Kaidan and I finished eating and he tucked everything away in that clever basket. It had begun to get dark by the time he finished and he came over to sit close, pulling me into him. We watched the sun set over the far hills, the lake turning a dozen unlikely colors, and a sense of unreality washed over me.
In all my life, I’d never known something like this. My defenses had dropped, even with my heart so exposed. It wasn’t that Kaidan would be with me forever, it was that he would never use my emotions against me. I trusted him never to exploit this weakness, something utterly new and wonderful. And so I sat with him, the most content I’d ever been, watching the sun go down on Horizon.
There were some other things soon after that that you don’t need to know about in detail. Suffice it to say that the springy grass under the blanket made for a comfortable surface and that we spent quite some time working off those sandwiches.
The interlude ended, as it must. The Collectors weren’t going to stop kidnapping colonists or pursuing me just because I was happy. Hell, in my experience that made them more likely to do something heinous. So Kaidan and I eventually gathered everything up and returned to the shuttle port. Our parting outside, a little wistful and terribly sweet, made me want to haul him back into the car and be that kind of girl but, alas, my ride was waiting.
On the way up, I decided that Horizon was my new favorite planet. If only something as wonderfully sweet could happen on Virmire to take the sting from its once-gorgeous, now-radioactive vistas, I thought with a sigh. Wearing full hazard suits pretty well removed the possibility of a romantic walk on the beach, however, much less anything more…personal.
I wandered in through the airlock, my mind still on the evening’s delightful exertions. Inconveniently, the thoughtless idiots that had designed the Normandy hadn’t felt it necessary to provide only a single elevator, smack in the middle of the ship, I could have pursued my two aims for the night: a hefty snack and a well-deserved nap. Sadly, these last desires were foiled when my arch-enemy, who as ever lay in wait in the CIC, ambushed me.
“Ooh, Commander,” Kelly cooed the moment she saw me, “Jack’s been looking for you everywhere. I think something’s seriously wrong but she won’t talk to me.” She tried on a hurt look that failed utterly; Jack scared the shit out of her.
My hand twitched its desire to shove that pouty bottom lip back where it belonged but I controlled it. Thankfully the evening had given me a major reserve of patience. I smiled sweetly. “I’ll take care of it, yeoman.”
Cheered by my response, she burbled, “Don’t forget to check your private terminal when you’re done,” as I turned to the elevator. She wriggled excitedly in the corner of my eye. “You’ve got new messages!”
Sated or not, it took an effort not to kick her in the throat; she was ju-u-ust the right distance for it. I refused to let her wreck my mood, however, and I controlled the urge. Since I couldn’t speak civilly I nodded noncommittally and headed for the elevator.
By the time I got to the sub-basement of my ship Jack would have been tearing out her hair if she’d had more than a quarter inch of stubble to grip. As it was she paced furiously, blue strobing on her hands where she clenched and flexed them.
“I’d prefer to live long enough to actually attempt our suicide mission, thank you very much, Jack. Quit sparking so close to the drive core and tell me what’s wrong.”
She shot me a look that would have broiled me alive, had biotics only worked that way. “Where the hell have you been? I found something in the files and I…” When she trailed off I realized that her agitation wasn’t anger, or at least not solely.
“C’mon, Jack,” I said lightly. “Do I have to shove you in a closet with Joker or are you going to tell me?”
That earned a wan smile and she calmed a bit. “Look, you know these sons of bitches kept me at some secret facility, right? Well, I found it.”
“Excellent! How long do you think the evacuation will take?”
Her smile widened. “It’s been abandoned since I trashed it.” More teeth showed. “I doubt they had anyone left to pick up the pieces.”
Damn, that girl could be creepy. I wondered if she’d actually used those chompers on anyone. She probably had. Ew.
“Can’t we just nuke it from orbit and call it good?”
“I’m putting a big fucking bomb in deepest heart of the place, and I’m going to set the timer myself.” She spoke slowly and with ferocious determination, the blue glow building around her again. It didn’t really matter to me so I agreed and she settled down once more. “I need to see it, Shepard,” she said. “I need to know we didn’t miss.”
So we swung by Omega and picked up a little nuke. They’re pretty easy to come by on the station, particularly if the black market vendors know Aria’s backing you and triply so if you bring Archangel and the infamous Dr. Solus along on your shopping trip.
Meanwhile, Miranda had been stalking around the SR-2 in an increasingly bad mood for weeks. Sure, I could have taken her on a mission or two along the way but why punish myself even more? I just let her stew.
Finally she cornered me on the way to visit my beloved coffee purveyor. “You and Jack need to work on your control,” she started. “You promised you would listen to my guidance and learn from me and we haven’t done a single session since that damned Collector ship.”
To cheer her up—and cut off her head of steam—I promised her some training time in three hours, when we arrived for our next mission. Little did she know our objective. She harrumphed and stalked back to her room, I assume to primp until we arrived. She certainly never wore anything more or less than a full catsuit. If she owned actual armor I’d never seen it and I wasn’t about to spend my creds buying her any.
As Joker put us into orbit around Pragia, Dr. Franken-lady pinged me on the com. “Why are we circling this pisshole?” she demanded, elegant as ever.
“We’ve got a little errand to run,” I told her, “and the abandoned facility should be a perfect place to practice doing some real damage.” She grunted and hung up on me. I wondered if you could get itching powder this far out toward the Veil and how I could get it into that full-body leather. EDI would probably help, if the laundry incident was any indication.
Jack met me in the shuttle bay. She danced around in anticipation, or maybe agitation, until she caught my smile. I knew we’d get her kicking up her heels eventually. Her scowl only made me grin wider. When I told her that Miranda clearly had no idea up to what Cerberus had been getting on Pragia she scoffed. “That cheerleader wouldn’t admit to shit if she had a mouth full of it.”
I snorted surprised laughter as the woman herself walked up behind me. “Charming, Shepard.” Considering her own recent language I thought that might have been a sincere compliment, derisive drawl notwithstanding.
“Ms. Lawson,” I said formally, “there exists a Cerberus facility on this planet against which Jack holds a serious grudge. Today we shall be removing it.”
Miranda narrowed her eyes at me. “Removing it how, precisely?”
Jack grinned. “We’re gonna nuke that fucker off the face of the planet.” Both of us laughed at that and I did my own tiny little tap dance. Jack continued on the offensive. “Don’t know anything about the place, Cheerleader?”
Miranda arranged her face into a mask of elaborate boredom but I could see the curiosity in her eyes. “Of course I know there was a facility here. It was closed years ago after some sort of explosion.” She probably looked that up ten minutes ago when she figured out where we were.
“Yeah, that explosion was me. Took out the entire team.” Jack actually gave in to her excitement and did a little boogie of her own. It made me so proud I almost had to wipe a tear from my eye. That could have come from laughing at Miranda, I suppose, but it was probably pride.
At any rate, I reminded Jack that we’d be training as well as setting the “big fucking bomb” and Miranda mustered enough of her usual disdain to stalk into the shuttle in front of us. I stuck my tongue out at her back and Jack made an obscene gesture before we followed.
In truth we didn’t get much biotic practice done once we’d blasted the native plant life off the roof and put several holes in the lobby. We found enough working research terminals to make both of my companions miserable and distract Miranda from any training she’d intended.
Jack told stories about being attacked by the other kids imprisoned with her and by the guards trying to keep her under control. In her memory, everyone had been there to fight her, trying to make her biotics stronger. They’d arranged battles and rewarded her for winning by getting her high on one drug or another. Every day had been a study in isolation or fear.
That was bad enough and what we found bore out much of her story. But as we progressed we realized that the other kids had undergone surgery and experiments designed to test procedures before they were tried on her. Dozens had died so that some inventive scientist didn’t kill her with a brilliantly stupid idea.
Miranda had gone silent. She could hardly deny the horrors the researchers had recorded so matter-of-factly and TIM had been invoked more than once. After what she’d learned while restoring life to my body—and adding biotics I’d never had—she could hardly pretend the research hadn’t been part of the Cerberus records she used. All she could come up with in the puppy’s defense was that it must have been a rogue installation.
“Don’t be any stupider than you have to be,” Jack snarled at her. “The whole reason for this place was to torture and kill kids like me. You can’t excuse that.” Strangely, the more upset she got the less she cursed. I was a little worried she’d attack Miranda outright, however. I wouldn’t get in the middle of that fight for all the coffee on the Citadel but I thought explaining his head cheerleader’s absence to TIM afterward might be a little awkward.
Thankfully, Miranda raised her hands in surrender. “I know. This is just…” Her conscience had started beating her about the head and shoulders with proof of just what sort of organization with which she was involved. Apparently the news of Feros, Noveria, and the other horrific “research” we’d uncovered before I’d died hadn’t been enough to convince her of their inherent evil. It had taken a place where she, too, could have been imprisoned as a little girl to bring it home.
“Cerberus isn’t about elevating humanity,” I said, kicking her just a little while she was down and trying not to enjoy it. “It’s about TIM controlling anyone into whom he can get his puppet strings.”
Miranda opened her mouth to give her usual response, which usually went along the lines of “you’re too plebian to understand the many and myriad ways that Cerberus brings humanity to the forefront of galactic races where it belongs”. Then she closed it again. It seemed even a cheerleader could lose faith. Somehow I managed not to say, “I told you so.” That would have been mean-spirited.