I decided that this Jack character sounded like a good bet and we weren't too far from Purgatory, the prison ship from which we were supposed to retrieve him. If The Illusive Man had already arranged things with the warden it should be quick and easy and I could do some mining of the system to calm Doctor Mordin Solus's concerns about materials with which to continue his research. Of course, more probes would cost more credits, too. I was going to have to look for opportunities to pick up some work along the way.
All of this accounting and administrative work gave me a headache but I could hardly go crawling back to Cerberus for my allowance every time I needed cash for upgrades or trinkets. Having been reinstated as a Spectre meant that I was drawing a salary again but it wasn't enough to pay for everything that Cerberus hadn't thought to fund. The Illusive Man may have thought he'd covered everything but he had completely forgotten to set up accounts at the fuel depots near each mass relay. I wasn't about to add another reason to be indebted to the xenophobe but it did make my planning more difficult.
"Joker, take us to the Hourglass Nebula," I said. I realized that I had again come to assume that Jeff Moreau was listening to me at any given moment and prepared to do as I said, sarcastic comments notwithstanding. There are so many things wrong with my life, I thought ruefully. I shook my head and fed the coordinates to EDI. I knew that the AI would put them on Joker's screen as he piloted the Normandy to the nearest relay.
I had some downtime while the two plotted our course through the relay system, but I wasn't about to head back down to see Thane again. I'd been flustered enough for one day. I went to see Mordin, instead. He had several research projects underway and I was anxious to see whether some of them were bearing fruit. I could only take so much of his twitchy company at a time but he was a genius and I envied his certainty that his past decisions were sound. Logic informed my choices but I could never be so complacent about the emotions I compromised in making some of them. His conviction that the Krogan genophage presented a threat serious enough to make tinkering with an entire race acceptable was breathtaking in its simplicity but I couldn't find the same surety in my own past. I'd killed so many people, let so many others die for what I believed to be the greater good, that I would never rest easy under the memories.
I resolutely ignored my doubts for the moment and discussed upgrades and Collector technology with Mordin until Joker announced over the intercom that we were nearing the mass relay. I headed back up to the bridge to watch another amazing jump. I would never tire of the leaps we made and Joker knew me well enough by now to know that I enjoyed using the enormous cockpit windows to see every bit possible. The Reapers had created the relays and we were out to destroy them, but I was just thankful that they worked. Without relays we'd all be pod fodder for the Collectors until the Reapers returned and destroyed or enslaved us all. What fun would that be? With them we could fight back and strike a blow for the bygone races so cruelly manipulated.
We jumped and cruised our way to Purgatory. I asked Miranda to accompany me to the pick-up as a representative of Cerberus and, mindful of my earlier resolution to include Thane less, had Zaeed join us for the intimidation factor. He was a creepy-looking guy with his scarred face and dead eye and his reputation was even worse. I expected no complications but knew that you could never be too careful.
Not at all to my shock I was right to bring the firepower. It turned out the freak that ran the place had intended to capture us and sell us to the highest bidders, a glorified slaver trading in dangerous merchandise. Putting a bullet in his head had been satisfying but we'd ended up demolishing half of the prison and slaughtering most of the guards, with Jack's help, to get back to our shuttle. Why can't anything be easy? I thought.
Jack turned out to be a young woman, tattooed within an inch of her life and with a chip on her shoulder the size of Luna. It so happened that I sympathized with her hatred of Cerberus but she was going to be a seriously destabilizing factor among the crew, as if I needed another. I'd ordered Miranda to hand over the access codes so that Jack could research the history of the program on Pragia that had held her captive and tortured her as a child. Miranda was ready to warp me through the hull but had no choice but to obey.
Once I got Jack settled and Miranda soothed I headed for the main battery controls and chatted with Garrus about upgrading the Normandy’s weapons but I couldn't keep my mind on the conversation. Apparently he could tell because he finally assured me that he had calibrations to do and would rather be alone. I dragged my feet across the mess hall, waving the least-half-hearted hello that I could manage to Mess Sergeant Gardner, intending to ride the elevator up to my quarters where I could wallow in the complications that surrounded me. No sooner had I turned into the corridor, though, than Thane emerged from the life support room.
"Come and talk to me, Shepard?" he offered. As always, he spoke quietly, making no demands of me. Despite my earlier concerns, I found myself looking forward to rehashing the mission with him. I wanted to talk about the things we'd seen in the prison, about how much it bothered me that people could treat each other so badly in such a cavalier manner. I couldn't punish everyone, no matter for how many missions I put our main objectives on hold.
Every time I turned around there was another example of the depths to which one could sink, regardless of planetary origins. I needed someone to remind me that all hope was not lost for people to change. Thane filled that role admirably and the fact that he would have been surprised had I told him so made him all the more exactly what I needed just then. I straightened my shoulders, the prospect of sharing this weight enough to lift it, and joined him at his table once more.