Miranda Versus the Plan
I don’t have patience for incompetence. Or recklessness.
In my experience, most heroes encapsulate all of the above. They are lauded for achievements or accomplishments under trying circumstances. Of course, the fools doing all the praising don’t realize that those circumstances came about because of the so-called hero’s incompetence, recklessness, impatience or simple stupidity. Instead, they reward behaviour that should be punished, embrace what should be shunned, encourage what should be discouraged. It’s a wonder the galaxy hasn’t fallen into complete and utter chaos by now. Why no one sees that is beyond me. I know I was designed to be more intelligent than other sapients, but surely the majority of beings in the galaxy couldn’t be that dense.
Granted, not all heroes are bumbling fools. Some of them are just so... naive. So innocent. Sticking steadfastly to their beliefs in the midst of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Seeing everything through rose-tinted lenses or—worse—a rigid view of black-and-white when the galaxy is so much grimmer and grayer. I don’t mean to dismiss those who believe in something. It would be hypocritical to do so when I sacrificed everything for Cerberus and the greater good it promises for humanity. But this kind of wilful ignorance? It frustrates me to no end.
Thankfully, those kinds of heroes make up the vast majority. The real dangerous heroes are the posers. Frauds who deliberately manipulate the situation and their surroundings to make their every move and decision seem larger-than-life. They pretend to be the good guy, the one you can rely on, the one you can trust—and then they stab you in the back. Because it’s only the ones you trust that can get close enough to betray you. And when that happens, what can you do? You can’t tell the truth. Everyone knows the hero couldn’t possibly have done that. Not the good guy. Not the reliable one. Not the trustworthy fellow.
You must realize that I don’t usually spend so much time thinking about the myriad foibles of heroes. I suppose I’ve been making an exception because I spent the last two days studying and analyzing one such specimen to determine whether he was the one we needed to weather the coming storm.
You must have heard of him. The Hero of Elysium. The Hero of the Skyllium Blitz. The first human Spectre. Yes—that hero. My conclusions were still tentative, so I hadn’t completely worked out what made Shepard tick. He seemed to have this knack for getting into situations and then getting out of them with unbelievably spectacular results. I didn’t know whether this was the result of some sort of tactical genius or merely a divine fool’s luck.
I did know that his latest accomplishment had exceeded all of my expectations. Which were very high, let me tell you. That made the actions of the Council even more aggravating.
It was on that note that I concluded my summary to the Illusive Man. I was in his office—which was more of an honour than one might realize. Most people communicated with the Illusive Man through intermediaries. Some had the authority to send and receive e-mails from him personally. Few had the access codes to make vid-calls. Even fewer had quantum communicators that granted instantaneous real-time access no matter where they were.
I was amongst a select few who had all of those plus access privileges to see the Illusive Man in person. I’d earned that right. For all the observations and analyses I’d completed for Cerberus. For all the conclusions that only I could have made. For all the times I completed my assignments and missions, no matter how impossible and regardless of the cost. For all my many sins.
Which also meant I’d earned the right to express any frustrations I might be feeling. And right now, I was feeling quite frustrated. “Shepard did everything right,” I said. “More than we could’ve hoped for. Saving the Citadel—even saving the Council. Humanity has the trust of the entire galaxy... and still it’s not enough.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw the Illusive Man’s latest secretary—and, no doubt one of his current partners. The Illusive Man was many things, but a saint was not one of them—silently enter the office and hand him a datapad. “Our sacrifices have earned the Council’s gratitude,” the Illusive Man agreed, “but Shepard remains our best hope.”
“But they’re sending him to fight geth.” I turned back angrily from the star that was lazily glowing—the Illusive Man seemed to have a penchant for holographic images of stars—and walked back towards him. “Geth,” I emphasized as I passed through some holographic screens. They were depicting financial information from various covert accounts, if I remembered correctly. At the time, I was more focused on the sheer, and painfully predictable, stupidity of the government. “We both know they’re not the real threat. The Reapers are still out there.”
The Illusive Man signed off on the datapad and returned it to the secretary. She left, as silent as when she’d first entered. “And it’s up to us to stop them,” he said calmly, removing the cigarette from his mouth and exhaling.
“The Council will never trust Cerberus. They’ll never accept our help,” I seethed. “Even after everything humanity has accomplished.”
“We are regarded as a ‘terrorist group’,” the Illusive Man reminded me. “The Council might not want to get caught associating with us.”
“Of course,” I sniffed. “The Council does love to stick their heads in the sand. They do it all the time when a Spectre creates another PR disaster in the course of their investigations. Or when they give their STGs carte blanche to monitor and handle developing situations, even if that means defusing them by assassinating key individuals or worse.” I would have gone on to call them blind fools, but I must confess that far too many Cerberus operatives and affiliates were equally short-sighted due to their virulent—and irrational—xenophobia. So I suppose I can understand the position of the Council, just a little bit.
“Which is why we may need to sway them through a more acceptable intermediary,” the Illusive Man agreed.
“Like Shepard,” I grudgingly admitted. “They’ll listen to him. They’ll follow him. He’s a hero after all, a bloody icon for the masses. But he’s just one man. If we lose him, humanity might well follow.”
The Illusive Man took another puff from his cigarette. “Then see to it that we don’t lose him.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I have a plan.”
Naturally, that plan was jettisoned out the airlock when Shepard died a couple weeks later.
I’d blame it on his stupidity or incompetence, but testimonies from the survivors—which we acquired thanks to our contacts within the Alliance—indicated that the Normandy was ambushed by an unidentified vessel with superior firepower. Under the circumstances, Shepard did everything right. Going down with the ship and so on. Of course, that still didn’t change the fact that Shepard was dead. Without him, without that symbol, humanity was on a slippery downward slope.
Now I wasn’t surprised that the Illusive Man had a plan of his own. I was surprised, however, by its sheer scope and ambition. Not that I would show it, of course.
“You want to recover Shepard’s body. Bring it back to life. And restore Shepard’s memories, experiences, morals and personality,” I summarized.
“Precisely,” the Illusive Man confirmed through a puff of smoke. Then he dropped the bombshell: “And I want you to lead the cell that will do it.”
“You did write numerous papers detailing the resources and requirements needed to rehabilitate injured Cerberus operatives.”
“Note the difference between injured and dead.”
“You singlehandedly outlined every transaction and every dummy account needed to bring together the equipment and components needed to construct the new Normandy. Without any VI assistance.”
“The Normandy is still two years behind schedule.”
“That delay is not your fault and you did correctly predict it upon review.”
True. Which was why that development gave me a warm tingle of success instead of the bitter sting of failure. I focused my attention back on the Illusive Man, who was continuing his sales pitch, for lack of a better phrase. “You thwarted that batarian attack on the Citadel.”
“I had help.”
“Very capable help, which you recruited into Cerberus. You also managed to track down the movements of over half of the Citadel Council’s STGs for the past year. A very impressive feat, particularly considering the renowned and well-deserved reputations of the salarians for espionage and secrecy.”
“Over half is not all and one year does not account for almost 2700 years of STG operations.”
“The point is that you have an established and well-deserved history of doing the impossible.”
“Not impossible,” I corrected. “Just highly improbable. Bringing someone back from the dead is—”
“Impossible,” the Illusive Man interrupted. “But with you in command, it will simply be another highly improbable—but ultimately successful—assignment.”
It was clear that the Illusive Man was dead set on this. The more I thought about it, though, the more I was a little intrigued. Very intrigued, if I was honest with myself. I had done more than my fair share of difficult assignments. The fact that I had not only completed them, but exceeded all expectations, was simply a result of my superior design and training. I never really earned all those accolades. Not really. But this? This might actually be the one. The one assignment I can point to and honestly say I did it through hard work and perseverance. Especially if I didn’t have to file requisitions in triplicate to get what I needed. “Then I’d best get started,” I said at last.
“How quickly can you get operational?” the Illusive Man asked.
“That depends on how quickly I can get complete access,” I replied. “I need a list of all our present covert bases, including their equipment manifests. Our complete cargo inventory and personnel—both active and inactive—as well as the authority to requisition whatever and whomever I desire. A line of credit to begin making purchases. And access to transport to move materiel and personnel.”
“Already done,” The Illusive Man said easily. “Get to work.”
“Right away,” I nodded. I left the office without wasting any more of his time, mentally making a preliminary list of supplies. That was the easy part.
The hard part would be finding the body.
We soon discovered that Shepard’s body should have been on Alchera, amidst the wreckage of the Normandy, but had somehow gone missing. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.
A detailed multiphasic spectral scan and measurements of mass relay emissions quickly determined that we weren’t the only ones looking for Shepard. I put out feelers to all our contacts and began monitoring as many e-mails and communiqués as possible for any mention of Shepard. Thanks to my customized search programs, we managed to weed out the volumes and volumes of news stories, special features, tributes, memorials and particularly outlandish conspiracy theories. As a result, it wasn’t long before we uncovered the truth: it seemed the Shadow Broker had been hired to retrieve his body, preserve it in a stasis pod, and deliver it to the Collectors. This mysterious group of insectoid aliens had periodically emerged from the equally enigmatic Omega 4 relay to do trade. The peculiarity of their requests—from two dozen left-handed salarians to a krogan born from feuding clans—was only matched by the startling advancement of the technology they offered. But they hadn’t been seen in a couple centuries.
My investigation led me to Omega, where I quickly bumped into one of two familiar faces. The first face I recognized from several previous encounters. Feron was a rather shifty drell. Gun-for-hire. Mercenary. Services available to the highest bidder, which explained why he worked with numerous employers such as the Shadow Broker—usually simultaneously. The other face was unexpected, but just as familiar: Shepard’s old acquaintances—Liara T’Soni. She’d been one of the harder ones to track down. After his death, she’d dropped off the grid, periodically reappearing in random ports across the galaxy. But now she’d come out of hiding, had met up with Feron and—I soon learned—was also looking for Shepard.
I’m usually a good judge of character, but I didn’t need that skill to realize how... how driven Liara was. How she was wracked with guilt—however misplaced—over letting Shepard die. Despite our pro-human policies, Liara recognized that we both had the same goal: to save Shepard.
I took her to the Illusive Man. He also recognized the personal stake she had in this mission, which could be used to our advantage. To that end, he asked her to find out what the Collectors wanted with Shepard and to retrieve his body. Privately, I hoped that her emotional connection would not adversely influence her efficacy.
In the end, it turned out that one of Feron’s other employers was the Illusive Man himself. It seemed that Feron had contacted Cerberus himself because he’d felt disgusted at the notion of the Shadow Broker dealing with beings like the Collectors, and the idea of trading the body of a ‘hero’ like Shepard sickened him. This mission had been full of surprises so far, so I guess I wasn’t too shocked by his change of heart.
Nor was I shocked by the fact that the Illusive Man kept this from me: compartmentalization of information is very important, especially in my line of work. You never know when someone might get apprehended by the authorities or kidnapped by criminals or mercs. The last thing you want is that person having enough information to take down the entire organization.
Liara and Feron never really found out why the Collectors were so interested in Shepard’s body. The Shadow Broker was no help—all he could offer was that it was too good a business deal and that he couldn’t see how the Collectors or the Reapers could benefit from getting a corpse. The former was no surprise, considering who we were talking about. As for the latter, well, I’d been doing some research while searching for Shepard’s body. There were some avenues worth exploring when it came to memory reconstruction and retrieval. If we were close to a breakthrough, then the Collectors and Reapers—with all of their advanced technology—certainly were already there. Besides, who knows what they could uncover from Shepard’s genome?
All that mattered was that Liara succeeded in recovering Shepard’s body. A qualified success—Feron stayed behind to buy enough time for Liara to escape—but a success nonetheless.
Liara clearly didn’t feel that way. I could tell that just by looking at her. Slightly hunched over, head down, morose expression painted over her face. Sad look in her eyes—no. That last part wasn’t entirely accurate. Sadness, yes, but there was something else. Too many possibilities to pin it down exactly. Having just come from the med lab where Shepard’s stasis pod was being kept, I debated what I should tell her. For all Liara’s hard work, the truth might be the tipping point that would send her over the edge. Maybe a little lie, a slight adjustment of the truth was in order. In the end, I settled for the honest truth. She had earned that much.
“You did well, Liara,” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder—studies had indicated that several species, including asari, interpreted that gesture as comforting. “We were right to put our faith in you. Shepard obviously made some very good friends. I just wish we had better news for you.”
Liara’s face jerked up at that last part, as I’d feared. I took a breath before continuing. “We may not be able to restore Shepard after all. The body is in worse shape than we expected. There were some preservation systems in the pod, but they were hardly optimal.”
To say that last sentence was an understatement would be putting it mildly. I recall wincing when I first saw the pod, all riddled with dents and bullet holes. Any hope that that damage hadn’t affected the pod’s medical systems were dashed when I reviewed the sensor readouts. To be honest, it was all I could do not to panic with the rest of the staff. Someone had to keep a level head.
“Then I don’t see the point, Miranda,” Liara said softly. “Bringing Shepard back from a coma is one thing. But if he is truly dead... maybe I don’t know what human traditions are, but I really think you should let the dead rest. This isn’t what I brought Shepard back for. This... experimenting with his body, this attempt to force his return. It is almost like... like—”
I could see where this was going. “Like something the Collectors would have done?” I finished. “We don’t know what they would have done, Liara, though hopefully the information you brought back may suggest something. And it might not be as bad as you think: the Illusive Man is more hopeful about Shepard’s prospects. We’re willing to spend everything and devote every resource we’ve got to bring him back—but it will still take a very long time, if it works at all. I wouldn’t sit around here waiting, if I were you.”
I’ll admit I had a perfectly selfish reason to tell her that last part. Assuming we did somehow succeed—no, failure was not an option—when we succeeded in bringing Shepard back, we would have a specific purpose for him. A more focused agenda to promote the development and dominance of humanity, not a slapdash, distracted effort to maintain the galactic status quo that was holding humanity back. Having Liara around could make that more difficult.
On the other hand, I could tell how driven she was. Only someone consumed with such a burning desire would throw herself into harm’s way and cast her lot with any available allies. I could empathize: my abilities, my potential, my expectations, my present affiliations—everything that defined what I was today stemmed from my father and my ultimately successful efforts to cut ties with him. I couldn’t escape it, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe I saw that it wasn’t too late for Liara. Perhaps I sensed that she hadn’t gone too far down the dark path and there was still time to get out before the door slammed shut.
“What will the Illusive Man do about Feron?” Liara asked.
“Do?” I repeated blankly. Why she seemed to worry about the mercenary was beyond me. While he had proven to be a more reliable and principled asset than I’d initially given him credit for, he was still just that—an asset. Nothing more, nothing less. “The drell knew the risks when he offered to help. We won’t be going after him.
“If you want to,” I continued, seeing her face harden, “that’s your business—but I would focus on something else if I were you. Do something you want to do.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Miranda,” Liara whispered. “I’ve got another friend to help now, and I’ve made a new enemy. I’m afraid we all have.”
I wasn’t sure whether she was talking about the Shadow Broker, the Collectors or both.
After Liara left, the Lazarus cell went to work. Transferred Shepard’s body to another stasis pod—one that actually worked properly—and then began a series of medical scans to determine how bad the damage was and begin to devise a plan of restoring humanity’s hero. This became increasingly important as word began filtering through of human colonies mysteriously going dark. As if the Reapers weren’t bad enough—now we had these mysterious abductors to worry about too.
The worst part was how no one seemed to get the point of the mission. How could they... they were supposed to be the best and brightest. Pioneers. Trailblazers. I had personally hand-picked—and, in most cases, headhunted—all of them. How could they not get it? Were they faking it all this time? Were they stupid?
“I don’t think they’re stupid, Miranda.”
I looked up at Jacob. He’d dropped by my office. Unannounced. Uninvited. There were only three reasons why I didn’t throw him out. One: he’d proven time and time again to be very competent at his job. Two: he wouldn’t waste my time unknowingly. Three: both of my hands were busy programming simulations, running them and analyzing the results, so I couldn’t spare a few seconds effort to generate a biotic field and toss him out.
“You really shouldn’t talk out loud like that,” he chided gently. “Might look like you’re losing it.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Just bumped into Wilson,” he started without preamble. “Sounds like you rode him pretty hard at the last meeting.”
“Wilson’s sloppy,” I sniffed. “He’s the neurology expert. Graduated with his M.D. and Ph.D. in three years. Worked in the field for two decades. His theories and designs on brain mapping and neural reconstruction were the reason I hired him. But I identified and corrected over a hundred basic mistakes after only looking over his work for a minute. No wonder he had so many malpractice suits.”
“So why’d you hire him?” Jacob frowned.
“There were only two other candidates. One had just died of a heart attack. The other one decided to experiment on himself without proper safeguards. He’s currently in a vegetative state.”
Jacob allowed himself a slight shiver before continuing. “Then I bumped into Kathryn. She was sobbing about how you tore her ideas apart.”
“Dr. Roche’s suggestions were flawed,” I dismissed. “No thought to the complexities and interactions her compounds might have with the cells, tissues or organs. Not to mention the metabolism—the changes they’d make would give Shepard anemia in a heartbeat. He’d be lucky if he could get off the table without fainting. That’s assuming he doesn’t going into a diabetic coma—”
“And then there was Megan,” Jacob continued, as if I hadn’t said anything. “I don’t know what you said, but you turned her into a stammering mess.”
“Dr. Reed should spend more time getting the equipment on-line and less time dreaming ways to turn Shepard into a cyborg,” I said scathingly. “She kept talking about how Shepard didn’t need this organ or that limb and how cybernetic replacements would be so much better. Though I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything less from a student of Dr. Soong.”
“Why are you being so hard on them?”
“Because they don’t get it,” I snapped. “They say they knew what they were signing up for. They say they know what the mission is—and yet they refuse to do anything that might help accomplish it. They keep saying it can’t be done. That the body can’t last long enough for any proposed restoration to take effect. That it’s already falling apart and can’t handle any more strain without added support. Can’t, can’t, can’t. That’s all they say. You’d think they didn’t know what the mission was.”
“To bring Shepard back,” Jacob reiterated.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Which would go a lot faster if they stopped wasting time—”
“Exactly the way he was.”
“Precisely,” I confirmed, excusing his interruptions for the time being.
“Was that mentally or physically?”
“Really?” Jacob frowned. “Because everything I’ve heard suggested it was more mental. You ever listen to the scuttlebutt?”
I gave Jacob a withering look. “I have better things to do with my time then troll the surveillance feeds for mindless gossip.”
“Some people actually step outside and talk to people to get the gossip instead.” Jacob held up his hands defensively when I glared at him again. “I’m just saying.”
“What’s your point?” I snapped.
“Look, whenever people talk about bringing Shepard back from the dead, they’re talking about Shepard the person. The man. All the things he’s seen and done. His experiences and memories. The morals and personality that make him who he was. No one’s ever mentioned anything about his body.”
“Go on,” I prompted, leaning towards him. While I could have continued running simulations and analyzing them while talking to Jacob, there was the chance that he would interpret as a lack of interest or rudeness. I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with the antagonism that would result from that scenario. Besides, I didn’t have any more simulations to program anyway.
“As long as you can restore Shepard’s mind and personality, does it really matter how you restore his body?” Jacob asked. “He’s gonna have enough to deal with when he finds out he got spaced. Compared to that, having a few extra gadgets inside is nothing. Besides, it’s not like you’re sticking his brain in a mech.”
“It’s still not Shepard,” I argued. “Not exactly. What you are suggesting, bringing only part of him—”
“The important part.”
“Bringing only part of him back exactly the way he was won’t cut it. It’s not exact. It’s not perfect.”
“It’s good enough.”
I pierced Jacob with another glare. “Good enough?” I repeated. “Jacob, ‘good enough’ is for second-raters. Average people. Losers. You should know by now that I don’t settle for ‘good enough.’ I wouldn’t have gotten where I was today if I only strived for ‘good enough.’”
Jacob was silent for a minute.
“You know, Shepard did a hell of a lot when he was a N7 with the Alliance,” he finally said. “The things he accomplished were incredible. But when he became a Spectre? And chased down Saren? That was freaking unbelievable, especially given what he had to work with. You read the reports—and, knowing you, probably memorized them. You know the Normandy, for all her next-gen additions and designs, had her flaws. You know Shepard didn’t get to select the perfect spec-ops squad to accompany him. Hell, he didn’t even start out with the best weapons. He had to scrape and scrounge whatever crap weapons he could find and sell them until he’d earned enough to buy them himself.”
“In other words, Shepard didn’t have it perfect,” I summarized.
“He often had to settle for second-rate,” Jacob confirmed. “Or average. Or good enough. Just like the rest of us. But he still managed to make it work and saved the galaxy from the Reapers. Now I’m not a genius like you are. But from where I’m sitting? Those aren’t the accomplishments of a loser.”
No, they were the accomplishments of a so-called hero that everyone kept cooing and aw-ing over. Even Jacob, and he was normally immune to this sort of nonsense. So either he had finally succumbed to the whims of popular opinion and had bought into all the hype...
...or maybe, just maybe he had a point. Shepard had succeeded in whatever he was tasked with. Somehow. As long as the critical components were resurrected, perhaps the rest could settle for ‘second-rate.’ Besides, I didn’t want to fail because I couldn’t adapt to the realities of the present situation. Including the shortcomings of others. And, perhaps, my own.
“I suppose there is a certain symmetry to settling for good enough in certain parts of this project,” I grudgingly conceded.
Jacob nodded before getting to his feet. “Well, just wanted to give my two cents,” he harrumphed. “Gotta get back to work. Last batch of shotguns didn’t have a tight enough spread.”
It was only after he’d gone that I realized I hadn’t thanked him for his advice. That would be the second oversight I’d made where he was concerned. The first was sleeping with him after we’d foiled what turned out to be a rather complicated scheme: initially, it appeared to be a plan by batarian extremists to disrupt peace talks between the Batarian Hegemony and the Systems Alliance. This quickly turned into a plot spearheaded by the batarian ambassador, Jath’Amon, to kill the Council itself by means of a bio-weapon. After defeating this plot, Jacob resumed the vacation that he had been taking when this whole situation developed. I invited myself in with a bottle of champagne and a smile, one thing led to another and so on.
At the time, I regarded it the whole exercise as a means to thwart alien aggression, earn a little more good-will towards humanity and test Jacob as a potential recruit for Cerberus. The fact that I could get some physical release was a bonus—and the fact that Jacob was so deliciously fit was an unexpected, but very welcome, bonus. The evening was very enjoyable, but that was all it was—a one-time event. Unfortunately, Jacob misunderstood the situation as something more long-term and serious.
Jacob took the news well, when I told him the truth. He agreed to join Cerberus. He worked with all the professionalism, dedication and hard work that we’d expected—even when working with me. But every time I looked into his eyes, I saw pain and longing. All because of one night of passion. All because I’d failed to understand how seriously he took such actions. If I’d known, I could have spared him his heartache. He didn’t deserve to suffer like this. But he was suffering—because of my actions.
For the 496th time, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for any potential women I could steer his way. Women who deserved a quiet, steady, faithful man like Jacob.
Then I got back to work. The simulations had just finished, and some of the preliminary results were very intriguing.
The next year and a half flew by in a flash, as the mission—the plan—to bring Shepard back slowly took shape. Every week we’d hold meetings to discuss the progress that had been made so far, review any setbacks that had cropped up and make sure every team was working in a cohesive and integrated manner, rather than pursuing an avenue that would inadvertently impede another team’s work. It was also an opportunity to review scientific or technological developments out in the galactic community and determine whether they could benefit the Lazarus Project. Anything we needed—be it additional funding, reagents or equipment—were given without the usual bureaucracy one would expect from a more official organization or institution.
Under my direction, tissues and organs were cloned and transplanted into Shepard’s body. Customized compounds were injected to promote tissue regeneration. Medical nano-bots were administered to do everything from eliminating bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances to creating networks of ‘tunnels’ for freshly grown capillary and nerve networks.
Following Jacob’s recommendation about settling for ‘good enough’ where needed, I oversaw the installation of various implants into Shepard’s body, which we separated into categories for convenience. Category Three implants were temporary and short-term, designed to temporarily replace or supplement bodily functions until the various organs we cloned had been inserted and had a chance to stabilize and begin performing normal operations.
Category Two implants were the original replacement/supplementary implants. Initially, they were going to be removed because we couldn’t receive any data from them. Some design defect was causing them to generate fields that sporadically disrupted signal telemetry. After a great deal of brainstorming and research through academic journals, I decided to use this phenomenon to our advantage. With a bit of repurposing, I managed to alter the fields so they would block a wider number of energy wavelengths on a more consistent and controllable basis and re-routed operating control to one of Shepard’s cerebral implants. As a result, they could be triggered by mental command to render Shepard invisible to the electromagnetic spectrum, which meant that neither eyes nor sensors could detect him. It wasn’t perfect—the implants were originally designed to be powered off of Shepard’s bio-electrical rhythms, which would only generate enough energy for a couple seconds of ‘cloaking,’ and someone could still hear or smell him—but it was better than nothing.
However, there were some things that needed more help than biology alone could provide. Bone integrity, various connective tissues and so forth. Those elements required permanent assistance and support, which was where the Category One implants came in. An added benefit was that these implants tended to dramatically improve the performance of whatever they were supported. The downside, of course, was that I’d have to add several more implants or modifications that could handle the increased strain. For example, I had to artificially reinforce Shepard’s skeleton so we could make additional adjustments without his entire body collapsing on us. As a side benefit, that could augment Shepard’s strength—but only if we increased the number of myofibril bundles woven into his musculature. Otherwise, he’d tear his muscles or rip his tendons out.
Naturally, I could expect at least a half dozen proposals or requests for some implant to be designated a Category One, most of which were without regard for the consequences—medical or logistical. Most of the scientists accepted my decisions to turn down their requests without wasting my time with futile protests, probably because my own attempts to have a control chip implanted into Shepard had been shot down. At the time, I thought it made sense. Bringing back a loose cannon and hoping he’d do what we wanted if we pointed him in the right direction seemed more than a little foolhardy. But no, the Illusive Man didn’t want to risk altering Shepard’s ability to lead, command and inspire. I suppose he had a point. While having remote override capability would be ideal, these were hardly ideal circumstances. We had enough problems replicating his memories as it was. The last thing we needed was to throw another random variable into the mix. For some reason, the scientists took comfort in the fact that ‘even the high and mighty bitch didn’t always get her way.’ I wasn’t complaining, if it meant they didn’t quibble every time I explained why I had to decline their request.
The lone exception, of course, was Wilson. He could always be counted on to belittle every comment or opinion I offered. To question or object to every decision I made. To waste my time for the flimsiest reason. From what Jacob said, the others found him equally unpleasant. But he never offered nearly as much resistance or hostility as he did to me. Clash of egos, perhaps? Or maybe he resented being subordinate to anyone.
Whatever the reason, he was a constant irritant, but one I had to suffer through for the sake of the project and the mission. Without his theories, the brain we cloned would have been nothing but a sack of meat and nerves. Without his techniques and devices, we wouldn’t have been able to recover a single shred of thought or the slightest hint of a memory, much less the complex interactions of memories and experiences. We didn’t know whether that would be enough to bring back the man who was Shepard, rather than a cyborg who could only recall the past like an obedient VI without any understanding or feeling. But Wilson’s work was the best shot we had at bringing the plan to fruition.
And then he almost ruined it by coming this close to killing Shepard.
Wilson had been clamoring to inject element zero nodules into Shepard and give him biotic abilities since day one. First he’d go on and on about how it would accelerate humanity to the next stage of its evolution. Then he’d boast about how he’d mapped out every nerve pathway, every axon and dendrite, so he knew the exact quantity and location of sites to promote the optimum biotic potential. And then he’d claim that he’d also mapped Shepard’s brain, replicating every thought process, association and memory—patent pending, of course—which meant it must be that much safer. I won’t bore you with the rest. Suffice it to say I managed to wave him off by reminding him that such upgrades were premature considering the body was still, by all clinical definitions and standards, a corpse. Even after the series of resurrection processes was underway, any attempts to ‘improve’ Shepard that were not a side effect of our efforts to stabilize him were a foolish risk.
So imagine my surprise when I caught him prepping Shepard’s body for the insertion of the first element zero nodule.
“Relax,” he said condescendingly. “My simulations—”
“Are flawed,” I interrupted. “I told you, your estimates are off. At best, they are wildly optimistic. You’re more likely to revive him prematurely—which will kill him. Again.”
“First: I have sedatives ready to administer in the remote chance that that might happen. Second: don’t tell me how to do my job,” Wilson sneered. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years.”
“Not this,” I corrected. “I’ve reviewed your work. You never implanted element zero nodules in a living subject or generated biotic abilities through artificial means. All of your work towards this area was through computer simulations. Which had an appalling failure rate, even if you consider the cherry-picked results you published in peer-reviewed journals.”
“I would have been more successful if I was allowed to run actual experiments in vivo. But I couldn’t do that because I was hampered by short-sighted fools who couldn’t relax the death-grip on their wallets unless they were jerking themselves off,” Wilson leered. “Thankfully, the Illusive Man is no fool. Besides, he has you to jerk him off, doesn’t he?”
A common misconception, made by fools who were driven by hormones, jealousy or both. For the record, I have never slept or had any kind of sexual liaison with the Illusive Man. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t had any sex in one year, six months and four days. Not that Wilson needed to know that.
I was about to tell him to halt his procedures immediately when something caught my eye. “What?” Wilson sighed, rolling his eyes.
“There,” I pointed. “On the monitor. Something’s wrong.”
Wilson glanced at the monitor irritably and did a double-take. “He’s... he’s reacting to outside stimuli. Showing an awareness of his surroundings. Oh my god, Miranda. I think he’s waking up.”
Really? Was that why his bio-readings were suddenly spiking? Opening his eyes, moving his head around and breathing heavily? Oh, let’s not forget trying to get up. “Damn it, Wilson!” I cursed. “He’s not ready yet. Give him the sedative!”
For once, Wilson obeyed without question. I turned towards Shepard. He looked confused and bewildered, but I could tell he was trying to make sense of what was happening. Wondering where he was. That was a good sign. “Shepard—don’t try to move,” I said softly.
I grabbed his arm, which was flailing about, and gently pushed it down. “Just lie still. Try to stay calm.”
He gave me an incredulous look, which was good—both because it displayed another sign of cognitive awareness and because it indicated he had some kind of common sense as to how ridiculous my platitudes were.
“Heart rate still climbing,” Wilson muttered. “Brain activity is off the charts.” He wiped a bead of sweat off his bald head. “Stats pushing into the red zone. It’s not working!”
I pushed him away from the monitor to take a look for myself. I quickly digested the readings, determined the various options we could employ and calculated their most likely outcomes. “Another dose,” I ordered, coming to a decision. “Now!”
Wilson immediately complied without a single protest or snide remark. If it wasn’t for the fact that Shepard’s life was on the line, I could get used to this new Wilson. I kept one eye on Shepard’s stats and the other on Shepard himself. As the bio-readings began returning to normal range, Shepard’s breathing evened out. I dimly heard Wilson reporting the patently obvious as Shepard’s eyes began to close. They were brown. A dark, rich brown that seemed to hide... I didn’t know what exactly, but they seemed to hide something within their depths.
Wilson’s next words distracted me before I could analyze this observation any further: “That was too close. We almost lost him.”
I turned back to Shepard. It was too late—his eyes had closed. Whatever mysteries they had held would remain lost to me, for now, because of Wilson’s rambling. “I told you your estimates were off,” I told him coldly. “Run the numbers again.” Turning back towards Shepard, I saw him drift off to sleep. Satisfied that this latest crisis had been averted, I walked towards the exit. I paused before leaving the lab.
“All of our hard work and sacrifice was almost lost to your arrogance and incompetence,” I said. “From now on, you won’t perform a single test, sign off on a single form or give a single opinion without my permission. Understood?”
My hearing, like everything else, was engineered to be perfect. This was why I heard his last retort; the one he thought was masked by the doors that had just hissed shut behind me.
I never found out why Wilson betrayed us—yet another failure on my part. Why he hacked the mechs and set them loose to slaughter the men and women who’d given up everything to join Cerberus and fight for a greater cause. I can only speculate that the botched attempt to implant element zero nodules into Shepard—and the words we exchanged—acted as a catalyst.
What was especially frustrating was that I didn’t anticipate this scenario or recognize any warning signs. In fact, the first indication that something was wrong was when one of the LOKI mechs marched into my office. This was definitely unusual—I’d programmed their IFF and patrol routines myself, as well as adding several behavioural subroutines of my own. So when it raised its weapon, I was already raising one arm to crush its armour with my biotics, while using the other arm to fry its circuits with an electromagnetic pulse from my omni-tool.
After the mech collapsed, I hurried over and grabbed its weapon before returning to my computer and tapping into the vid-cams. From what I could tell, all the mechs had suddenly turned on the human personnel. The scientists—being both untrained and unarmed—were being slaughtered. The human security staff was doing their best, but they were hopelessly outnumbered—a casualty of the organizational structure of the Lazarus Cell. It had always been our plan to use a human overseer to direct squads of mechs. This would reduce the number of mouths we’d have to feed as well as evade detection by the authorities by minimizing the number of personnel needed for the Lazarus Cell. Yes, there was the possibility of the mechs being hacked, which was why we’d taken such care to install a suite of security subroutines. Someone, however, had the skill and desire to cut right through them as if they didn’t exist.
But I had other matters to worry about. With a quick command, I sealed my office so I wouldn’t be disturbed by any more mechs. Then I opened a remote connection to the med-lab where Shepard was being stored, grateful that at least I had foreseen something. I took a few minutes of precious time to review his medical stats, even though I had done that very same thing two hours ago. Blood pressure, heart markers, liver functions, kidney functions—everything was within normal parameters for a man of Shepard’s age. I had planned to keep him sedated for another few weeks to allow skin growth to cover up the scars caused by the implants, which were still glowing and blazing through the various epidermal layers. But, once again, that plan would have to be dropped. Accessing the med-lab’s equipment, I turned off the sedative flows and injected a series of stimulants into Shepard’s bloodstream.
While Shepard was being brought out of his chemically-induced coma, I skipped through the feeds from the vid-cams. Most of the Lazarus Cell—scientists and security personnel—were dead. Jacob was still alive, no doubt thanks to his training, his biotics and the pistol he insisted on carrying with him. Wilson was skulking around the server rooms, which seemed a bit odd—they weren’t exactly near the med-labs or his quarters. I started to have a nagging suspicion about that, but I would have to analyze it at another time—Shepard was waking up.
Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, or, perhaps, because of them, I was looking forward to seeing how the so-called hero last when thrown into such a hazardous situation. At least he had a hardsuit and a pistol—Jacob had brought them in to sync their computers with Shepard’s biometrics. He’d gotten distracted while talking to me about the latest human colony to inexplicably go dark and left the hardsuit and pistol behind when we went to review the relevant intelligence reports. I’d meant to scold him about that. In hindsight, that mistake had turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Shepard soon proved that he was functional, at the very least. He smoothly adapted to thermal clip-enabled weapons and his tactical cloaking system despite having no prior training. He made use of cover rather than charging into danger like some idiot. He rationed his shots rather than blindly emptying his clips like some trigger-happy moron—or a soldier who didn’t know that he no longer had access to a near-infinite amount of ammunition. Seeing that he didn’t need as much attention as I’d initially feared, I began scouting ahead to feed him intel. The arrangement worked out quite well, for a time.
And then the vid-cams started to blink out, one by one. Even worse, a trio of mechs were making a bee-line straight for my office. If I needed proof that this wasn’t a case of the mechs spontaneously and collectively going homicidal, this was it—someone had betrayed us. Someone had hacked into the mechs, overrode their programming and issued a new set of directives. Someone would pay.
My efforts to warn Shepard were in naught, as the comms cut out halfway through my message. At least I managed to begin a trace to determine who was responsible for this disaster. Then I headed for the door. I exited the office, only to run into the mechs. Three of them, as the vid-cams had indicated. Two to the left, one to the right, all clustered within a few metres of each other. My mind effortlessly calculated various combat scenarios before settling on the most efficient course of action:
I took one step to the left, positioning myself between two of the mechs, my hands whipping out to grab their pistols and push them down before they could get off a shot. With the same movement, my right foot lashed upward, catching the third mech in what passed for its jaw and knocking it to the ground. As I expected, the remaining two mechs stubbornly held onto their pistols, which meant they were off-balance when I abruptly swivelled around. It didn’t take much to throw them to the ground on top of the third mech. While they were flailing about on the ground, I emptied a clip from one of the pistols. The resulting explosion took out all three mechs.
Satisfied that at least something had gone according to plan, I transferred all the thermal clips to one pistol—contrary to all the action vids you see on the extranet, it is not practical or effective to wield and fire a gun in each hand. I was just about to move out when my omni-tool pinged. The trace I had started in my office had just finished. Tapping my omni-tool, I scanned the holographic readouts with one eye while the other watched for incoming hostile mechs.
It was Wilson. He’d tried to mask his movements, but it was him.
Now I could try and hunt him down, but the Lazarus Station was a large—and increasingly dangerous—installation. Besides, I knew where he was going. Men like him: they wouldn’t want to stay in a dangerous area any longer than they had to. Once his job was done, he’d try to leave—and there was only one way off this station. I just had to get there first so I could arrange a suitable greeting.
As I began jogging down the corridor, I realized how much pleasure I was going to get out of ending Wilson’s miserable life. That was uncharacteristically undisciplined and unprofessional of me. Sloppy. Emotional, even.
So be it, I decided. I felt the need to indulge myself. Just this once.
Getting to the hangar bay wasn’t as easy as you’d think. It seemed like I ran into every other mech on the way, all of whom had to be dealt with. As a result, I only got to the hangar bay seconds before Wilson. Naturally, my enhanced reflexes were more than up to the task of putting a bullet through his head before he could finish gawking.
Shepard didn’t seem too fazed. Apparently, he had had some suspicions about Wilson all along. But he still had the presence of mind to pull out his pistol and point it at me. Up until that point, he’d been devouring me with his eyes—yes, I did see that. I am built to perfection, after all. The important thing was that he was demonstrating once again his ability to adapt to the present situation, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t being led around by his... baser functions. Yet another sign that he might not be a complete fool after all. He also had more information about the circumstances—and the people behind his resurrection—than one might expect. All thanks to Jacob, who naturally couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Knowing his past history with Cerberus cells, all of which had ended in violence, I braced myself for another attack. At the very least, I expected an outburst or some form of posturing over the supposed evils of Cerberus.
To my surprise, he did neither. Maybe he recognized that we brought him back from the dead, and thus deserved at least a little bit of gratitude. Maybe he’d bonded with Jacob somewhat after fighting through the Lazarus station alongside him. All I knew was that he just looked at me as if he wanted to ask a question. Or several of them. So I let him—a few minutes of time spent answering questions was certainly better than a few bullets being exchanged. His questions were reasonable, under the circumstances. It certainly lined up with personal logs from the men and women who’d served under him, which had indicated a healthy curiosity and interest in his surroundings and his colleagues. He did show some reticence in leaving with Cerberus operatives to go see the Illusive Man, but I pointed out that there was no other way off this station. After checking the veracity of my tale, he readily conceded that he didn’t have any other viable options. No outburst, no temper tantrums, just a casual, albeit reluctant, acceptance of the facts. I’d suspected that he had a certain pragmatic and practical attitude, but to see it firsthand was quite illuminating.
He also expressed some concern in looking for survivors. One might think that it was an act. A half-hearted move to appease his conscience before running away. But would a poser go to the extra trouble of scanning for life-signs before departure? Maybe, if he was a smart one. The only thing I knew for sure was that the move lined up with the theoretical Shepard I had envisioned, the one I’d developed in my mind after reading all his official log entries and reports, as well as the personal logs of his subordinates. But any man or woman with a decent level of intelligence will tell you that there’s a difference between theory and reality.
And yet here Shepard stood in front of me. Living, breathing, talking and asking lots of questions. From what I saw before Wilson’s tinkering knocked out the vid-cams, Shepard’s combat skills measured up to all the reports. And his concern for others tracked with all the flowery compliments lavished upon him by his superiors and subordinates. All this data seemed to confirm that we’d brought Shepard—the right Shepard—back from the dead.
Jacob would have scoffed at the need for all this analysis, had I admitted it to him. He seemed convinced that Shepard was the genuine article. Not surprising—he always was a staunch supporter, though I’ll admit his experiences fighting through the Lazarus station alongside him lent a certain credibility to his opinion. Still, I needed more proof than a simple point-and-shoot account or my brief observations to conclusively confirm that the Lazarus Project had been a success. Unfortunately, I only had time to ask a couple questions. Fortunately, his answers—both their content as well as how he answered them—assuaged my concerns. For now.
As we flew towards Minuteman Station, I found myself wondering if the Illusive Man had any detailed plans to use Shepard in the fight against whoever was abducting human colonists. Part of me hoped he didn’t. If the last two years were any indication, plans tended to go off-kilter, if not fall apart entirely, where Shepard was concerned.