Fight for the Lost

Interlude II

Location: Normandy

After being ejected from the medical bay and the windows opaque, Shepard stomped around the Com Room for a while. The Captain's Cabin felt too cramped and far.

Five hours since they brought Garrus in and no word. The lack of news frustrated Shepard, bringing a kind of nervous energy. After everything Garrus and he fought through, Shepard had refused vehemently that a merc gunship would be enough to bring the turian down. Not wanting the crew to see their commanding officer in such a state, Shepard sequestered himself in the only available open space. Miranda had stayed for a bit to assess the situation before leaving for her office to report to the Illusive Man and Jacob had some knowledge of advanced first aid. Dr. Chakwas enlisted him as her assistant to stabilize Garrus for the first two hours, before ejecting him too. Afterword, Jacob stayed in the Common Area, promising Shepard that he would let him know if there was anything that changed.

The door opened and Shepard snapped his head up. Jacob walked in, but after seeing the look in Shepard's eyes, decided to give him the update from across the table.

"Well?" Shepard demanded as he placed his hands on the table.

Jacob mimicked Shepard's actions, his face serious. "Commander. We've done what we could for Garrus, but he took some bad hits. Dr. Chakwas corrected what she could with surgery and some cybernetics. Best we can tell, he'll have full functionality, but…"

The door opened again, both men turned to see Miranda entering. "Commander, there's someone that would like to see you," she said, smiling.

Garrus walked in from behind Miranda. "Shepard," he said, nodding.

Jacob looked impressed. Letting out small laugh, he commented, "Tough son of a bitch. Didn't think he'd be up yet."

The right side of Garrus' face was badly scarred, extending from his ear, underneath the eye, and down the mandible and jaw. Bandages covered most of the damage though. His armor looked to be in the same condition. Gaping holes in the abdomen, the collar was chipped, cracked, and broken in some places. Several scorch marks lined the areas where he took the hardest hits.

Still, he looked to be in good spirits though.

Garrus stepped into the room. "Nobody would give me a mirror. How bad is it?" he asked in a pseudo-serious tone.

Shepard crossed his arms and smiled. "Hell, Garrus, you were always ugly. Slap some more face-paint there and no one will even notice."

Garrus laughed, and then groaned in pain. "Ha-ah! Don't make me laugh, damn it. My face is barely holding together as it is." He shook his head. "Ah, probably for the best. Everyone was always ignoring you and hitting on me. Time for you to get a fair shot at it."

Shepard could only laugh.

Jacob snapped off a smart salute, before excusing himself. Miranda eyed Garrus before turning to Shepard. "Dr. Chakwas extremely discourages her patient to be out of the medical bay this soon. She recommended that she keep an eye on him for at least four more hours."

"I'm fine," Garrus protested.

"Until the painkillers wear off," Miranda countered. Sighing, she told Shepard, "I'll arrange for him to have the proper security clearance on board the Normandy."

"Make sure he has officer's clearance," Shepard added. "I trust him."

"Understood, Commander," she acknowledged before leaving.

As soon as the doors closed, Garrus' jovial tone changed to business. "Frankly, I'm more worried about you. Cerberus, Shepard? You remember those sick experiments they were doing?"

"That's why I'm glad you're here, Garrus. If I'm walking into hell, I want someone I trust at my side," responded Shepard.

Garrus gave a small chuckle. "You realize this plan has me walking to hell, too. Hah, just like old times."

"Considering that you fought against Saren and Sovereign and the mercs on the Omega, hell should be something you're used to," joked Shepard.

Turning serious, Shepard said, "You should report back to the medical bay. No buts," when Garrus opened his mouth to protest. "Let Dr. Chakwas get her four hours. Miranda has to include you into the Normandy crew roster anyway and get security clearance. Until then, you'll have nothing to do for a while anyway."

Tapping his omni-tool, Shepard sent the dossiers to Garrus, along with the specifics of his current mission. "Some light reading while you're being checked out. The mission I'm on right now." Looking up at Garrus, he continued, "First thing tomorrow, we're going back to Omega. I want you as healthy as possible."

Garrus checked his omni-tool. After a few minutes he looked up at Shepard. "The Collectors?"

Shepard nodded.

"What's Cerberus' take on this anyway?" Garrus asked suspiciously.

"I don't know yet," Shepard admitted. "The Illusive Man wants something, I'm sure of it. The problem is… he plays everything close to the vest. For now, he's provided me the resources to fight this threat, so I'm going along for now. But I don't believe for a moment that he's discovered his altruistic side."

Shaking his head, Shepard patted Garrus on the shoulder. "Just be ready, okay? Now, report to Dr. Chakwas."

Garrus nodded. As they both left the Briefing Room, Shepard added, "And Garrus? I'm glad you're okay."

Sitting down for dinner, Shepard watched the now transparent windows of the medical bay. Chakwas was running her omni-tool over Garrus while the turian sat there looking like he'd rather be back on Omega than doing nothing.

Turning his gaze across the table, Shepard addressed Jacob. "I need a favor."

Jacob looked up from his meal. "Anything, Commander."

"After you finish, I need you to go back into Omega and buy some new armor for Garrus. Best you can find, on the regular or black market. Illusive Man's footing the bill, right?" he requested.

"I can do that," Jacob nodded.

"Do you need backup? Omega's a rough place," warned Shepard.

"Oh, I know. One wrong step and you could get shot in the leg," Jacob joked.

Rolling his eyes, but smiling, Shepard conceded. "Fine, but full armor and…"

"Weapons. I got it, Commander. Anything else?"

Miranda sat down at their table at that moment as Shepard was thinking.

"Whatever materials you need to upgrade Garrus' weapons too, if you can find it," he said after a moment. "I don't expect you to burn through the night working though. Just a few tweaks. Garrus will be coming with us tomorrow when we recruit Mordin. And one last thing, get some food supplies suitable for turians to eat. MREs or raw goods. I'll have a chat with the mess sergeant about the menu."

"Gotcha, Commander," Jacob said, before returning to his meal.

"I have to say, Shepard. Your biotics today were very impressive," Miranda said during the pause in conversation. "You've come very far in such a short time."

"You check Dr. Chakwas' report on my amps?" asked Shepard.

She nodded, but her brow knitted in confusion as she said, "There's nothing that I could find that would explain your sudden talent." Sighing, she said aloud to herself, "I just can't explain it…"

"Maybe the Commander is a biotic savant or something. Maybe it just comes natural," inputted Jacob.

"It can't be as simple as that," she argued. She shook her head, "Well, I managed to finish my operations report. If you're able Commander, perhaps we can continue with your lessons after dinner? Say… one hour?"

"It's fine with me. It came in handy today. Learning more can only help," he replied as he ate.

Joker hobbled toward their table and sat down. "Hey, we got Garrus back! That's great, because he was totally my favorite… with that pole up his ass."

Jacob nearly choked on his drink that last statement.

Shepard rolled his eyes. "Considering that we found him fighting waves of mercenaries out for his blood, I'd like to think that Garrus has changed a bit."

Joker nodded as he ate. "Yeah, you're probably right. It seems like Garrus has finally worked that stick out of his butt, but now he's trying to beat guys to death with it. I can't believe I like the old Garrus better."

Jacob burst out laughing. "I think Garrus is going to do just fine on this mission then." Turning to Joker, he asked, "So what do you think of me?"

"The truth?" Joker asked. Jacob nodded. "I think you're way too nice a guy for all the ways you know how to kill people."

Jacob laughed again and clapped Joker on the shoulder. "I can see why you like this guy, Commander. What about Miranda here?"

Miranda looked up when she heard her name and gave Joker a neutral stare.

"Um… I wouldn't say anything bad about Miranda and expect to survive the reprisal," Joker said nervously.

Nodding in acceptance, Miranda returned to her dinner as Jacob laughed again.

Picking up his empty tray, Jacob stood up while chuckling. "I'll see you in the morning. Miranda, Joker, Commander," said Jacob as he tilted his head to each of them.

"Whoa, hey! You're not gonna say anything to Garrus, right?" Joker asked Jacob's retreating form.

Jacob only smiled and shook his head as he gave his dishes to the mess sergeant and began his preparations to go back to Omega.

"Don't worry Joker, I'll tell him," Shepard suddenly said, keeping a stoic face as he ate.

Joker turned around to face Shepard with a look of horror. "You wouldn't!"

"That was a joke," Shepard deadpanned, smiling at his look of panic.

Relaxing, Joker gave Shepard a glare as he began eating again.

"How's the new Normandy treating you, Joker?" Shepard started in a conversational tone.

The helmsman's eyes lit up. "Oh, man. I really want the chance to put the Normandy through her paces."

"Dodging asteroids wasn't enough for you Mr. Moreau?" Miranda asked.

"Pffft. That's nothing," Joker scoffed. "I had to trim up the drive output a bit. Once we leave Omega, I want to see if it worked. It'll be like we never lost her."

EDI's avatar appeared. "Safety standards advise against manipulating drive settings while the engines are powered and in use Mr. Moreau," EDI reminded.

"I know! You said that the first time!" Joker complained. He turned to Shepard, "Commander, can we shut this thing off? I don't need it in my day-to-day."

"I like her, actually. She's been a lot of help already," Shepard admitted.

"Wha…! You can't be serious?" Joker looked horrified again at Shepard's statement.

"Sorry, Joker. You're gonna be stuck with her."

"Yeah, until I find a soldering gun. There's got to be some wires I can cross to make it hurt," he grumbled.

"No sabotage. Understood?" Shepard said in a semi-serious tone.

Joker sighed. "Yeah, yeah. Don't break the boss' toys."

"I see," EDI suddenly said.

"See what?" Miranda asked the AI.

"What Mr. Moreau said. According to Commander Shepard, that was a joke," EDI announced before vanishing.

Everyone shared confused looks, before shrugging off the off the strange incident and returned to their meals.

Finishing with his dinner, Shepard collected his tray and got up. As he approached the sergeant, one the crewman, Hawthorne, called out. "Rupert! There's something different about tonight's meal. Seems you put in more food and less ass."

"Yeah, yeah, keep talking," Rupert sarcastically said.

"Thanks for dinner, sergeant," Shepard said as he deposited his tray.

"Glad you liked it Commander. Calamari Gumbo. Truth be told, it's based off an asari recipe. Seems cannibalistic with their tentacle heads and all, but they sure know how to make good grub," Rupert confided.

"Do you know anything about turian foods?" asked Shepard.

"Hmm… nope. Can't say I do, Commander," he admitted.

"I need you to learn then. See him there," Shepard pointed at the medical bay, where Garrus was resting. "He's a good friend of mine. He was there when I first became a Spectre. He was there when I hunted Saren down and he was there at the Battle of the Citadel."

"I gotcha, Commander. I look into extranet sites tonight to see what I can cook up," Rupert acknowledged.

"Good. Chief Taylor is bringing the supplies you'll need. Keep up the good work."

Leaving the Crew Deck and toward the lift, Shepard almost bumped into Kelly as she was entering.

"Oh! Sorry, Commander," she apologized.

"Its fine, Kelly," Shepard said easily.

"I have the incident report ready for you. I also forwarded a copy to Executive Lawson," she reported.

"Anything interesting happen while we were gone?" Shepard asked.

"Besides our newest crew member, there's really nothing to note," answered Kelly. She glanced at the medical bay, before turning her attention back to Shepard, her expression worried. "How's our newest turian crew member doing? His injuries looked painful."

Shepard waved off her concern. "He's a soldier. It'll take a lot more than that to keep him down."

Kelly face took on a wistful look. "There's something about him. I just want to hold him close and whisper, 'It will be all right',"

Shepard couldn't help but laugh at the mental image. "I think that will make him more uncomfortable than his injuries, Kelly."

She sighed. "Maybe you're right."

"Enjoy your dinner," Shepard dismissed.

"Good evening, Commander," she said.

Stepping into the docking bay, Shepard saw a few crewmen salute him from the gym. Nodding his head in reply, he made his way over to them as they returned to their workout.

"Good evening, Commander," Gabby greeted, before taking a drink.

"Evening, Gabby," Shepard returned as he looked over the various weights.

"How's your friend doing?" Ken asked as he sat up from the weight bench.

"Pretty good. He's up and about already," answered Shepard. Grabbing a 10 lbs. weight, Shepard nodded to both of them before carrying it toward the center of the room where he trained his biotics.

Placing it on the floor, Shepard stepped several feet away and closed his eyes. Breathing slowly, he recalled the sensations he felt every time he called upon the eezo modules along his arm.

To the amazement of his audience, Shepard began glowing the dark energies biotics continuously called on. All of them stopped and watched as their commanding officer was surrounded by a thin layer of purple-blue ribbons of energy.

After several minutes of concentration, slowly going through the steps Jacob and Miranda taught him, Shepard began feeling a powerful tingling sensation up and down his right arm. The same arm he used when he executed Throw. It felt uncomfortable as first, painful, similar to needles being poked into his skin, causing his arm to twitch erratically. But as he slowly explored the feeling, the pain receded. A warmer feeling seemed to occur, as he acutely became aware of the nerves in his arm. They felt like they seemed to hum or vibrate or resonate within.

My eezo modules Shepard distantly realized.

Carefully shifting his focus, he turned his attention toward other parts of his body. The pain returned, more intense, his nervous system protesting against their new roles, but he gritted his teeth and focused harder. Soon the pain was massaged away, giving room for something akin to pleasure. The warm feeling returned as other parts of his body. Something alien, yet familiar began to sing back to him.

The crewmen watched, enraptured by the display before them. Biotics were uncommon, so most had never seen anything like what they were seeing now. The ribbons of power that seemed to only dance across Shepard's body, grew in intensity. They seemed to throb and pulse, spreading and extending away from the Spectre, his aura illuminating the room with unnatural light.

Crewman Matthews found himself stunned by the sight, having never seen a biotic before. Ultimately, the barbell he was holding eventually slipped from his slack fingers, crashing onto the deck, the sudden sound startling all inside.

Shepard gasped as he lost control. The dark energy around him vanished and the pleasurable sensations turned to pain as his element zero modules reacted poorly to the sudden change in electrical current. Kneeling on the floor and groaning, his nerves seemed to scream from the backlash. Shepard gritted his teeth again to prevent the string of curses on the tip of his tongue.

"Oh damn. I'm sorry, Commander!" apologized Matthews as he ran up to his commanding officer. "Are you alright? Do you need to go to the medical bay?" Matthews asked alarmed.

His body tingling pins and needles, Shepard shook his head. Slowly standing up, he leveled a glance at the crewman. "I'm fine. Don't worry about it. I just overdid it, that's all," he reassured.

Already, the feelings were fading, though Shepard had to resist a shiver or two. "As you were," he ordered to the various crewmen around him.

Matthews apologized a few more times, while several words of acknowledgment were said as they all returned to their business. A few people were chastising Matthews for his mistake as they walked away.

Despite the abrupt and painful end, Shepard smiled at his revelation. Even as the sensations left, he was still aware of the modules throughout his body. Looking at the weight he left a few feet away, he collected himself. Flexing his left arm, he felt the eezo modules respond to his will. Recalling Kaidan's and Jacob's movements, Shepard brought his arm from the ground and into the air. Dark energy streaked toward his intended target. 10 lbs. of metal rose into the air swiftly, floating as if it was trapped in zero-g. Unfortunately, the disk flew around randomly and Shepard had no idea how to control it. Releasing his control, the weight fell back onto the deck with solid thud, bouncing as few times before coming to a rest.

"How…?" a feminine voice said behind him.

Turning around, Shepard saw the shocked look on Miranda's face.

"How… how did you do that?" Instead of shock or praise, Miranda's question had a more severe tone to it.

Unsure what he'd done to earn her ire, Shepard answered, "I just put the lessons you and Jacob taught me together. Just like before. This time, I just copied the same physical movements I saw Kaidan or Jacob do. That's it."

"That's all? A few hours of lessons and you're already using manipulating mass effect fields?" she snapped. "You haven't had any training prior?"

"I wasn't a biotic before," Shepard said sternly. He had no idea why Miranda would be angry, but wasn't going to allow her snap at him when he'd done nothing wrong.

Miranda glared at him. "Did Jacob give you any extra lessons? Any instructions that he failed to inform me about?"

"No. Why the hell are you so angry?" Shepard fired back.

The various crewmen stopped their activities again, watching the events unfold before them.

Miranda turned her attention to the people watching and ordered, "Return to your duties. Now!"

They complied immediately, shouting an assortment of "Yes, ma'am!" or "Aye aye!"

Within seconds, the docking bay was empty save for the commanding and executive officers locking horns. Both glared at each other, a contest of will and pride.

"Where did you learn to do this? It takes years for anyone to grasp even the basics!" Miranda hissed.

"I focused my mind like you said. I remembered the nerve conduction exercises like Jacob said. I put two and two together and came up with four. That's what you've been teaching me!" Shepard answered loudly. "Why are you so worked up about this?"

"Because you shouldn't be able to do this! Even I can't do it!" Miranda yelled back. "There has to be something you're doing to make this happen. Extranet resources? EDI? Red sand?"

Shepard eyes widened at the accusation. Stepping closer and using the size difference to stare down Miranda, he brought his face so close to hers that their noses were almost touching.

"You've got a lot of nerve to accuse me like that," he growled.

Miranda held her ground, unflinching. Her breathing was heavy with suppressed anger. At what, Shepard still didn't know.

"Fine," she snarled. "Since you're making so much progress on your own, I suppose I don't have to waste my time teaching you."

Turning on her heel and muttering about men and their idiocy in general no matter the species, she walked away angrily, though Shepard couldn't help but note that she still did it gracefully.

"What the hell was that?" he asked aloud to the empty room after she'd gone.

"It appears that Operative Lawson is frustrated by something," EDI answered, assuming Shepard was asking her. It was a psychological fact that talking to oneself was a sign of mental instability.

"Frustrated? Why would she be frustrated? Hell, I'm frustrated right now and I have a damned good reason!" Shepard ranted at the AI.

"I cannot speculate as to Operative Lawson's mental reasoning. I merely observed her behavioral changes," replied EDI.

"Okay, what changes?" Shepard said, trying to rein in his temper.

"At dinner, Operative Lawson remained quite civil with you. Even recommending that your biotic lessons continue and scheduling a time. After dinner, she appeared calm with no behavioral abnormalities as she entered the lift and descended to the Engineering Deck. Her demeanor only changed when she entered the cargo bay," recited EDI.

"When did she enter the cargo bay… no wait. What was I doing when she entered the cargo bay?" Shepard asked, a suspicion growing in his mind.

"You were using the biotic ability known as Pull or Lift on the 10 lbs. disk," EDI answered.

Shepard recalled his conversation with Miranda yesterday.

"It's very thorough. Physically, I'm superior in many ways. I heal quickly and I'll likely live half again as long as the average human. My biotic abilities are also very advanced… for a human," she explained with a shrug. "Add to that some of the best training and education money can buy and, well, it's pretty impressive, really."

"Sounds like you were designed to be perfect," Shepard commented.

"Shit," Shepard groaned.

Moving swiftly through the short hallway on Deck 3, Shepard stopped in front of Miranda's office. The console in the center of the door was red instead of the usual green, signifying that she had locked it. Thankfully, as commanding officer of the Normandy, no doors were locked to him.

Using his omni-tool and overriding the console, he opened the door and stepped brazenly in; despite the glare Miranda leveled his way.

"The door was locked for a reason," she coldly said from behind her table.

Shepard merely raised an eyebrow, before closing the door behind him and locking it. "And now it's locked again," he calmly pointed out.

Taking a seat in front of her desk, Shepard decided the direct approach was the way to go. "Are you jealous of me?"

Miranda's eyes betrayed her. They widened just for a moment, before narrowing. She laughed sardonically at Shepard's statement. "I don't know what you're talking about. Why would I be jealous of you?"

"Because I can see that you're looking through my biotic amp data again from here," Shepard bluffed. It was an educated guess, but when she turned off her terminal, Shepard schooled his features before his triumphant smile could set her off again.

"What do you want?" she said, keeping her voice neutral. "Come here to gloat?"

"No, I want to know why you got so angry. Why you should have a reason to be jealous. Didn't we talk about establishing a professional, working, relationship right here in your office yesterday?" Shepard stated. "Well, I want to work through this problem."

Miranda maintained eye contact. After a few minutes, she sighed and ran her hand through her hair. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, before saying, "I'm sorry. And you're right."

Shepard held his peace. There was nothing to brag about here.

Miranda seemed to appreciate it if her small smile was a sign. "Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?"

Shepard nodded. "It's kind of why I guessed why you were angry."

"Being genetically enhanced doesn't guarantee results. All it would do is provide significant amount of potential," she started, before hesitating.

Having been proud of his own accomplishments, Shepard knew that admitting weakness was one of the most difficult things he could do.

"I'm ashamed to say it, but… while my biotics are advanced; I seem to lack the ability to… master other areas," she confessed. "I'm particularly good at Warp, but creating mass-raising or mass-reducing fields seems to prove difficult for me. I try, but I can't produce the same results Jacob does." She scoffed at herself, "Or you."

She looked up at him. "I wasn't being fair when I snapped at you. I suppose I was frustrated at my lack of results while you've been working at this for only a day and made incredible progress."

"I wasn't trying to show off or prove something, Miranda," Shepard pointed out.

"I know. How could you? You weren't a biotic less than a week ago. You were just putting two and two together," Miranda agreed.

"Does being genetically modified really bother you that much? Even I had some modification done when I joined the Alliance," he probed, trying to understand the woman in front of him.

She hesitated again, a frown marring her features. "I suppose you deserve to know…" she said. "I'm… I'm more than genetically altered. My father created me."

Her tone became a bit darker as the memories surfaced. "He's a very influential man and extremely controlling. He didn't want a daughter – he wanted a dynasty. I ran away as soon as I was old and brave enough. I went to Cerberus because I knew they could protect me."

Shepard's brow furrowed. "How bad were the terms you and your father parted on?"

"Shots were fired," came the simple reply.

"You seem more than capable of defending yourself. Why did you need Cerberus?" he asked.

"My father invested a great deal in his 'dynasty'. It wasn't a matter of just leaving… I knew he would continue to pursue his… investments," Miranda carefully explained.

"I assume Cerberus approves of your enhanced abilities?"

"Of course. Cerberus full endorses anything that advances the cause of humanity… genetic alterations included. But unlike my father and his own selfish reasons, Cerberus and the Illusive Man believe in a greater good. They see the bigger picture… and I feel like I have a purpose here," she admitted.

I imagine the 'greater good' has been the Illusive Man's go-to excuse every time he crosses the line. I wonder what she means by purpose though…

"Who exactly is your father?" Shepard asked, curious.

"A business man. But a very wealthy one," Miranda vaguely said.

Probably means Lawson isn't her real surname if she doesn't want to tell me…

"It's ironic. My father believed deeply in a human-positive agenda. He donated generously to Cerberus… before I joined them," she ranted. "That's how I first heard about Cerberus -- through my father's connections."

"Well, what about your mother?"

"I never had one," she replied matter-of-factly. "Most of my genetic material is based off my father's tissue. His Y chromosome was altered with an amalgam of desired traits from various sources."

Wow. That's pretty self-centered. Creating someone using only your own genetic template? Definitely not an asari fan then…

As if she was reading his thoughts, she continued to fume. "How arrogant can you be? The man is completely egomaniacal. Just another reason I had to get away from him."

After letting her vent, Shepard couldn't help but point out his earlier observation. "I couldn't help but notice, but you talk about yourself like you're just a…" he searched for the right word, "tool… to be used. By your father, by Cerberus."

Miranda shrugged. "Maybe. I like to know where I fit in the world. It helps me find meaning in how I was created."

Shepard gave a shrug of his own. "I think a lot of people like to know their place in the galaxy, to make their existence matter in some way. I like to believe we are who are. We don't need to make excuses for it and we don't need to try harder for it. Things will happen as they'll happen and life will have the final say on what we did."

She gave a small laugh. "That's easy for you to say. We've both been engineered for greatness, Shepard. The difference is, you were great before we rebuilt you… I'm great because of it."

Shepard shook his head. "I'm more about the choices we make and the courage to act and stand by those choices more than our abilities. You might have the genetic potential, sure, but it's your choice on how use your gifts that makes you great."

"That's kind of you… I'm not sure I believe you, but thanks for saying it," Miranda said softly.

"Are we okay?" he asked.

"Yes. I think we are," she agreed. Letting out a small sigh, she smiled, "Perhaps Jacob was right after all. Maybe you really are a biotic savant."

"Or maybe I'm lucky? Nothing wrong with a little good luck," Shepard joked, lightening the mood.

"Luck is fine, but it will never replace skill," she scolded, but her smile belied her tone.

"Well, is the offer to teach me still open? I'm interested in learning about Warp," Shepard said honestly.

"Well… I think I can teach you that much," Miranda teased. "After that, I'm afraid I can only show you the basics of other fields."

"Then we can learn about it together. I still need to learn about the basics of other fields too," he said with nod. "Are you free now?"

Shaking her head, but still smiling, she stood up and led the way.

A few hours later, tired, but pleased with his results, Shepard trudged back into the Crew Deck, a bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy in his hand that he retrieved from his cabin.

Before he made it into the medical bay though, he saw Garrus' silhouette in the low lighting of the crew pods, heading for the Forward Batteries.

Changing course, he followed his turian friend and soon stepped up next to him. "Feeling better?" Shepard greeted.

"Much. Dr. Chakwas still knows her stuff. And yes, I got full permission to report for duty. I'm told that I'm the Gunnery Officer," Garrus nodded. "Oh yeah, and thanks for getting some food for me. I hadn't eaten in days."

"Not much time to eat when you're fighting for your life," he teased. "I also see you got your new armor too," he observed, noting the case in Garrus' hand.

"Phantom Armor," Garrus said. "Your friend Jacob had to dig deep to find this. It's not as good as the Colossus Armor you gave me, but I doubt I'll find that here on Omega."

"I'll get you a replacement whenever we get back to civilization," Shepard promised.

"Normally, I'd argue against you for that, considering how rare and expensive it is," Garrus started, "Except that Colossus Armor saved my life more than a few times and Cerberus is funding our mission. Plus, after reading the briefing you gave me, we're going to need every bit of help we can get."

"I did hear our odd of survival are pretty low…" Shepard mockingly gossiped.

"Which is why they brought in the best. I'm sure you'll keep up though," Garrus shot back.

Laughing, Shepard turned his head back at the various crewmen still sitting around the Common Area. Turning back to Garrus, Shepard started walking further down the hall toward the Forward Batteries, prompting the turian to follow.

"Have the Cerberus crewmen given you any trouble?" Shepard asked softly as they walked.

"I think being part of the team that took down Saren got me some points. Everyone I talk to is polite, anyway," Garrus assured. "Don't worry, Commander. We're all working together."

Stepping into the control room, Garrus continued the conversation. "You know, I thought I'd seen every weapon in the galaxy in our fight against Saren. Mercenary work showed me otherwise. And now Cerberus rebuilds the Normandy with a few upgrades to boot. I wish we'd joined up with them sooner."

Leaning on the railing overlooking cooling plant for the main guns, Shepard asked, "You sure you're okay working with Cerberus?"

Garrus shook his head. "I can't exactly doubt your judgment. Not after I got my own squad killed," he said bitterly.

"I remember you promised that you would tell me how end up fighting mercenaries on Omega," Shepard reminded, interested what his friend had to say.

"After the Normandy was destroyed and you were… well, gone… most of us went our separate ways. C-Sec asked me back, but I turned them down," Garrus said, while shaking his head.

Pacing around the small room, he continued, "Omega was filled with criminals nobody could touch, and there was no red tape to slow me down. It was a perfect fit. People here needed someone to believe in. Someone to stand up to the local thugs."

"That explains how you started. How'd you end up with a squad?"

"Not too different from how you formed your squad to fight Saren, actually. You prove you get things done, and people join up," Garrus explained. "Mercs who wanted to atone. Security consultants tired of playing by the rules. I gave them hope," he said, conviction behind his words. Then the memory of the fate of his squad returned and his voice took on a tone of self-loathing. "And now they're dead. Shows what I know."

Hoping to change the subject slightly to shake Garrus out of his melancholy, Shepard asked, "What did your squad do? It didn't sound like you were available for hire."

"You saw Omega – it was full of thugs kicking the helpless. I formed my own team to kick back. We weren't mercenaries. At least, no one was paying us," he informed. "We made money by taking down slavers, pirates, or gangs that went too far."

"Another gang fighting other gangs then? You didn't cross any lines, right?" Shepard asked, concerned.

"No. No shake downs, no civilian casualties. That was our rule," he defended. "Every member of my team had lost someone to Omega's gangs. We weren't out to get rich. We were out to make those bastards think twice before murdering someone in the street."

"Well, you obviously weren't out to make friends, if that siege was any indication," Shepard observed.

"I got three separate merc bands to work together to take me down," Garrus said with pride. "My manager at C-Sec would be impressed."

"What did you do to them exactly?"

He explained his tactics, "It was simple. We'd hit their shipments, disrupt activities. Get under their skin. Make them angry. They'd come charging right into our well-prepared kill zone. Crossfire and snipers, clean and surgical. They never stood a chance."

Shepard was impressed. He'd done similar tactics in the past and knew how effective they were. Glad to see he hasn't changed.

Curious about the difference between his last squad and Garrus', Shepard said, "Tell me about your squad."

"There were 12 of us, including me. Former military operatives, C-Sec agents, the usual. Had a salarian explosives expert. Pretty sure he'd spent time in the Special Tasks Group. My tech expert was a batarian, believe it or not. Not the friendliest guy, but he could hack into any system ever built. Only one I could think of that was better than him is Tali."

"How did those mercs take down your team?" Shepard asked, hoping it wasn't too personal.

Garrus looked away. "It was my own damn fault. One of my own people betrayed me."

He turned walked down the hall, trying to hold in the hate against the memory. "A turian named Sidonis. He drew me away just before the mercs attacked my squad, and then he disappeared. Everyone is dead because of him. And because I didn't see it coming."

Shepard frowned at the implications. "What happened exactly?"

"Sidonis asked for my help on a job. When I got to the meeting point, nobody was there. By the time I got back to our hideout, the mercs had killed all but two of my squad. And they didn't last long," finished Garrus in a somber tone.

"Do you know where Sidonis is now?"

"No. His trail vanishes after he leaves Omega. But I'll keep hunting. I lost my whole team, except for Sidonis. One day, I'll find him… and correct that," Garrus said calmly. Too calmly.

Shepard heard that tone of voice before. Two years after the Skyllian Blitz, Alliance Intelligence pinpointed the exact location of most of the criminals involved hiding on the moon of Torfan. Many soldiers and marines talked about getting revenge. Same kind of voice Garrus was using now. The Alliance had annihilated everyone there, but suffered heavy losses in return.

Garrus looked back up at his friend. "Thanks for coming by, Shepard. I've got some things I need to take care of." He walked back toward the control room.

"Garrus…" Shepard started, but hesitated, wondering what he could say right now. "If it means anything, I think you did fine as a squad leader. And I'm sure your men thought the same. What happened wasn't your fault. Even I wouldn't be able to do anything different if our positions were reversed. That's why betrayal is a hard thing to accept and worse to endure," he finally said.

Garrus was silent for a moment, but didn't turn back around. "Thanks, Shepard. It does mean a lot from you. But it still doesn't change the fact that 10 good men died."

"No, it doesn't. But… they died willing to do the right thing. I hope you remember that."

Shepard walked into the medical bay, spotting Dr. Chakwas typing away on her terminal.

"Am I interrupting?" he asked.

Chakwas turned around and smiled. "No. Nothing. I was just finishing my report on our turian friend. There's nothing to worry about, Commander. He's fine, for now."

"I know. I just had a talk with him. I'm here because a deal's a deal," Shepard said before presenting the bottle.

"Serrice Ice Brandy. You really didn't have to, deal or no. But thank you," she said gratefully. Taking the bottle, she looked at it for a moment before looking up at Shepard. "You know, I always regretted not opening that original bottle – when I still could. I won't make the same mistake again. Would you fancy a nightcap, Commander?"

Shepard smiled. After his talk with Garrus, a drink would be welcome. "You crack open the bottle, I'll get the glasses."

A few drinks in with Chakwas and the world became slightly hazy as the alcohol took effect. Shepard managed to hold himself up well though. What was most surprising was how loose the doctor became. She always held herself with a professionalism that kept her slightly distant from the others on the Normandy.

"I thought Alenko's biotic display might have broken Jenkins' back, but Jenkins' pops up and yells, "That was awesome!" Chakwas exclaimed rising from her chair and imitating Jenkins' excitement at seeing biotics for the first time.

Shepard couldn't help but smile at the memory. It was his first time stepping on the Normandy and meeting either of them. The crew was getting ready for her shakedown run and was greeting each other for the first time. Kaidan was well known at a biotic and Jenkins' had never seen one. The results were comical as Kaidan used his biotics to lift Jenkins' into the air before accidently dropping him.

Chakwas sat back down and sighed at the memories. "Ah. Its marine's like Jenkins' and Kaidan make the Alliance great. Cerberus lacks the same… enthusiasm."

Polishing off his glass, Shepard poured the last of the bottle into his and the doctor's. Leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs, Shepard couldn't help but ask, "With your service record, you could have gotten a tour of duty on any Alliance ship. Why did you really leave?"

Her voice took on a wistful tone as she explained, "Maybe it's less about leaving and more about staying. As a military doctor, I mostly treat people who are in bad shape. Either they die or I help them and they move on. Regardless, they leave."

"Don't you have any friends or family outside the Alliance?" asked a confused Shepard.

"No, not lacking friendship – just stability," Chakwas corrected. "Jeff… Joker will always have Vrolik syndrome. He would never admit it, but he needs my help. And he always will. I wish it weren't, but sadly, it's true," she whispered.

"So treating Joker gives you a kind of stability," he interpreted.

She smiled as she looked around. "So does this ship, even if it's a copy. Or hell, maybe it's you. Shepard, our immovable center. A place for a person to stop and catch her breath."

Shepard couldn't help but be extremely flattered by the praise.

"Or maybe I'm just happily drunk. Would it hurt if it was simple like that for once?" Chakwas whispered, the brandy making her tipsy.

"To the people we care for and the people cared for," Shepard toasted, raising his glass.

Taking her glass and raising it, Chakwas added, "May we never take them for granted."

Knocking back the last of the brandy, Shepard saw Chakwas was done for the night. Taking a deep breath and grabbing what clarity he had left, he stood up and the world tilted something wicked. Shaking his head to clear the dizziness, he reached down and picked up the semi-conscious doctor and slung her on his shoulder. Dragging her to nearest of the many beds in the room, he deposited her slowly, making sure she was comfortable, before stumbling out of the room.

As soon as he stepped outside the door though, the tilting seemed to reduce and more of his senses returned. Huh, I thought I was a lot more drunk than that…

His balance apparently restored for the most part, he walked over to the galley. Grabbing some water to mitigate the headache he'll undoubtedly have tomorrow, he took a seat at the Common Area next to some crewmen.

"Commander," both crewmen at his table stood up and saluted. After Shepard's nod, both sat back down.

"Crewman's Patel and Rolston, right?" Shepard guessed. At both their nods, Shepard took another drink of water, wondering why he wasn't more plastered.

"Aw… she's a cutie. How old?" Patel said, looking over a photograph.

"She'll be a year old next month," Rolston answered proudly.

Shepard turned his gaze toward them. Seeing the Commander's interest, Patel handed the photo over when Rolston nodded. It was a photo of a sleeping baby, newborn, according to Rolston. She was cute as Patel pointed out, but like all newborns, she was also wrinkly and small. Shepard smiled at the picture before handing it back to Rolston.

"Aw. You'll miss her first birthday," Patel said, apologetic.

"Well, my family lives in New Canton," Rolston said with a bit of worry in his voice.

"That's out in the Terminus," Shepard commented.

Patel nodded. "Yes sir, out on the edge of the frontier. That means it could be vulnerable to Collector attack, right?

Shepard said nothing, turning his attention to Rolstron.

Rolstron nodded somberly. "Exactly. It's most important that she have a first birthday. That's why I'm here."

"Are you okay with this? This mission isn't exactly like others. A lot more risk and gambling here," Shepard warned.

"I want to do my part Commander and I want to do my duty," Rolstron resolutely said.

"It must be hard, doing your duty here on this ship while having a responsibility to your family as well," Shepard sympathized. "I'm glad to see that you're sticking by your convictions."

Rolston looked flattered that the commanding officer of the Normandy personally praised him. Patel still looked worried though. "Are you sure that you're okay out here, while they're at New Canton?" she asked.

Rolston nodded. "I actually have them booked on a flight back to Earth. It's just too dangerous for them in New Canton."

"You can afford that?" Patel asked in surprise.

"Cerberus looks out for their own. They're funding the transport for me," he answered.

Shepard nodded. "I'm glad to hear that," he said honestly.

"It's the least they can do when we're putting our lives on the line," Patel added, before remembering Shepard's presence. "Uh… what I meant was…"

"Relax Crewman. I'm not exactly Cerberus. I'm just in command of this mission, operational control really," Shepard assured.

"Oh," Patel said, blushing.

"Executive Lawson is the leading operative of the Lazarus Cell," Rolston informed. "She manages the resources and contacts the mission needs. She's the one that actually booked passage for my family. "

Shepard looked up at this, somewhat surprised. "Really?"

"Uh, yeah," Rolston answered, before asking, "Which part?"


"Well, Executive Lawson looks over the finances and maintenance cost of the Normandy. Fuel, weapons, that kind of thing. She also reports to the Illusive Man, so he informs her of anything we may need to know. I figured if she was in charge of the money, maybe she could help me with my family," he explained.

That's actually pretty nice of her… Shepard though, reevaluating his opinion of Miranda. Again.

Finishing his water, Shepard stood up. "It's been nice talking with you, but I have another big day tomorrow. Good night."

Both crewmen said their farewells before leaving themselves.

As Shepard stepped into lift and headed to his cabin, he noticed that felt completely fine. Even during his talk with his crew, the drunken stupor he was in had vanished.

"That's easy for you to say. We've both been engineered for greatness, Shepard. The difference is, you were great before we rebuilt you… I'm great because of it."

The full implications of their conversation finally hit him. While he may not be genetically engineered like Miranda, Shepard processed a few new abilities than just biotics now.

"You're still you; you just might have a few extra bits and pieces now."

I wonder what else these implants do…

Author's Note:

First off, two references I need to make. One is to Star Trek: First Contact. The other is to Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets. I paraphrased it, but I still thought that I should point that out.

I don't know if people can see it, but this time around, I added a lot of foreshadowing in this chapter. Some are obvious, others… not really so much. Some of the choices Shepard will make impacts the game (Obviously) and I wanted to kinda tweak the script some to reflect that.

I really have to say, trying to characterize characters that don't have any real substance is pretty hard. I touched on it, but for the most part, I focused on Garrus and Miranda this time around to try and get a feel for it. That and the story's time is progressing. I need to keep pushing forward after all. Galaxy won't save itself.

Some people might think that Miranda's insecurities arise from her genetic creation and tailoring. Her successes are due to her genes and her failures are hers alone. For the most part, I completely agree, but I don't think that's the whole story. I recalled the movie, Gattaca, were one man was genetically engineered to be the best. On that level, he had everything going for him. In reality, he actually lost once and received a silver medal. Despite his apparent "perfection" he still lost and he was bitter for it. That's another problem I imagined Miranda to be facing. I wanted to show that she wasn't perfect and she was angry for it, irrationally perhaps, but another sign of being human.

I really admire the complexity of Miranda's character in this game.

BTW, to those that know what I'm talking about, then you get the reference. To those that haven't watched the movie yet, do it. It's pretty good.

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