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Zeppo Effect: Fight for the Lost

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Zeppo Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The Galaxy's Greatest Hero is back from the dead with a small army of the deadliest operatives in the galaxy to take on all comers. They say it's a suicide mission, that it’s certain death. THEY keep forgetting that Shepard has a Zeppo in her corner.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Games > Sci-Fi > Mass Effect Trilogy(Current Donor)BHRamsayFR1864310,83929382126,31816 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

After Action Report (1)

Thanks to Reikson and Drakependragon


8
9
8


The air shimmered and filled, piece by piece, with the QEC’s image of the Illusive Man.

Shepard just tapped her foot impatiently.

“Shepard, good work on Horizon,” the Illusive Man said cheerfully. “The Collectors will think twice before hitting another colony.”

“Yeah, I’m sure the annoyance of only getting HALF the colony instead of the whole damn thing will have them shaking in terror,” she scoffed.

“Half a colony is better than losing an entire colony, and it’s more than anyone’s managed since the abductions began.”

“Speaking of which… I heard about Fehl Prime.”

The steely-eyed man blinked, cocking his head to the side somewhat. “Ah. I assume that Chief Williams delivered a somewhat biased account.”

“Your man drew the Collectors TO Fehl Prime, and then actively helped them abduct the entire colony.”

“Messner took advantage of technology that was already there, technology that anyone could’ve stumbled across. Just as you ended up finding the Prothean Beacon at Eden Prime.”

“What about the Collectors?”

“The artifact that Messner discovered enabled him to communicate with them,” he mused, tapping a holographic keypad on his chair and studying the datafeeds on the screen that popped up in his field of vision.

Another second later, he closed the screen. ”Considering the… somewhat-erratic… tone of his communications to us by the end, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume that he was being indoctrinated. Just as Saren and Benezia were.”

“Funny,” she drawled. “I got my brain zapped with a Prothean Beacon and I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to feed innocents to a meat grinder.”

“I’m sure that Kaidan Alenko’s surviving family might beg to differ,” he shot back, making her scowl. “Besides, what’s done is done. Messner’s data survived, even if the colonists didn’t, but our success on Horizon proves that those deaths were not in vain.”

“I always knew that there were going to be secrets between us, but I’d assumed that you wouldn’t do anything to make my job harder.” She pointed out, crossing her arms.


“Everything Cerberus has done has aided you in this mission.”


“You used Messner’s data to draw the Collectors to Horizon.”


“I knew that the Collectors would be looking for you, or people connected to you,” he shrugged, taking a pull from his cigarette. “I made a gambit, but the risk was as high as it was ultimately calculated. As you can see, the results paid off somewhat.”


“…and if the GARDIAN defenses weren’t in place and operational…”


“But they were, and you used them to send the Collectors packing,” the steely-eyed man pointed out. “Messner’s actions are regrettable, the loss of the Fehl Prime colony is tragic, but you need to look at the big picture.”

“What big picture?” Shepard growled.

“Without the data that Messner discovered on Fehl Prime, we might not have been able to save the colonists on Horizon.” At her perplexed expression, he added, “Even as we speak, our allies on other colony worlds are distributing the antidote to the Seeker swarm toxin first discovered on Fehl Prime, as well as the barrier upgrades that Doctor Solus invented.”

“You mean, your agents and spies?”

“Actually, Messner was less of an agent and more of a… like-minded ally, shall we say… who maintained contact with us.”


“…is that who you had working for you on Horizon? A like-minded ally?” she scowled. “You know, I had EDI run a diagnostic on the GARDIAN systems on a hunch. Apparently, someone was tampering with them, trying to keep them offline.”


“The only discernable pattern that we’ve had in these attacks is that the Collectors focus on remote colony worlds with little defenses, and that they seem obsessed with you,” the steely-eyed man pointed out. “I made this play on the notion that the combination of a defenseless colony, and the chance to take someone associated with you, was too much of a temptation for them to resist.”


“You used them as bait?” she snarled, aghast at his utter ruthlessness.


“As I said before, this was a calculated risk,” he shrugged. “I knew that you’d be capable of dealing with the situation. There was no way that the Collectors could know that we’d already had a counter to their Seeker-swarm venom, and there’s no way that they could’ve known about Miss Doffler.”

“How do you know about Simone?”


“I had eyes and ears on Horizon. An untrained Slayer, who doesn’t know how to be discreet, tends to attracts notice.”


“I don’t know why I’m surprised. Of course, you’d have a spy watching.” Joan sighed. “So what now?”

“You’ve struck a harder blow against the Collectors than anyone else,” the Illusive Man pointed out. “Even the Alliance team on Fehl Prime succeeded more by chance than design.”

“We didn’t do much better,” Shepard snarled. “If this Messner’s data let you find the Collectors once, then let’s track them again.”

“I doubt they’ll make it quite that easy. For now, I’m putting all of my resources into finding that ship, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get you there.”

“Of that, I have no doubt,” she nodded. “In the meantime, I have an injured crewman aboard, so I’m headed for Asari territory.”

“An injured crewman… Asari territory? Something to do with your resident Ardat-Yakshi?”

“Harbinger did something to her. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s related to how the Reapers make Husks.”

“An Asari Husk-analogue… something worth studying…” he mumbled to himself.

“I’m not sending Morinth to some secret lab.”

“This is not the time to be emotional, Commander,” The Illusive Man reproached her lightly. “We barely understand the Reapers, never mind how they manage to indoctrinate their thralls. If we’re to have any hopes of reversing the process, she may very well be our chance-”

“Morinth’s staying with me,” she cut him off.

The slight narrowing of his eyes was the only sign of his irritation. “Then, am I to assume that you intend to hold Miss Doffler’s leash as well?”

“You assume correctly.”

“I see that we still have a long way to go with your trust issues.”

Her lips peeled back into a death’s-head grin, making him quirk an eyebrow. “I knew what dealing with you would entail. So far, the experience has lived up all my expectations and then some.”

“I hope that you aren’t letting matters like Fehl Prime cloud your judgment,” he observed casually. “You and your team need to be committed if you’re going to survive this mission.”

“Don’t worry about my team,” she snapped. “I’ll make sure that they’re ready, one way or another. You just get me the data I need to make the hit.”

He stubbed out his cigarette, his fingers tense with irritation. ”Can I assume that you’ve put your past relationships behind you, then?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that I hope you see now that the Alliance isn’t ready to deal with the Collectors, and they might never be until it’s too late,” he pointed out. “Your only hope of taking the Collectors out is with the Normandy and the resources that Cerberus is providing you.”

“True, I need more help than what the Alliance is going to give me…”

“…and now that you’ve met Chief Williams and understand the stakes, can I assume that you’ve put past loyalties behind you for the time being?”

“Ashley’s too busy chasing Cerberus to concentrate on the real threat.” Shepard snapped bitterly. She was still sore at the Operations-Chief’s cold welcome. “If I’m gonna pull this off, I’ll have to do it without her help.”

The Illusive Man smiled in spite of himself. “Excellent. Then we can move forward. In the spirit of our newfound sense of cooperation, I can tell you that if you’re looking to aid your Ardat-Yakshi then you’d best head for Illium right now.”

Shepard only quirked an eyebrow at him. “Samara, the Asari Justicar that I’d originally spec’d for your mission, is there at this moment. She might have a way of aiding Morinth.”

Nodding in spite of herself, Shepard added, “We’ll check it out.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it,” the Illusive Man mused curtly, cutting the connection.

As the QEC powered down, Joan looked behind her and Xander stopped leaning against a nearby wall.

“Well, what do you think?” Joan asked.

“He’s being too nice; he’s got something up his sleeve,” he grunted.

“Well, until we know what’s going on, we’ll just have to be careful,” the Spectre-Slayer grunted. “Right now, we’ve got other problems.”

Looking up at the ceiling, she said quickly, “EDI, tell everybody to meet me in the conference room. It’s time to lay all our cards on the table.”

At her best friend’s closed-off apprehension, she added, “All of them, Xander.”

His only response was, “Are you sure about this?”

“I’m taking these people into Hell, I’m not gonna do that while lying to them.”

“Yeah, that tells me why you’re going for full disclosure,” he rolled his eyes. “For the record, I agree. My question was, are you sure?”

She looked away from his intense gaze. “No,” she said finally. “…but my gut’s telling me that this is the right thing to do. With what we’re up against, gut instincts are all we have.”

Xander rolled his eyes. “Fine, I’ll get Willow up here. She hasn’t had a chance to do the speech in a long time. It’ll be fun for her.”

8
9
8

The Illusive Man sat back in his chair and let out a breath that he hadn’t known that he was holding until that moment.

“I told you that Shepard was unreliable.” Kai Leng sneered beside him.

“Why? Because she’s holding back and lying to me?” Cerberus’ Master chuckled, “Considering the fact I’m not being totally honest with her, complaining about her lack of honesty seems… disingenuous.”

The former N7 Operative snorted but said nothing. The steely-eyed man had spent so much time with his right hand that he knew the man’s body language. Kai Leng’s angry silence was akin to a full-blown rant from anyone else.

Changing the subject, the Illusive Man tapped a control. ”Doctor, what kind of progress have you made for Project Doppelganger?”

The bespectacled Doctor Burt Wallace appeared on the QEC. “I’ve gone over Miss Lawson’s notes again and again and, while I’ve been able to replicate her success with the body, the mind’s proving to be more… elusive. No pun intended.”

“The body lives, but the mind remains gone,” the steely-eyed man frowned. “I expected as much. Preserve and maintain the body, get whatever research data you can.”

Beside him, Leng scowled. Naturally, the Illusive Man ignored him. ”The success of Project Lazarus cannot be measured solely on the outcome of a single experiment.”

“Understood, sir, we’ll continue our efforts,” the scientist promised and the Illusive Man abruptly cut the connection.

“Wonderful,” Leng snorted. “What good is a Slayer’s body without the brain?”

Harper glared at Kai Leng before calming himself. “Continue your work with the Phantoms. Let me know when they’re ready to go.”

This time, Leng didn’t miss the dismissive glare and he retreated. The rocks-glass in The Illusive Man’s hand suddenly shattered from the force of his powerful grip.

“Such a waste of good bourbon,” a young male voice observed snidely.

The Illusive Man looked up and saw a man standing in the QEC receiver.

Strangely, this figure would’ve looked like a man; if not for the fact that he had absolutely no skin that could be seen on any visible part of his body.

Suddenly recognizing who he was seeing, the former mercenary sighed. “Warren Mears,” he said finally. “When Miranda Lawson informed me that Shepard had encountered you and your agents through Xander, I knew this day would come.”

“I speak from experience when I say that a Slayer and their sidekicks are way more trouble than they’re worth,” the flayed man shot back.

“Is that you talking or the Senior Partners?”

“Mister Harper, your time with Xander Harris has left you with a unfortunately-biased impression of the Senior Partners, much as he’s poisoned Shepard against you.”

Harper ignored the envoy’s use of his original name. “So Wolfram and Hart wasn’t responsible for unleashing chaos and destruction around the world and multiple alternates as well?”

“I see Xander’s been thorough.”

“I have other sources than just Xander Harris,” the Illusive Man said coolly. “Illyria was surprisingly forthcoming. I suspect that her belief that I couldn’t become a threat to her in any meaningful way, made her feel safe enough to disclose quite a bit of information.”

“Illyria could’ve been so much more, if she’d just been willing to cooperate with us. But that’s not why I’m here.”

“You want to make a deal.”

“We want back in. Permanently,” the flayed man snarled. “Shepard’s protecting Rosenberg, so if you give her to us, the Senior Partners would be very grateful.”

“No. Willow Rosenberg is the only thing keeping this realm from being overrun by demonic Gods who aren’t as well-disposed toward us as Illyria.”

“Willow Rosenberg is also the only thing keeping you from ensuring that humanity isn’t wiped out by the Reapers.”

That tidbit was news to him. ”What are you talking about?”

“The Senior Partners are well acquainted with the beings you call Reapers, the so-called Old Machines. Earth was preserved of their predations for countless millennia through the intervention of Earth’s Old Ones.”

Putting the matter of that revelation aside, the Illusive Man sneered, “Don’t you mean, enslaving mankind for countless generations?”

“You call it slavery, the Turians call it ‘taking a client race’ and those Asari use indentured servitude.” Warren Mears shrugged. “However you want to call it, mankind was protected for centuries against a spaceborne threat that wiped out countless other civilizations almost overnight. Compared to that, what’s running a few errands from time to time?”

“Then why not approach the other races? Surely you could sway them as easily as you did us humans.”

“The Senior Partners are looking for allies. To that end, we’re willing to do for you what you’ve done for Shepard; help you accomplish your goals.”

“Oh?”

The flayed man held up a bottle and tossed it at him.

Somehow, the small bottle went from being mere holographic image to actual solid object as it breached the QEC’s field to fly through the air and land in the Illusive Man’s lap.

“Surely Xander told you how we feel about contractual obligations with our employees.”

“…that their service to you doesn’t always end upon their deaths.”

“True; it doesn’t. Wolfram and Hart retains the right to activate an employee’s contract at any time or to pass that contract to someone who can make use of said employee.”

“The bottle, you mean.”

“Your taking possession of that bottle is a binding acceptance of the employee contract attached to it.” Warren explained. “In this case; once you take the bottle, you own the person inside. I think you’ll find that your little cloning project will go much faster with a little extra help.”

“…and who am I retaining custody of, exactly?”

“Her name is Kennedy Morgan. She’s a Slayer. She didn’t know it at the time, but she was under contract with us.”

“Xander told me about her, that she fought alongside the Slayers and opposed your employers.”

“And no doubt she thought herself safe,” the flayed man shrugged, smiling grimly. “But Kennedy’s very wealthy parents were very concerned about her future. So the Senior Partners sold them … well lets just call it an insurance policy. The policy had an extension clause in the fine print. When she died, her soul became Wolfram and Hart property, which I now cede to you.”

“…and your price is?” Warren’s attempt to look innocent didn’t deceive either of them. “I doubt that you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart.”

“I already told you; the Senior Partners want the same thing that you do, Mister Harper. To see the Reapers defeated.”

“We can defeat the Reapers without your help.”

“No, you can’t, Mister Harper. But you’ll come to understand THAT soon enough.”

With that last parting shot, Warren Mears’ image began to fade from the QEC.

“Oh, and word to the wise, Mister Harper?” he suddenly added, rematerializing on the imaging pad. “When you open that bottle, don’t be in the same room as her. The fight-or-flight response can be quite extreme, and Slayers are naturally stronger than human beings by a significant margin.”

Finally, the flayed man vanished.

The Illusive Man scowled as Warren’s assertions ran through his mind as he looked down at the bottle in his lap. Even now, its glowing contents seethed and churned within its confines.

“Well, Miss Kennedy, what do I do with you?” he sighed, holding up the bottle so he could examine it closely. “Help from the Senior Partners always comes at a price, but if anyone who’s ever worked for them or been under contract to them could be made an agent of Cerberus under my control…”

He tapped a control and a young, dark-skinned woman in a formal Cerberus uniform walked into the room.

“Miss Lilium, would you be kind enough to run this package down to the labs? I think that Project Doppelganger is about to take a great leap forward.”

The woman calling herself Hope Lilium for the moment smiled charmingly as she accepted the package.

“Are you green-lighting me to go ahead and handle this my way? Lawson’s talented, but with my resources-”

“Hope, keep in mind that your resources are my resources,” the glowing-eyed man reminded her curtly. “Miranda Lawson has proved where her loyalties lie, and that she can be trusted to succeed where others have not.”

“I can be trusted, just give me a chance.”

“Right now, I need you to give this bottle to Doctor Wallace and his team. Let me know what happens.”


“I’ll oversee the project personally.”

“Take my advice, Hope. For this, you’ll want to be as hands-off as possible.”


8
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8

“Into every generation, there is a Chosen One.”

Rosenberg’s lecture still haunted Jacob’s memories. The image of her eyes bleeding black as she forcibly pulled power from the ship’s electrostatic containment cells and condensed it into a ball of raw galvanic fury only continued to give him the heebie-jeebies.

Harris then had the balls to call her a showoff, and the redhead had just waved him off with a chuckle. When Miranda had demanded to know what Willow was, exactly, and was told that the redhead was a witch… well, that’s when the explanations started.

“One girl in the entire world; she alone will wield the strength and skill to stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness.”

The former Corsair still remembered Shepard in action, and had also seen vid-clips of that Horizon farm-girl Simone Doffler as she tore her way through Husks and Collectors with a combination of martial arts, a fire axe, and a Collector assault rifle.

“To stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers; she is the Slayer.”

Those words rang in his mind, as though he should be remembering something important about them but couldn’t quite seem to recollect.


For some reason, though, Jacob was finding the idea of magic not just easy to accept but oddly familiar.


Like a vid that felt totally familiar, even if you couldn’t recall where or even when you’d seen it before.

He rapped on Miranda’s door, awaiting her whispered invitation.

They sat in silence for a while before Jacob broke the tension the only way he could.

“So,” he chuckled with a raw humor that he didn’t really feel. “Of all the things I was expecting, I’d say that vampires and demons ranked pretty damn low on the list.”

“I’m oddly unsurprised,” Miranda sighed, absently rubbing her abdomen. “The Illusive Man’s had a fixation on Harris, Summers, and Rosenberg for as long as I’ve known him.”

“What do you think of it all?”

“What does it matter what either of us might think?” she snapped bitterly.

“Shepard seemed interested in our input. She even got Rosenberg to grant you access to these protected databases of theirs.”

“Conditional access; she’ll share knowledge with me that relates to the mission, but nothing beyond that. Not as long as-”

“-not as long as you still report directly to the Man,” he finished. “Look, I know how you feel. But even I have to wonder what he’d do if he had access to even a small bit of the information and power that Rosenberg seems to possess.”

“Cerberus is a force of good, Jacob,” she argued. “Our methods may seem extreme, but what choice do we really have when we’re being held up against the Big Three? Asari racial biotics? Salarian hyper-intelligence? And that’s not even taking the Turians and their socialized militarism into consideration.”

“That’s the Old Man talking, Miranda. You’re smarter than that,” he pointed out.

“But he still has a point,” she argued. ”The Krogan saved the galaxy from the Rachni, but as soon as they became a threat, the Council created the genophage and unleashed it upon them.”


“I seem to recall the Krogan trying to conquer a ton of the galaxy before that happened.”


“Admittedly, they were desperate, but…”

Thanks to Xander, she could possibly become pregnant if she wanted. But that miracle meant that the horror of the Krogan genophage took on a whole new dimension of personal perspective for her. “What do you think they would do to humanity if they learned the truth of what Rosenberg and Harris said up there?”

“So what’s the alternative?” Jacob pointed out. “Blow up the Charon Relay and hope that the rest of the galaxy just forgets about us?”

Neither of them commented on the absurdity of that idea. “Plus, there are the Reapers to think about. If Shepard’s right and they’re coming, then we can’t stop them on our own.”

“So we put our faith in myths and legends?” she demanded, her lovely face twisting into a mild scowl.

“Maybe you are, but me? I’m putting my faith in the woman who saved my life and took down a heavy mech with a shovel in the process; a damned shovel Miri.”

“I have to admit I’m surprised. She's shown more loyalty and concern for the crew then I would have thought possible. She’s ruthless beyond a shadow of doubt but she cares … about the those she considers her people.”

“Naw, it’s more than that,” he shook his head. “I’ve never seen anyone else put so much of themselves on the line like she does.”

Jacob sighed, standing up from his chair. ”I know she’d march every person aboard this ship into hell if she thought it would accomplish the mission but I know she’d be leading the charge. I know that without question.”

Miranda smirked in spite of herself. “Good, because if what Harris and Rosenberg were saying is true… Hell just became a real possibility with her.”

Turning to watch Miranda as she continued to look out the window of her office, he noticed that she kept rubbing her abdomen absentmindedly.


“There’s something else going on, isn’t there?” he finally voiced his suspicions.

She turned to look at Jacob, as if weighing something in her mind. Finally, she sighed. “Do you remember my father’s genetic tailoring?” she asked him.

“Yeah; you’re faster, stronger, and smarter, for starters,” he shrugged. “Then there’s the biotics, and the fact that you look great in anything I’ve ever seen you wear. If he wasn't so full of himself, I'd thank him on behalf of heterosexual men everywhere.”

“Are you sure that you want to say things like that, this close to where Kasumi sleeps? She might hear you,” she chided, smiling slightly.

“Well, she might be listening in anyway,” the former Corsair shrugged. “Having a… well, whatever it is that Kasumi and I have right now? It becomes really weird when you throw in the fact that I think she gets off on sneaking up on people and watching them when they don’t know she’s there. Anyway, what’s going on? Is there a problem?”

“My father had many ways of insuring my loyalty,” the genetically-engineered woman said bitterly. “Money, power, privilege… it wasn’t until I’d left it all behind that I found out that he’d slipped another leash around me.”

“Miranda, I know you’ve always thought that you not being able to have kids was deliberate, but with everything he did to your body… isn’t it possible it’s just-”

“Jacob, you said it yourself; every inch of my DNA is a symphony of perfection,” she interrupted. “Stronger, smarter, faster, more powerful… he designed it all. He meant for it be that way.”


Getting up from her chair, she looked out at the window. “That arse you keep pretending to not look at? He designed it. Don't think for one second that he didn't intend for this; that I stay completely barren and helpless to fix it without his help. Until now.”

“Wait, what?” Jacob gaped. “What happened?”

“Back on Haestrom, Xander Harris did… something, while he was rubbing medi-gel into me after I was wounded by that Colossus’ pulse blast. I have no idea what he did, and he knows even less than I do, but… whatever he did, it changed me; fixed me somehow.”

“You think Willow knows?”

“I think the real question here is… would Willow even tell me if she knew?” Miranda snapped bitterly. “These people, Harris and Rosenberg… they hold their secrets so close and use any excuse to keep their little deceptions alive.”

“Hey, they just dropped something pretty big on all of us,” he pointed out.

“…because Shepard asked them to,” Lawson shot back. “If it weren’t for her, I honestly think we'd be clueless until it was too late.”


“So what are you gonna do, then? Havin’ a kid was kind of a big deal with you, as I recall.”

“I’m still running tests to make sure, but all the projections thus far point to a full and viable pregnancy,” she sighed, turning to look back at him. “I can have a child of my own whenever I want, but that’s assuming that I survive this mission.”

“That’s great, I mean…” he stumbled, trying to articulate. “Congratulations, Miranda. I mean that really.”

“You sound so enthusiastic,” she observed wryly.

“Miranda, I liked you. I cared about you. Hell, I can even say that there was a point where I think I loved you. But I’ve always known that you aren’t the easiest person to be around.”

She rolled her eyes. “I want to be hurt, but knowing you as I do? There’s a compliment buried somewhere deep inside that sentence.”

“The first night that we ever spent together was incredible,” he explained. “When you asked me, it was like everything I ever thought I ever wanted. But after I got to know you?”


His lips parted in a bittersweet smile. “After I got to know you, I realized that the reason you asked me was because it was the right choice for you at the time. You looked at all the facts and figures, and the numbers added up in your head. There wasn’t any heart in it.”

“You think that I didn’t care about you,” she deduced. “The real you, I mean.”

“You cared about me, all right,” he shook his head. “It’s just… the thing about me that you cared about was my genetics, what diseases I was prone to, how strong my biotics are… I just don’t see that as a solid foundation. Plus… you deserve a better man than me.”

“Jacob, you know what I’ve been through, what my life’s been like. Do you think I survived this long by being spontaneous?” she pointed out. “I learned to be controlled and careful at a very early age.”


They both knew who and what she was talking about. “I learned that you can’t always trust people who keep secrets the hard way. Plus, you have to carefully guard the secrets that you do keep. For your sake and the sake of the people you care about.”


She turned and walked back to him, grabbing his hand and laying it on her abdomen.

“I’ve lived my whole life around people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help anyone if there wasn’t a personal advantage for them in it,” she said softly.

“I know it’s been hard,” the former Corsair noted, trying to hide how much her strong grip was beginning to hurt.

“No, you don't,” she sighed, letting him go and walking back to her desk. “You can't. Any other woman in the galaxy having a miracle like this dropped in their lap, they’d already be spreading their … I mean, exploiting their newfound good fortune.”


He chuckled in spite of himself. Miranda Lawson tried to be elegant, even when what she wanted to say was crude, and never mind that her words were most-likely true. “But me?” she sighed, tired of trying to entertain her own paranoia. “All I can think about is what’s in this for them? Why would Harris and Rosenberg be doing this? What do they get out of it?”

“I don’t think Xander wants anything from you.”

“That’s what scares me, Jacob. If Harris and Rosenberg can do what they do just for kicks, then what do you think they are capable of doing when they have a plan?”

“Harris doesn’t strike me as a plans kind of guy.”

“No, I suppose he doesn’t. Who are these people, Jacob? What are they?”

“Our last, best hope,” he shrugged. “From the way they were talking, they need our help as much as we need theirs.”


Gathering her up in a tight hug, he added, “I know what you are though, Miranda Lawson. You’re methodical and rational to an insane degree, but you are also passionate in your beliefs.”


She rested her head on his shoulders as he kept talking. “If there’s anything you believe in, more than this mission or Cerberus, it’s that you want to be a mother. I think you’ll make a great mom, especially since you have your dad to thank for showing you how not to be a parent.”

When he pulled away, he noticed that she was smirking at him. “Does Kasumi go for this sort of cheesiness?” she jibed.

“The abs help,” he chuckled. “You would not believe the stuff that I get away with, thanks to these abs.”


Moving back to sit down in her chair, she smiled. “I think that you’ll make a great dad. No, not because of the math; you’ll make a great dad because you have it in you to be one.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Lawson.”

“You’re welcome, Mister Taylor. Now, you should get going, I have some things to do before we reach Ilium.”

“You say anything to your sister?”

“Of course not,” she retorted. “Oriana doesn’t need to know about such matters. My life is complicated enough without burdening her with this nonsense.”

“Miranda, this kid’s gonna have the galaxy’s greatest mother,” he reproached her. “Don’t you think she deserves its greatest aunt as well?”

“Jacob, the way my life is now, I was just going to have a child and then look for adoptive parents; same way I take care of Oriana.”

“Miranda, you’ve fought too long and too hard for this to just let some stranger come in. I think you should take care of it yourself.”

The genetically-engineered woman was quiet for a while. Finally, she said, “I’ll think about it. Good night, Jacob.”

“Good night, Miranda.”

As he finally left her office, she stared at the spot where he’d just been standing. With their post-breakup relationship amicable, there was still something about this meeting that had felt like a goodbye.


Turning back to her computer terminal, she saw a message light blinking insistently. A strange, uneasy feeling ran down into her gut, and she opened it quickly. Was it news about the tissue viability?


Had they found something? Was the miracle not all that it had seemed to be?


No… her contact Lanteia was alerting her that evacuating Oriana’s family was proceeding as planned.


The problem being that she hadn’t set up any evacuation.
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