; though debate might be the accurate adjective, since they appeared quite heated on whatever subject they were talking about. They were gesturing and pointing at the terminal between them and were presenting their sides of their argument. Thankfully, they maintained their professionalism and decorum.

"Problem?" Miranda asked as the door closed behind her.

"Just a mild disagreement," Chakwas said, though she sounded slightly irritable. "To start with, we're having trouble trying to tie together the research the salarians uncovered with the… experiments," she informed, though she fairly spat out that last word, "from Teltin. After that, we need a way to introduce the cure with something that's no doubt, completely experimental and utterly dangerous. All in the hope that there won't be any further complications once we're finished."

Mordin sniffed. "Much about situation is mired in theory. Still must try. Life endangered already. Think logically. Critically. Thoroughly. But remain decisive, regardless."

"I won't be risking his life on based on guesswork that was derived from any of those monsters," Chakwas shot back. "For all we know, that facility was either run by a stark-raving lunatic or an idiot," she scathingly said before turning to Miranda. "No offense."

"None taken," Miranda amicably said. She had already admitted to herself that the scientists on Teltin were all fools anyway. "So this is an ethics dilemma?"

"Don't wish to harm him," Mordin said. He looked a bit offended that it was implied though. "But we must find some way of helping."

"But this can't be our only recourse," Chakwas argued.

"Normally, it wouldn't be," Miranda cut in. "But we're running out of time. You saw the results of the scan. If any of those nodules grows larger in his lungs, or his heart, or his spine… or any other critical nerve cluster, Shepard will die regardless."

Chakwas shook her head. "I don't suppose there's any chance you can 'resurrect' the Lazarus Project again if this goes pear-shaped?"

Miranda solemnly shook her head. "Believe me, I would if I could. He is worth it; there's no doubt in my mind." How much, she wasn't going to say to them. Instead, she said, "I'm just not sure how the Illusive Man would take the news or what he would do about it. Plus, there's a chance Shepard would refuse anyway. He's committed to the mission. We all are."

Chakwas sighed in defeat. "Just for the record, I'm still not comfortable with this."

"Difficult situation," Mordin agreed.

"I'm not lying to him," she said. "I would never do him such a disservice. Not after all he's done."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Miranda readily said. "I'll tell him everything and answer all of his questions when he gets back. For now, let's just focus on how this will all work out and hopefully avoid any nasty surprises."

"Murphy's Law," Chakwas warned.

Mordin looked confused at her statement, a decidedly out of character expression on the normally knowledgeable salarian scientist.

Miranda smiled tiredly. "Trust me; that was almost a mantra during the Lazarus Project."

~o~O~o~

After talking a bit more, they finally divvied up their tasks and agreed on a schedule before going their separate ways.

Despite Chakwas' naysaying, Miranda was slightly optimistic. Perhaps she was indulging in a bit of vanity, but she did manage to restore Shepard to his former self, more or less. The act of bringing back the dead was a medical achievement for the ages. All she needed to do was approach this like any other challenge she faced and hopefully things will work out.

She walked out of the Med Bay with a slight smile on her face. Quickly entering her office, she gathered up the stray datapads on her table and stacked them neatly off to the side.

Before she could sit down and work in earnest, her door was forcibly opened by an irate Jack.

Miranda found herself a bit surprised at the sudden intrusion. And more than a little wary. She had assumed that Jack would be in a better mood after destroying a Cerberus base, even if it was abandoned. Placing the datapads down to free her hands, she regarded the volatile biotic cautiously. "Jack. Something I can do for you?" she asked in a conversational tone.

Even if the situation was anything but.

"You look awfully cheery. Wanna share?" Jack mockingly asked.

"Not particularly and especially not with you," Miranda said as she stepped away from her table to get a bit a room to maneuver. As much as she hoped that this wouldn't degenerate into a fight, it always paid to be prepared for the worst. "Is there anything else you'd like to bother me about?"

"Plenty," Jack retorted. "Like how much blood money does Cerberus have to toss at projects that tortures and murders kids?"

"That was hardly a Cerberus facility," Miranda shot back. She kept her calm, and began even suppressing her emotions in the face of Jack's growing rage. "I saw the logs EDI downloaded and the reports of the actions Cerberus took after the riot. The facility went rogue well before and a team was sent to clean up that mess."

"You mean kill everyone," Jack accused.

"Not that you care," Miranda spat out. "But there were survivors during your 'escape'. The children were sent to Alliance facilities, while the scientists were… retired."

"Bullshit!" Jack shouted back.

Miranda had no idea if Jack meant that she didn't believe her, that she actually did care about the others, or if there were no more scientists left for her to exact vengeance on. In the end, the Cerberus Operative just shrugged indifferently. "I don't have to justify anything to you. There's nothing I can say that you're willing to believe since you're far too comfortable with your own preconceptions."

Jack sneered. "That's a laugh coming from you. You're too busy regurgitating Cerberus' bullshit that you have no fuckin' idea what your boss is into."

If possible, Miranda's glare became even colder. "Well, since it's obvious that you and I won't agree on this issue, I think you should leave."

Unsurprisingly, Jack held her ground. "After everything Cerberus has done to me, I've been looking forward for a little payback."

"Is that why you're here?" Miranda asked. Her hands slightly twitched as she mentally judged the best way to disable, but not kill her opponent. "I told you: that was no longer a Cerberus operation."

"That. Facility. Was. Cerberus," Jack said. "Their logos. Their soldiers. Their scientists."

"It was a facility that went off the rails. Rules and safeguards exist for a reason. And what happened because they were ignored? You. That's all their work went into. And they died for it. It was nothing that Cerberus would ever condone."

Nothing I would ever condone.

Jack almost looked like she wanted to laugh now. "You know what? I was wrong. You really are that stupid. They still answered to your boss, the Illusive Man. Everything they did was for him." She smirked. "You know what Shepard said? He said he took out whole bases just like Teltin. You telling me that your entire organization has gone off the rails?"

Miranda's patience had long since worn thin. "Look," she said. She reached out and picked up a datapad. "The event reports of what happened before your rampage. The Illusive Man was shutting the facility down because they've gone dark for too long. Falsified reports, unusual resource expenditures, subject disappearances. Enjoy." She pushed it into Jack's chest. Almost stupid, she knew, but at this point, her patience was at its end.

As predicted, Jack slapped the datapad away and stepped back. Miranda had taken a step away in response.

"Touch me and I will smear the walls with you, bitch!" Jack shouted. She levitated a chair and tossed it directly at her.

Miranda used her own biotics to slow it down and pushed it away, letting it harmlessly strike the bulkhead.

"Enough!"

Both women jerked their heads toward the voice.

Shepard stood angrily in the doorway. He was mostly still in full armor, sans a pauldron and his gauntlets. He boldly marched inside and closed the door to prevent any gawking from the crewmen. "Stand down, both of you!"

Jack glared at him before pointing at Miranda. "The cheerleader won't admit what Cerberus did to me was wrong!"

Miranda almost rolled her eyes at Jack's declaration, inane and childish as it was. It was something of a surprise that she would even care what Miranda's thoughts were on the matter. "It wasn't Cerberus. Not really. But clearly you were a mistake," she said.

"Screw you!" Jack shouted. She jabbed a finger at her and let her biotics flare. "You've got no idea what they put me through! Maybe it's time I showed you!"

Suddenly, both women were pushed back and away from each other.

Miranda turned to see Shepard's biotics glow faintly as well. His left arm was up and pointed in their direction. "This is not going to happen. Not while I'm in charge."

She immediately stood down, but kept her guard up. Both she and Shepard knew how dangerous it was to use his biotics now. If he was willing to use it just to stop their altercation, then he was willing to do what it took to keep the peace on his ship.

And she wasn't willing to endanger his failing health just to stoop to Jack's level and 'throw down' with a mentally unstable criminal.

"Fuck you. I just want her dead," Jack snarled.

"You want everybody in Cerberus dead," Shepard countered. "Except we need each other right now."

"She can't be trusted, Shepard. She'll jeopardize the whole mission," Miranda argued.

"We're already facing long odds," Shepard calmly said. "We need all the help we can get."

She knew the odds all too well. What she didn't know was if Jack made their chances better or worse, but kept her opinions to herself. She'd raise the issue later without Jack's unstable presence.

Looking at both them, Shepard said, "You were both there at Horizon. The cruiser. You both know what the Collectors are doing and you know what we're up against. You really think we afford to have in-fighting now? I'm not asking you to be friends, but I am ordering the both of you work together."

"Work with her?" Jack scoffed.

Trust me, the feeling's mutual.

"She saved your life. Twice if I recall," Shepard said. "We have a mission. Our lives may depend on each other at some point, because death might actually be preferable to what the Collectors, or the Reapers, have in store for us."

"Very well. I can put aside my differences… until the mission is over," Miranda said coolly. Unafraid, she stepped close enough to Jack that they were almost nose-to-nose.

"Oh, she'll survive. I'll make sure of it. I'd hate to see her die before I get a chance to filet her myself," Jack said with a painfully fake smile. She turned and stomped away.

Shepard put an arm out in front of her. "You two going to be okay?"

Jack just pushed past him and left without another word.

He turned back to face Miranda with a half-questioning, half-demanding look.

Miranda sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. Obviously, he knew how to keep his professional and private life separate. Instead of a lover, she was speaking to the commanding officer of the ship and leader of their mission. "It's nothing. She obviously wanted to vent her frustrations and I was a handy target. It's better that way, I suppose. At least she didn't attack any of the other crewmen."

"So she just barged in?"

"I did nothing to provoke her if that's what you meant."

"It was, but I'm not accusing you, or her, of anything," he said placatingly. "I just want to know what happened so it won't happen again."

"It won't," Miranda assured as she scooped up the datapad Jack had knocked away. "Thank you for coming by the way. It was a good thing you came by when you did."

"For you or for Jack?" Shepard asked. He sounded only half-serious.

Miranda smiled. "A month ago, I would've said 'for her', but now… how about I say for both of us?"

"A nice unassuming answer. I like it," he replied. He picked up the fallen chair and put it back in its place.

"I assume EDI told you about Jack's intentions?"

Shepard had a ghost of smile as he started taking off his chest plate. "Not quite."

"Joker then," Miranda deduced. He was the only one that would inform him outside of EDI. Maybe Donnelly too, but his involvement was highly unlikely.

"He asked that I take pictures," Shepard replied with a wry smile and confirming her suspicions.

She sighed in irritation. "I'd expect nothing less from him. He either thought we'd blow a hole in the ship; or depending on how perverse his mind is, she and I would be making out, I'm sure."

Shepard finally slipped out of his body armor. He was clad in an undershirt and his greaves now. "I'm sure," he echoed. He looked like he was trying very hard not to grin. "Now how about you? Will I need to quarantine the both of you on separate decks?"

"I'll stay out of her way if she stays out of mine. So long as she does her job, we'll be fine."

"I'll talk to her," he promised.

"Are you sure about this? Jack, I mean," Miranda asked seriously.

Shepard shrugged. "As sure as I can be," he replied. At least he didn't sound glib. "Although I'm still a bit worried about the two of you."

"I know what you're going to say. I will fully admit that while I don't like her, your argument is valid. Our mission needs to succeed and her power would benefit us. But that's only if she's willing to do so."

"She is. I trust her."

"You do?"

"Surprisingly, yeah. She knows that I've fought against Cerberus in the past. I guess it makes her a bit more comfortable being here."

"So you're taking her side?" Miranda asked incredulously. It was a childish question, but the feeling of betrayal was there all the same.

Shepard raised an eyebrow. "Am I taking her side or am I taking sides?"

She knew he meant her association with Cerberus and his loyalty to either the Alliance or the Council. Thus far, they avoided talking about the topic and she wasn't willing to talk about yet. Especially when their tempers were threatening to flare up. "I suspect I meant the latter, but… not right now," she said diplomatically. "But we'll need to talk about it."

Shepard sighed. "Yeah, I know."

"And I didn't mean to question your judgment. If you think you can keep a handle on Jack, then less work, and worries, for me. Just be careful."

"What I'm curious about is why you care so much about her."

"I don't care, either about her opinions or her vendettas. I just don't want her to barge into my office or destroy a vital part of the ship."

Shepard shook his head. "You keep talking about Jack, but I'm not hearing any complaints Grunt's presence, which is actually interesting."

"Grunt seems calmer—" Miranda started to say before Shepard interjected.

"—but he's still young by krogan standards and… well… he's still a krogan."

"You've worked with Wrex," she pointed out.

"And you've worked with criminal contacts before," Shepard said. "Jacob told me about some salarian you introduced him to. Ish, I think his name was. Almost got Jacob killed if I recall."

She rolled her eyes. "He's exaggerating. The situation was well in hand. Besides, we only suspected Ish to be involved."

"I doubt Jacob looks at it the same way."

This time, Miranda smiled. "He should learn to relax then. All's well that ends well and all that."

She tactfully overlooked the hypocrisy of her statement when Shepard grinned at her.

~o~O~o~

Location: Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega / Auxera District, Medical Clinic

"I'm sorry," Daniel said awkwardly but sincerely.

The woman in front of him continued to cry hysterically.

Daniel swallowed thickly and looked around for support. The various orderlies and mercs could only offer shrugs and sympathetic looks, but no real help.

Thanks a lot. I bet the mechs could do this better than me.

It was odd to be sure. Living on Omega, he was used to the sight of death, remorse, and despair, but damned if he knew how to console the surviving kin. Sighing quietly, Daniel reflected on Mordin's bedside manner. His mentor was brilliant, efficient, and decisive; but having a proper bedside manner was not one of his better talents. He would've patted the woman on the back or shoulder, say something about releasing the body to her for a burial, or disposal if he was really callous, and move on to his next patient.

Standing still, uncomfortably shuffling his feet and fidgeting with the sleeves of his medical coat, Daniel had to admit that his bedside manner was little better.

Damn salarians and their quick emotional processing. I could really use it now.

"Why? ! Why my Nef? !" the grieving mother cried out in anguish. "She was so special… so talented… It isn't fair!"

Again, Daniel found his throat constricting, almost to the point where he felt light-headed. He heard talk about a girl that had some real natural artistic talent. It really wasn't his thing, but creative gifts on a place like Omega was rare, something he identified with. "Your daughter suffered a massive intracerebral hemorrhage brought on by a hemorrhagic stroke," he informed, before wincing. Now he sounded like Mordin, just firing off symptoms, diseases, infections, and diagnoses clinically. Almost coldly. But for the life of him, he couldn't think of anything else to say. "Due to its anatomic location and the severity of the bleed, I'm sorry to say that there was little I could…"

"My Nef! Was she…? I mean, could someone…?"

"I… um… while it's possible for hemorrhages to be caused by physical trauma, I didn't see any signs indicating anything as such. I'm sorry—"

He was cut off when the older women shook her head and sobbed even harder. She lashed out at him, beating her fists against his chest, but it lacked any real power or malice. Daniel stood there and took it in. He knew she was just trying to vent. Eventually, she gripped his coat and cried into his chest, still whispering her daughter's name over and over again.

He took a bit of heart when one of the female orderlies gave him an encouraging nod.

As he held the distraught mother in his arms and clumsily patted her on the back in an attempt to console her, Daniel swore that he would never make another disparaging comment about his mentor ever again.

~o~O~o~

Location: Normandy SR-2 / En Route to Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega

"—in conclusion, addition of PergNim chemical with EZGI should halt growth of element zero nodules," Mordin finished with aplomb. He paused to take a breath. "In theory."

"Everything's a theory with me. I'm walking, talking, living, theory," Shepard groused.

He was sitting on one of the beds in the Med Bay, listening to Mordin's rapid-fire lecture on what might be a plausible cure for his condition. Miranda and Chakwas were in attendance. His XO was in agreement, but the doctor held a few reservations, and it wasn't about the nature or the dubious history of PergNim so much as it was the possible side-effects the children suffered that might happen to him as well.

Unless you don't count death as a side-effect.

"We don't have many options, Shepard," Miranda said. "Given the already inherent risks regarding our mission, I truly believe this is your best chance."

"My only chance," Shepard added.

"We've already gotten the Collector's attention. I doubt we'll have the time or the resources ready to restart the Lazarus Project before they come and kill you anyway," Miranda said.

Shepard couldn't tell if she was joking or not.

"Essentially, we're combining the drugs of two failed projects in the distant hope for a successful one," Chakwas commented. "Ignoring the fact that one drug was designed for salarians and the other killed dozens of children."

"While PergNim was designed to increase biotic strength, it perplexed the Teltin researchers when it started reducing biotic abilities instead," Miranda argued. "That's what we've been looking for."

"Oh yes, it reduced biotic abilities just before causing serious neurological and physiological complications," Chakwas bit out.

"What complications?" Shepard couldn't help but ask.

"Oh, the usual," Chakwas replied in a fake negligent tone. "Seizures so strong, it snapped a few spines, hemorrhaging, unpredictable perforations in major organ systems, clotting, that sort of thing. I believe there were some cases of allergic reactions too, causing respiratory failure and swelling of the esophagus," she listed of sardonically before turning to her colleagues. "That compound is practically a poison and you're actually suggesting that we shove it in his veins."

"No. No, no, no, no," Mordin protested, accenting his point by empathetically shaking his head in time with his words. "Was planning to introduce drug via implants."

Chakwas shook her head in exasperation.

"More implants?" Shepard asked.

"Oh, yes. Only a few though. Once implants are depleted and condition has been stabilized, will remove. Easy."

Chakwas sighed. "Well, Shepard, you're the patient. If you want to go this route, I'll help as best I can. I don't want to lose you for a second time, especially since you're essentially under my care and not going down with the ship."

Shepard sighed and turned to Miranda questioningly.

Reading his thoughts, she nodded back.

"Let's do it," he said in resignation. "We're on a suicide mission anyway. Why not play Russian Roulette with my health too?"

"Excellent!" Mordin cheerfully said. "Must get blood samples…"

As he started poking Shepard with a barrage of needles, Chakwas reached out and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly before turning back to her terminal to continue studying and mitigating all the factors she could possibly predict.

After Mordin was finished, he excused himself and walked back to his lab, carrying several vials of Shepard's blood in his hands.

The Spectre looked down at his arm and saw that the medi-gel Mordin applied was unnecessary. He had already healed all of the track marks from his 'examination' within minutes.

Standing up and shaking his arm to relieve the pain, he turned to Miranda gestured with his head that they should go back to her office.

She nodded in acceptance and they left Chakwas to her work.

Once inside, Shepard walked past Miranda's desk and plopped down on the couch.

Miranda sat down much more gracefully. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. For now anyway," he answered honestly.

"About what happened earlier…"

"With Jack? Don't worry, I already talked to her."

"With your biotics. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause trouble for you like that," Miranda said.

"Like I said, I'm fine. No pain that time, but I was using my left arm, so…"

"Yes, well, I'll avoid further conflicts with her, if only to avoid causing trouble for you," she promised.

"I really appreciate that." He leaned back and closed his eyes for a moment before sitting up again. "By the way, what did you mean by that? When you called her 'a mistake'?"

"I meant no offense. Not really anyway, if that's what you mean," she said before amending herself.

Shepard's expression remained curious, but not accusing.

"It wasn't personal," Miranda answered. "She was a mistake. Just about everything about that facility was designed to make her a more powerful biotic when she already was. They should've focused on replicating her abilities for the other children, not sacrificing them to increase a strength that was already there."

He shook his head and snorted. "Nothing about that place was right. They had a morgue. Who knows what they were doing to the bodies, just so they can scrap together some kind of information."

"Well, I should inform you that the facility was intended to be shut down long before Jack escaped," Miranda said.

"How do you know that?"

"That was the official report."

Joker's voice echoed in Shepard's head when she said that. "Yeah, that the 'official' story. Only an idiot believes the official story."

"You trust it?" Shepard asked.

She looked faintly uncomfortable. "Teltin was another cell. The Illusive Man keeps cells separate—"

"—for operational and security purposes. Yeah, I'm familiar with 'need to know'," Shepard finished. "Which either roughly translates between 'None of your damn business' or 'No questions. Shut up and do as you're told'."

Miranda's news didn't come as a surprise though. With an organization like shadowy organization like Cerberus though, it went above clandestineness. Withholding, revealing, or eliminating information was probably the Illusive Man's greatest priorities in any given op. Even from his own people.

"Any cell that fails as much as Teltin has is probably one that the Illusive Man doesn't want to know about," Shepard said. "Which means the report you have is probably unreliable."

"I looked deeper into it to ensure it wasn't censored," she replied, sounding slightly defensive. "It seems several biotic children were picked up by the Alliance and sent to Ascension. The timing coincided with Jack's escape and Teltin's closure, more or less. The survivors were described as disoriented, suffering from amnesia, and—" She grimaced before continuing, "—malnourished. Not to mention signs of abuse… They don't know where the children had come from or how they ended up at an Alliance facility. In the end, slavers were ruled as the cause."

"Yeah…" Shepard said darkly.

"Look," Miranda said. She picked up a datapad and handed it to him. "This is the report I received."

From: Cerberus Intel

To: Operative Lawson

Subject: Teltin Cell Report

Operative Lawson,

Contacting you per the Illusive Man's instructions. He had ordered Subject Zero's project shut down before the riot broke out. Cerberus personnel arrived to find all guards dead, along with most of the subjects. Any surviving children were treated for injuries, given mild amnesic treatments, and delivered to Alliance facilities as survivors of slaver attacks. A few surviving doctors were forcibly retired for their role in the project.

Per your report, we're revising our records to show that the facility on Pragia has been destroyed.

"You see?" Miranda asked when Shepard finished reading.

"I don't buy this," he said. He passed the datapad back.

"What's wrong now?" she asked, obviously trying to keep her voice civil.

"We found working consoles, data servers, and personal logs of some of the scientists. There was even a man that was a survivor from Teltin and he remembered everything," Shepard listed off. "If there was a Cerberus clean-up crew, why did they do such crappy work? That base was actually salvageable; maybe even functional with a few months of work if you put the creds into it."

Miranda blinked in surprise. "There was a survivor down there?"

"One of the test subjects. He knew Jack. He's probably dead now; killed in the blast. He was drawn there just like her," Shepard answered. "Looks like you need to dig deeper."

Miranda leaned back on her seat, looking contemplative and uneasy.

Considering their relationship, he was reluctant to argue the point any further. Cerberus was a proactive group, outside standard Alliance conventions and didn't mire itself with ethical or political concerns. Just like the Salarian Special Tasks Group, they looked for results first. How far they were willing to go was usually the problem though. Mission like this, actively going after a threat like the Collectors, was one he agreed with. Experiments like the ones done to Jack were something he didn't care much for.

It couldn't be easy, couldn't it?

Shaking his random thoughts away, he looked up to see Miranda take on an uncertain look now. Before he could ask, she abruptly stood up and walked back to her desk. "I need to get back to work."

"Miranda?"

"First things first. You're my priority right now. But I'll be looking into this at later date, I assure you," she said shortly.

"Are you okay?"

She started typing on her terminal. "I don't know. Yet. If the Illusive Man wanted to keep this a secret from me, then he would've just done so. Instead, for some reason, I've been given some kind of fabricated lie." She stopped typing, but didn't look up at him. Her jaw was slightly clenched as she glared into the screen in front of her. "After what I told Jack… being wrong is something that doesn't sit well with me."

Considering the dark look on her face, Shepard made a personal not never to lie to her. Ever.

~o~O~o~

"Hey."

"Jack. Come in," Chakwas said.

Jack wandered in and leaned against the table. "So? Why'd you call me up here?"

"I've finished looking through the results of your scan," Chakwas said. She tapped a few more things into her console before turning around to face her.

"Bad?"

Chakwas shifted a bit in her chair to make herself more comfortable. Or at least ward away the sudden chill in the room. "Yes, I'm afraid so."

Jack huffed in frustration and annoyance. "Big fucking surprise. Fine, just tell me. And don't hold back, either. I just want this over with."

Chakwas nodded. "Very well. You show signs of progressive neural degeneration. How progressive it is, I won't know until further tests can be done. Normally, I would recommend that you be taken off this mission and placed into long-term care at a dedicated facility or hospital, but I doubt you'll accept it."

"Fuck no."

"Well, then. What's interesting is that, conditions like this should decrease your ability to use your biotics effectively. However, it appears that your ability to create mass effect fields is steadily increasing as your condition worsens. I don't quite know how they're related beyond that just yet."

"So I'm going to get more fucked up in the head as time goes on?"

"I'm afraid so. I'm researching ways to slow the progression down. I'm cautiously hopeful."

"Just get to the damn point. Does this mean I'm going to just go ape shit and kill everyone I see or what?" Jack asked.

"Perhaps. That's one scenario, the other is the opposite," Chakwas answered.

"I turn into a drooling, brain-dead, vegetable?" Jack guessed.

"Not the words I would've have used, but yes."

"Fan-fucking-tastic."

"These things are usually related on the sub-cellular level, which means dedicated scans are necessary to locate and treat the underlying cause," Chakwas said.

"So what are my chances?"

"If this were a normal case, your chances would be favorable, but given the experiments done to you…"

"So my chances are crap," Jack spat out bitterly.

"I'm looking through the experiments that were done on Teltin. There might be an answer," Chakwas said optimistically. "You're a survivor. I'm sure things will work out."

"You believe that?" Jack asked. She meant it to sound mocking, but she couldn't help but sound a little hopeful.

"I won't lie to you; this is something of a long-shot, but that's the modus operandi of our mission anyway." Chakwas shrugged. "What do you do you have to lose?"

Jack cracked a smile. "Let me know if you have something?"

"I will."

~o~O~o~

Location: Omega Nebula / Sahrabarik / Omega

Morinth sighed. Sitting alone in a club was nothing short of pathetic. Unfortunately, nothing excited her this evening. Not the music, not the drinks or the drugs. What annoyed her most of all was the people around her. Dull, dim-witted, peons, all of them.

Knocking back her drink, she sighed again and looked around for something to catch her fancy. It was always like this after a union. She'd ride the high for a while, but after coming back down, the world seemed drab and gray. Given how delicious her last lover's mind was, it'd be a while before she could find someone to fill the void.

Especially on this Goddess forsaken station.

At the very least, she was safe from her. Unfortunately, she had also learned that the current 'queen' of Omega, Aria T'Loak, had eyes and ears everywhere. If she was anything like half the rumors said she was, then at most, Morinth could only claim one or two more lovers before relocating again, justicar or no. Aria never showed mercy to her enemies or her competitors. There was little doubt that she'd show no mercy for an Ardat-Yakshi as well.

It was a pity, really. If she was a little stronger, Aria a little weaker, she might've made a play for Omega's top spot. Having an army working for her would've taken care of her justicar problem neatly.

Something to think about…

The waitress brought another drink to her table. For the first time this evening, Morinth smiled a little as she entertained idle fantasies about a union with 'Queen T'Loak'.

~o~O~o~

Author's Notes:

Credit to reviewer BiowareFan for the inspiration on Morinth. Your thoughts and ideas are always appreciated. Thank you.

I know this is a bit on the short side, but there wasn't a lot of character development I could do without making it sound wordy.

As for the Jack thing, it was in her Subject Zero upgrade. I'm not really going anywhere with it since I have no idea what her role is (if any) in ME 3. I'm keeping her fate open-ended. Imagine what you will. That's the sign of a good story sometimes. Kudos BioWare.

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