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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)BHRamsayFR1864310,83929384129,62416 Jan 1226 Sep 13No

The Prodigal (1)

Thanks to Reikson and Drakependragon for all the support
Miranda: The Prodigal (1)
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Joker cursed as the Normandy shuddered as it came out of FTL and cruised towards Illium at leisurely speed. Xander had taken up a spot in the cockpit, settling down at the copilot’s chair and looking entirely too casual for his own good.

“Hey, Joker. Bit of a rough ride, don’t ya think?” the Scooby commented.

Moreau shrugged. “Shepard ain’t complaining.”

“Shepard’s got an afterglow they can see from the planet surface; she wouldn't complain about you diving the ship into a supernova, the mood she’s in.” Xander grunted, rolling his eyes.

“…and, best of all, she and the Doc did it on the Broker’s ship like I said would happen!” Joker was almost beside himself with glee. “You lose! You gotta pay up."

“CO is on deck.” EDI suddenly announced, halting whatever argument might have erupted.

Everyone in the CIC straightened up. Xander glanced meaningfully at Joker, who grunted in irritation but said nothing as Shepard joined them.

“ETA to Nos Astra?” she was all business.

“Five minutes.” Joker grunted. “Ten if they hit us with the usual paperwork.”

“Doctor T’Soni assures me that local red tape won’t be a problem.”

“…and how’s the Doc feeling this morning?” Xander asked.

“Doctor T’Soni’s quite well, Mister Harris.” Shepard grunted, “Thank you for your concern.”
Noting the satisfied grin on his face, Joan looked at him suspiciously. “Is there any particular reason that you’re inquiring after her health?”

“You and Liara are very good friends,” Xander shrugged. “I’m concerned about your happiness.”

Joan looked from Joker to Xander, both trying way too hard not to look directly at her.

“Something I should know about, boys?” she finally demanded.

“Everything’s a-okay,” her best friend observed, a little too innocently.

She rolled her eyes and stalked away from the cockpit, muttering something about men and a thirteen-year long cold shower.

Xander activated his omnitool, authorizing a credit transfer.

“Nice doin’ business with you, Xander.” Joker chirped cheerfully.

“What’s the good of her having that cool cabin if she never uses it?” Xander groaned.

“Double or nothing?”

“Fine, double or nothing. I’m still betting the cabin.”

“I’m feeling lucky. The Citadel Presidium; embassy suites.”

Xander grumbled something in Arabic before nodding in agreement.

The Normandy touched down on Illium with little grumbling from its aggravated pilot.

Once they landed, Joan pretended not to hear Joker’s annoyed moaning about flying them from one end the galaxy to the other like he was a glorified taxi driver.

Xander chuckled in spite of himself. “Joker without porn is a little scary,” he observed.

“He’ll handle it.” Shepard shrugged unsympathetically. “Self-denial’s good for everyone.”

They were walking through Nos Astra with Miranda, who kept glancing around nervously.

“Relax, Lawson, your contact said they’d meet us in the Eternity Lounge,” Joan reminded her. “What’s this about, anyway?”

“You remember me telling you about my father?”

“The asshat who thinks that cutting-edge genetics is the path to a better father-daughter relationship?” Xander observed.

Miranda snorted in spite of herself. Shepard must have found time to give Xander the bare bones of her origin, which certainly explained his covert ogling of her as of late. “The very same man, yes. When I ran away from him and joined Cerberus, I spoiled his plans to create a lasting legacy; something for which he’d be remembered and revered for.”

Shepard sighed as Xander swelled indignantly on everyone’s behalf. “Has this guy never heard of charity?” he asked. “Or, you know, not being a raging douche nozzle? It’s worked wonders for me.”

“Not all of us had the good fortune to stumble into a centuries-old battle against the forces of evil and darkness.” Miranda reproached him sharply.

Xander quirked an eyebrow at her words. “Lawson, trust me when I say that I didn’t feel fortunate at the time.”

He looked over at Shepard, who just shrugged expansively. She still hadn’t found the source of Miranda’s ongoing irritation with Xander.

“When I ran, I left with my sister Oriana,” the genetically-engineered woman sighed, stopping for a moment to lean against a nearby wall. “Ever since then, my father’s been hunting both of us.”

“So that’s why you’re working for TIMMY?”

“Yes, TIMMY- I mean, the Illusive Man-” Shepard found herself smirking at Miranda’s mangled neologism. Xander had managed to corrupt another one. “He promised to dedicate Cerberus resources to keeping Oriana safe as long as I did his bidding.”

When Xander opened his mouth to ask, she cut him off. “…and, no, Mister Harris, he didn’t actually use the word ‘bidding’ with me.”

Xander’s face fell as Shepard chuckled at his affected misery. “I’m assuming that things have changed?”

“I’ve received word that my father has found Oriana and her family.” Miranda was all but growling. “They’re being moved to safety because her foster-father’s been reassigned to a cushy job on Noveria, courtesy of yours truly, and we’re here to make sure that none of his agents interfere.”

“So what do you need from us, Lawson?” Shepard asked.

“My father has hired mercenaries to snatch Oriana. I was hoping-”

“Say no more,” Joan nodded. “Xander, I want all hands on deck. Garrus and his sniper team covers the commercial spaceport. Jacob puts his people near the shuttle bays. Get Jack and Morinth and tell them to meet us at the transportation hub on the double.”

“Jack?” Miranda exclaimed. “She hates me, and Morinth’s still recovering from her injuries; she can’t even use biotics.”

“Jack wants nothing more than to be able to hold it over you that you needed her help, which means that she’ll be motivated in a way few others will.” Shepard shrugged. “Even without biotics, Morinth’s easily a capable warrior. Trust me, we’ll keep Oriana safe.”

“Okay, so what am I doing, boss?” Xander asked.

“I want you running tech support on the ground team with Lawson and me.” Joan replied.

“What about Simone?” Xander wanted to know.

“I want her on Jacob’s team.” Joan replied

“Then shouldn't I be babysitting her?” Xander offered.

“She’s on Jacob’s security detail,” the Spectre-Slayer shrugged.

“But-” Xander began but Shepard cut him off.

“She’s a Slayer, and that makes her one of two things,” she explained decisively, holding up a hand. “Either she’s a powerful addition to the ground team, or a ticking time bomb. I'm not gonna be able to find out which one she is when the two of you are busy glaring daggers at each other.”

“I’m just a little worried about Jacob, actually.” Xander grunted. “Simone’s a not exactly a team player, self confessed I might add. Things might not turn out well.”

Shepard rolled her eyes. “You tell Jacob that if she so much as spits in a direction he didn’t point her in, I’ll want to know about it. Then tell Simone the same thing.”

Xander nodded, and Shepard turned back to Miranda. “Okay, so where’s this contact of yours, Lawson?”

As if on cue, a purple-skinned Asari stepped up to their table, greeting Miranda first as she swept a casually-assessing gaze at her companions. “This is Lanteia, one of my contacts here on Illium,” the genetically-engineered woman said by way of introduction. “Lanteia, this is Commander Joan Shepard and Xander Harris.”

The Asari shook their proffered hands enthusiastically. "Miss Lawson has briefed me about both of you.”

“There was a briefing?” Xander wondered. “Were there slides? For my money, it’s not a real briefing unless there are slides.”

Miranda turned to him, looking bemused. “No slides as such, but there were a few pictures.” She prodded her omnitool and brought up a holographic display showing a grainy vid-cap image of Xander’s face.

The Scooby groaned in dismay at the image. “You got my bad side in this,” he whined.

Joan noticed Lanteia unabashedly checking Xander out, as many Asari inevitably seemed to. “Lanteia, you might want to take a vid-cap with your omnitool,” she all but growled in defense of her best male friend. “It’ll last longer that way.”

Lanteia flushed darkly at having been caught, quickly getting down to business. “Miss Lawson, I’ve got good news on the project that you wanted an update on; we have full and sustained viability.”

“Thank you, Lanteia.” Miranda seemed elated by the news, making Xander suspicious. “On another note, have you any news about Oriana’s transfer?”

“Niket arranged everything, we only learned about this by sheer chance.” Lanteia reported, taking a pull from a hip flask. “I would’ve contacted you earlier, but he’s listed as a trusted source.”

“Who’s Niket?” Joan asked.

“He’s a friend. He works for my father, but once he saw what my father had planned for me, he helped me run away.”

“…and then kept working for the old man. Ballsy.” Xander observed.

“Niket knows his own mind and my father isn’t stupid.” Miranda reproached him sharply, a rare display of emotion that had him quirking an eyebrow, Spock-style.

“Men of Niket’s caliber are hard to come by and even harder to replace.”

“So what’s he need us there for, then?” Shepard interjected.

“Niket can handle himself fine; it’s the Eclipse merc band that we need to concern ourselves with.” Miranda shook her head.

“Eclipse mercs?” Shepard snorted. “Daddy Lawson doesn’t mess around.”

Lawson nodded grimly. “My father always did look for the best, even if that doesn’t say much with PMC’s. The Eclipse group will be a problem, but we have one very important advantage; they don’t know what they’re up against, and they have no idea that we’re coming for them.”

“…and this is supposed to scare them how, exactly?” Xander asked.

“Well, not to feed your egos,” Miranda teased, smirking slightly. “…but I’d be a little scared if I saw Commander Shepard and her suicide squad coming for me.”

8
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8

The aircar streaked low over Nos Astra. Long-standing Normandy tradition all but demanded that Xander man the wheel, as Shepard’s driving was notoriously risky.

“Well, this is all kinds of fun in the sun,” Jack snorted. ”Exactly the way I pictured spending my night, carting Pretty Princess around to collect her Pretty Princess Sister.”

Xander snorted, rolling his eyes. “Tonight’s role of catty bitch is being played by the one and only Jack. Accept no substitutes.”

“How charming, Alexander.” Morinth sneered from where she was sitting next to the bald biotic.

“Is it Xander or Alexander?” Miranda suddenly asked, quite randomly.

“It’s Xander to his friends.” Morinth shot back. “We’re not friends.”

“…and here I was, thinking that we had something special.” Xander observed snidely. “I’m hurt. You go and act like this after all we’ve shared while you were, you know, brain-frying me?” His voice was cold, his tone callous. Nobody in the aircar could ever remember hearing that disregard from him before. As always, he had hidden depths that just kept on surprising people.

“I never asked for your help, or for your little friend to neuter me.” Morinth hissed.

“But Shepard asked for my help,” he sniped back, his voice light and malicious. “Last I checked, you’re all about giving Shepard whatever she wants. Its like the highlight of your day.”

”…and I can’t begin to convey my deep love of being spoken about as if I wasn’t in the damn car.” Shepard sighed. She really did appreciate Xander being her wingman, but she also couldn’t help but wonder if he’d felt like this when Buffy and Willow had tried to exclude him from their demon-killing efforts.

“So I get why I’m here; a little psychotic-biotic action and all, but what’s with Morrie?” Jack wanted to know. “I thought she was on injured reserve.”

“Even without biotics Morinth’s an experienced capable warrior. I want her help,” was Joan’s curt reply.

“Look, Shepard, if you wanna hang out with a gimp player on the field then don’t let me stop you.” the bald biotic rolled her eyes. “But if shit gets real, I’m gonna be runnin’ myself ragged covering her ass along with you and Xander.”

“Girl, I was born when your people were still huddling around candlelight and figuring out the finer points of personal hygiene.” Morinth snarled. “I can assure you that my weapons training far exceed anything that you’ve picked up on the streets.”

Jack glared at her but turned to Shepard. “Is it just me, or is the gimp calling me out?”

“I think Morinth’s reminding you that she’s enough of a combat vet that she can hit the broadside of a barn with something other than a warp field.” Shepard grunted. “Oh, look; tonight’s understudy in the role of catty bitch will be played by ME.”

“Cut the chatter, the spaceport’s up ahead.” Miranda snapped.

“We’re on the clock, people,” Shepard nodded. “Lawson's tactical. How do we play this?”

“Jacob’s team is covering Oriana’s transport off-world, while Garrus and the others will be covering the spaceport and will provide tactical support as needed." Miranda rattled off, ever the consummate professional. “We… are the distraction. We give Niket enough time to get Oriana’s family to the transport.”

Xander sighed. “So our plan is to keep the Eclipse band so busy shooting at us that they don’t notice the incredibly-valuable asset walking out the back door along with what I’m sure is a substantial bonus.”

“I like it.” Shepard interjected. “Nice, simple, and with very few moving parts.”

“Simple? Simple-minded, more like.” Xander grumbled.

Joan ignored him. “Team Two, we’re making our final approach,” she said through her omni-tool. “Garrus, don't do anything ’til you get my signal.”

“What's your signal?” the vigilante asked.

“I’m betting you'll know it when you see it.” Shepard chuckled. “Team Three, cover the exits and keep an eye out for Miranda’s contact.”

“Understood.” Jacob answered.

“How’s the newbie?”

“Simone’s minding her P’s and Q’s,” Jacob reported, glancing at the farm-girl with the Geth pulse-rifle in her arms. “She’d rather be down there in the shuttle port with you, but she’s being a good girl.”

Shepard nodded, closing her eyes. When they opened again, their cold grey depths took in the battlefield with a clinical and assessing glare.

An A-61 Mantis gunship hovered over the docking cradle as a veritable cadre of Eclipse mercs streamed into the area.

“Xander, come in low. Let them get a good look at us.” Joan nodded toward a clear spot close to the gunship.

“…and my sympathy for the sitting duck suddenly goes up another notch.” Xander sighed.

He guided the airtaxi down, landing it close to the mercs already drawing weapons on them as Miranda was the first to step out of the car.

To Xander , Lawson looked like she’d stepped out of a Bond film. as she strode across the platform. “Since you haven’t opened fire, I assume you already know who I am.” the lethal rage in her words made her sound cold and severe, even for her.

The mercs parted ranks to reveal a middle-aged man in Eclipse tech-armor stepping forward; their unofficial spokesman. Xander was amazed to see that he actually had a genuine bad-guy swagger in his gait; a fine mix of undeserved pride and overconfidence that usually made for disposable mooks.

He’d admit it; he missed those good old days.

“Yeah, we know you,” the man sneered. “You’re the bitch that kidnapped our client’s little girl.”

“Kidnapped?” Miranda snorted, suddenly feeling everyone else’s eyes on her. “I don’t think so. If you’re smart, you’ll take your men and go.”

“If they were smart, they wouldn't be working for Jona Sederis.” Morinth sneered. “I’ve seen rabid varren with more self-restraint.”

“You're wasting your time,” the Eclipse mook sneered. “We already know about Niket, and he won’t be helping you anytime soon. Captain Enyala told us to give you one chance to walk away. After that, it gets really messy.”

“Look, maybe we should be talking about this with Captain Enyala.” Xander interjected.

“Hey, Junior, the grownups are talking,” the tech-armored merc snapped. “Captain Enyala would tear a little wannabe like you in half. I’ve seen her do it.”

Xander paused, blinking. Then he turned to Shepard. “He called me Junior.”

Shepard sighed in exasperation. “Xander, we’re following Miranda’s lead on this one.”

“He called me Junior.”

She noticed that look in his eye, and rolled her eyes. “Look, I don’t usually repeat myself with two-cred mercs like you,” she snapped at the Eclipse mook. “Walk away now, or things start getting ugly very quickly.”

The tech-armored mook only sneered at her. “This whole time we’ve been talking, my people have been lining up shots. The second I give the signal, they unleash Hell.”

Morinth suddenly reached forward with blinding speed, grabbing the merc with both hands and snapping his neck in the blink of an eye. Pulling a pair of M-4 Shuriken semi-autos free, she opened fire with a blistering hailstorm of bullets as Miranda and Shepard both pulled out their M-12 Locusts and let loose.

Several mercs suddenly dropped in seconds, felled by sniper rounds fired with deadly accuracy. “I'm guessing Garrus figured out what the signal was.” Shepard deadpanned.

“Plans going straight to Hell in five minutes or less.” Xander growled. “Just like the bad old days, the all-or-nothing days.”

His Collector particle cannon already expanded, he joined the battle.

Shepard moved fast, faster than anyone could’ve imagined. She leapt to the top of several packing crates, landing amongst several mercs and promptly tore them apart with a combination of lethal speed, martial arts, and her omniblade flashing in the harsh light of the docking cradle.

Morinth broke past Xander as he dealt with a nasty Vanguard. Dashing across the docking cradle, the Ardat-Yakshi fired at several mercs with her machine-pistols and drew their attention to her.

Shepard looked down and noticed her. “What the Hell is she doing?” she hissed as the Asari ignored the bullets streaking around her like flying raindrops.

Morinth pressed her determined attack. Suddenly, she noticed the cherry-red glow of a laser sight crawling up her body as it came to rest over her heart.

Suddenly, a familiar surge rose from within her. She could feel it; the impact of a bullet against a biotic shield.

Her biotic barrier…

Morinth closed her eyes with relish.

There it was: the warmth.

Goddess, it’d only been a few days and she’d all but forgotten what the power felt like.

Shepard saw Morinth standing motionless in a hail of bullets. Then she saw the tendrils of dark energy rising like smoke from the Ardat-Yakshi’s body.

“That crazy bitch!” she snarled. Noticing another merc lining up a shot, she looked around and quickly noticed a knife in the boot of a Trooper that she’d just killed.

Quickly picking up the blade, she flipped it over to grab the tip before hurling it at the merc’s weapon. The raw force of her throw sheared the weapon in two.

Just then, the cloud of dark energy dimmed and receded. “No…” Morinth groaned. “I had it back… I was whole again!” she screamed, raising her Shuriken pistols. Firing at the retreating mercs, she gunned them down mercilessly and chased down the last of them near an elevator. The cowering man leveled his M-8 Avenger at her, shaking in fear.

“Come on.” Morinth hissed. “Do it. Fire, you primate bastard! Try to kill me!”

The man blubbered, dropping his weapon as he began pleading for his life. Morinth’s eyes widened at the display, and shock warred with her disgust. Holstering her weapons, she stalked back to Shepard and the others.

“What’s wrong?” Jack snapped. “I thought you wanted to get your kill on.”

“What the Hell was that all about, Morrie?” Xander demanded, his eyes flashing. “Why'd you suddenly go all Butch and Sundance on us like that?!?”

“Uneducated guess? Her biotic control seems to have been routed through the fight-or-flight response section of her brain.” Shepard reported.

“Meaning… what?” Xander asked, feeling a cold burst of familiarity. “Her biotics only work if someone’s trying to kill her?”

Joan nodded. “Apparently, she needs biotics so bad that she’s willing to risk her life for it.”

“You’re mundane; you don't know what it’s like.” Morinth shot back.

“I get it, Morinth; losing biotics is like losing a limb.” Shepard rolled her eyes.

“No, it’s not just losing a limb!” Morinth shouted angrily. “Imagine waking up blind or deaf, or unable to speak!”

None of her squadmates seemed inclined to answer her. “You can’t know what it was like , Shepard. What if the only way you could see your precious Doctor again, to hear the sound of her laughter as you held her, was one little thing…” she raised a Shuriken and then trained it on the cowering merc. “Would you be so noble then?”

“I've killed before, Morinth,” the Spectre snapped. She absolutely refused to entertain the slightest inkling of the Ardat-Yakshi’s hypothetical scenario; it was too much of a nightmare to take into consideration.

“…and what if it wasn’t just killing?” the rogue whispered. “What if you had to maim or torture someone?”

She shook her head. “I used to do what I did to the people I hurt so I could amuse myself.”

Then she chuckled bitterly. “But now? Now… I only really breathe when I'm fighting. The harder I fight, the more I feel alive.”

Joan Lisbon Shepard just shook her head. “This was a mistake,” she said finally. “You're obviously still trying to get your head together after what happened to you. You want to see outside the Normandy again, you talk to Chambers and she’d better like what she hears.”

Morinth was ready to protest, but Shepard affixed her with a cold glare. The rogue Ardat-Yakshi swallowed her words and only nodded.

Part of her wanted to rage and curse.

How dare Shepard treat her like some lowly grunt with PTSD?

But the predator within heard a note of disappointment in Shepard’s voice.

Shepard had assumed that Morinth was stronger than this, and was annoyed at being proved wrong.

Morinth tried to ignore the way her heart started to ache, deep within her.

Could it be a desire to please?

What was it about this woman that made her approval so important?

But the answer was all too obvious to Morinth.

In Shepard, Morinth had found a kindred spirit; a fellow monster, albeit one in denial.

Morinth saw it then. Shepard needed her to be strong, to be in control.

Because if Morinth could overcome this trial and become stronger for it, then Shepard could finally make peace with the dark thing inside herself that still drew Morinth to her like a moth to a flame.

Snapping out of her thoughts, she noticed that the rest of the squad was listening to a spare comlink and the voice of Enyala coming over their comms.

“What do you mean, we lost contact with the team?!?” Enyala was shouted. “Are you telling me that she killed two full squads of mercs?!? Do you know what Sederis will do to me if she hears about this?”

“We’re redeploying along the only route she can take to get up here!” Some random mook protested. “What should we do about the girl?”

“Niket’s arranging transportation off-world. Just keep the bitch off our back for a few more minutes and we can all retire off the bonus we’re getting from this job.”

The comlink cut off, but the words had left their mark.

“Niket’s working with Eclipse?” Miranda mumbled in confusion. “But… but that makes no sense. He has to know what father will do to Oriana.”

“Why do they keep calling her a kid?” Xander wanted to know. At Miranda’s fierce glare, he added, “I mean, isn’t Oriana your twin sister?”

“Oriana’s my twin, genetically speaking, but I took her when she was a baby.”

“Goddamn Cerberus bitch, of course she stole a baby.” Jack snarled.

“Lawson?” Shepard interjected quietly. “Care to explain?”

“I wasn't the first daughter that my father created; I was just the first one that he’d actually kept.” Miranda snapped mulishly. “I made the right choice.”

“Yeah, I’m sure life in the lap of freakin’ luxury would’ve been so much worse.” Jack snorted.

“You have no idea what it was like. I had no friends, and I was pushed to meet impossible demands,” the genetically-engineered woman snarled. “I wasn’t his daughter, I was a bloody trophy. Less than a person; I was a tool.”

Scoffing, she leaned against the elevator shoulder-first. Every inch of her posture screamed resentment. “Hell, the man would even trot me out to show me off for his friends during his business dinners, bragging about how much of a great father he was because his work allowed me to be better than every other kid I knew.”

“I get that you hated it, Lawson, but… taking the kid?”

“Shepard, he’d have done the exact same things to her that he’d done to me. Oriana didn’t deserve that sort of treatment. She has a normal life now, with normal parents who care about her and support her.”

“So… she’s your twin sister?”

“Father created her when I was a teenager. She was going to be my… replacement. I was already thinking about leaving, but discovering her only cemented my decision.”

“I gotta say… I'm finding Daddy Big-Bucks real easy to hate.” Xander drawled.

Morinth cleared her throat. “Not to be crass, but shouldn’t the betrayal of Lawson’s minion be of greater concern?”

“I… I don’t know what it means,” the genetically-engineered woman shook her head.

“What exactly does he know about you?” Shepard asked. “I mean, what does he knew about what you do with your time?”

“Nothing,” Miranda shook her head. “Nobody with any knowledge of Oriana would know about my Cerberus activities, and vice-versa.”

“Can't help but wonder if that’s changed recently…” Xander observed grimly.
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