"There's no other bloody way out of this room?! Who the hell comes up with these layouts? They're fired!" Miranda fumed, typing furiously at her omni-tool. The door in front of her and Garrus was blinking with red, holographic lock symbols. Shifting, dancing. Taunting. A giant, flat, metal Christmas tree of crimson, blinking X's in the middle of O's.

Garrus banged at the door with the butt of his sniper rifle for the umpteenth time. "This thing isn't going to budge. What the hell is Shepard doing out there? Do you know what happened to her?" He glanced down to his Cerberus teammate.

Miranda didn't look up from her attempted hacking work. "No idea. I was in charge of Project Lazarus. I don't know anything more about Project Overlord than you or Shepard. Well…you, now, at this point." She hit an execute key and glanced to the door. "Shit! Nothing I'm trying is working."

"Now I really wish I would have taken those grenades Zaeed offered me." Garrus took a step back and leaned his weight on one leg, blinking at the door. "At the time, Omega market knock-offs didn't seem like the best idea."

Miranda whirled and examined the large display that Shepard had interacted with before stumbling out the door without a word. She sprinted over and started typing. "Whatever virus is in the system must be preoccupied now."

"No creepy green face?" Garrus came up behind her and glanced over her shoulder.

"No." Miranda pulled up a more detailed layout of the building than what her omni-tool had clearance for. She gave a strangled grunt of frustration and banged her fists on the console. "All the air shafts out of here are too small."

"Well here's something." The turian pointed to a large, central chamber. Into the hall behind the impossibly locked door, to the right, and down a level. "Look at all the hardware wired to that room. Shepard must be there."

"Good thinking." Miranda pushed dark bangs from her yellow HUD holographic visor with her armored hand, squinting at the perimeter observation interface on the console in front of her. "Great," she muttered. "Just…bloody fantastic."

"What is it?"

"Another shuttle landed approximately ten minutes ago."

"Doctor Archer, maybe? Am I the only one who gets a serious case of the creeps from that guy?"

Miranda balled up her fists and pressed her knuckles to the metal under the haptic interface display, attempting to push back her feelings. Something was off. Terribly off about this place, Doctor Gavin Archer, the entire project. "No," she said quietly. Ignoring her instincts about people wasn't the way to stay alive. "No, you're not."

The harsh, overhead lights flickered for a moment before dimming. They both whipped their heads toward the door. No glow showing it was locked or unlocked.

"About time we had some good luck!" Garrus shouted, running back to the door and jamming the barrel of his sniper into the center of the sliding plates. He grunted and threw himself against it, using it like a lever, prying it open a few feet. "Remind me to have Shepard get me another one," he huffed, Miranda grabbing another section. Her biotics flared and the plates sprang open. "Spirits know she stops and hacks every damn terminal we ever come across," he continued as they ran down the hall and to the right.

Miranda glanced at the first geth body they passed. "Dammit, she was out here alone!"

Garrus put a hand on her shoulder as they continued running. "We were doing everything we could, Lawson."

"It wasn't enough."

Two more rooms full of dead geth and opened crates and wall safes.

"Yep," Garrus said as they passed the second safe, "I'm definitely guilt-tripping her into a new sniper."

"Come on, there's a staircase over here. It'll be faster than waiting for the elevator." She pointed to a door behind what had once been a work station. Her stomach churned at the blood spatter on the metal and the wall as they shoved through it much like they had out of the large room before.

Their omni-tools pulled up flashlights as their feet pounded down the stairs. They could hear two voices.

Thank God, Miranda thought. Shepard's alright.

They burst through a maintenance door on the lower level. Miranda held up a hand, signaling Garrus to wait until her gun was out. She checked the thermal clip, nodded, and they started smoothly into the huge, circular room. Shepard and Gavin Archer were to their right, in front of a convoluted jumble of tubes and metal. They continued toward the other two before glancing up toward the curious machine above them.

"Oh…my…" Miranda couldn't finish her thought as they spotted what was in the mess of wires and spikes.


A man. A young man, suspended several feet above a wide, glowing panel in the floor.

A metal halo with sunrays of spikes wrapped around his head; three small, metal claws kept each of his eyes open. His arms stretched outward from his pale, bare, body, five rods through both forearms. Two thick, ribbed, metal tubes were jammed into his mouth, and a silver cylinder started at his waist and extended to just above his knees, covering at least part of his nakedness.

"No! Leave him! He's too valuable!"

Two gunshots snapped both Miranda and Garrus back into reality, guns pointing toward Shepard and Archer. The commander turned and seemed to contemplate something for a moment before backhanding him. Hard. The doctor stumbled backward, space quickly closed as Shepard followed him.

A cool finger of dread trailed down Miranda's spine at the look in Shepard's eyes; normally sparkling, lighthearted. They were dark, ominous, now. There was no mercy in them for Gavin Archer, as his nose would currently attest; blood fountaining down his upper lip. Shepard's pistol jabbed at the bottom of his jaw.

"You even think about coming after your brother, and this bullet will be waiting for you. Then we'll see who's valuable," Shepard growled. Her eyes flicked to Garrus and Miranda over Gavin's shoulder. She nodded toward them before holstering her gun and turning again to the young man.

David. David Archer, Miranda remembered. God, what did they do to you? What did…what did we do to you?

"Where will you take him?" Gavin prodded.

Shepard glanced over her shoulder, obviously disgusted by his continued existence in the same space. "None of your damn business. And the Illusive Man can fire me if he doesn't like it." She pressed her fingers to her ear. "Joker, we're going to need the med bay prepped for an arrival." She held out her free hand as Gavin turned to go, stopping him. "Send an extra support staff or two of Chakwas' in the pick-up shuttle."

"Everything all right down there, Commander?"

"Garrus, Miranda, and I are fine," she answered. "That remains to be seen about the one we're picking up."

"Copy that. I'll send word to Chakwas and the shuttle pilot. ETA fifteen minutes."

Shepard looked to Miranda and Garrus. "Let's get him down."

/ / /

"Mister Evasive Needledick isn't answering!" Shepard whirled as the doors to the briefing room opened to Miranda. She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder. "You'd think fifteen pings—all in a row—would piss someone off just enough to answer and tell the caller to leave them the hell alone!"

"Shepard—" Miranda started forward.

"EDI, try it again!" Shepard waved her off, turning back to the panel that had slid into the floor.

"Shepard." Miranda finally crossed into the room and grabbed the woman's right arm. "Stop. It's useless. He's not going to answer."

"You don't know th—"

"I do."

Shepard stopped and studied the woman's profile for a moment. "You've been trying, too, haven't you?"

She nodded. "However, I believe I win—twenty-six to fifteen."

The commander let out a long sigh and rubbed at the back of her neck with her left hand. Miranda suddenly realized she was still holding an arm hostage and let go. Shepard sank to the ground and flopped an arm over her eyes.

"Uh…Commander?" Miranda raised an eyebrow.

"Is that how people see me? Willing to justify any means for an end?"

It took a moment for Miranda to make the parallels with her seemingly unrelated question. Gavin Archer, necessity…Overlord. Shepard, necessity…Torfan. She knew Shepard winced every time someone said the name; looked away, ashamed. "Probably."

Shepard rolled onto her stomach and plopped her forehead against the cool floor. "At least you're honest."

"Until they actually meet you and realize you're an impossibly hard-headed archetype of decency, with frustratingly upstanding morals." Miranda crossed her arms. When it was apparent Shepard wasn't moving any time soon, she crouched next to her and hesitantly put a hand on her shoulder. "Shepard. Come on. We still have two dossiers to recruit." She surprised herself at the warmth in her voice…it was gentle.

"What do you think about Project Overlord?" She turned her head toward the woman and rested her cheek on the floor, scars still glowing, but at least beginning to close. Chakwas was still working on finding out how to fix them…but had been distracted the day before with David.

Miranda knew because she'd been in the med bay, holding his hand as he babbled off square roots before finally falling into a blissfully unaware sleep from the drugs Chakwas gave him, until they arrived at Grissom Academy that morning and saw him off. She shook her head. "I don't have time to think about it, Shepard."

"It was Cerberus."

"I…" she stopped and rubbed at her forehead. "I don't know, alright? I don't know what I think."

Shepard nodded. "Tell Joker to plot a course for Purgatory," she said quietly. "I'll figure out who's coming with later."

"Ever the procrastinator."

"I blame you." Shepard offered a wry grin.

"Oh, you were one long before I rebuilt you." Miranda stood and started for the door, then turned as Shepard didn't follow suit. "Commander?"

She waved her on. "Just go."

"Are you…going to be alright? Should I send Chambers in here?"


"No to which question?"

Shepard picked her head up and gave her a blank stare. "Purgatory. Please."

"Aye-aye." Miranda couldn't help but stare for a few moments as Shepard rolled so her back was to the door. She started murmuring something that Miranda strained to hear.

"Corporal Nolan Adams. Gunnery Sergeant Mark Ager. Sergeant Paul Allen. First Sergeant Sarah Amarano. Corporal John Anslo. Staff Sergeant…"

Miranda let the door slide shut. Torfan casualties from her squad.