This is the first chapter of an idea that has been stewing in my head for a good while. This fanfiction is written by a fan rather pissed about the ending of Mass Effect 3, but I understand the reasons why Bioware had to scramble to fill in plot when the lead writer got kicked off the series.
So, let me present to you Living An Indoctrinated Dream. Mass Effect with Ego.
If you wanted me to apologize, you would have brought a lawyer.
The feeling of a bullet passing through your head is quite surreal. Surreal right until your nerves that let you know that you are hurt start screaming out to let you know that you have been hurt. Shepard's bullet passed right through the frontal lobes, and unfortunately due to his reaper hardware he had installed, he had a much better response system installed behind his eyes. He jerked his head as the bullet broke through his improved skull, the grain sized piece of burning hot metal, inferno ammo, Her favorite, burned its way at a different angle. Thanks to his involuntary head twitching, the bullet then impacted his spine, passing relatively safely through the rest of his head. So he had a perfect view of her as she lowered her gun, and dragged her broken body over towards Anderson's.
He consciously turned off his nervous system, as with a burnt and broken spine there wasn't much point to having it on. More importantly, it turned off the pain that he was receiving. Sometimes there were benefits to the Reaper hardware. Thanks to the chat he just had with Shepard, he finally realized the consequences of those. At that time he didn't really want to think about it, but now he had a lot more time to think about it. His mouth wouldn't move, but he could shift his eyes around. He watched as Shepard and Anderson had their last little chat. He wished he could insert some commentary. Content to watch as Shepard got a seat for the final battle of Humanity, Jack Harper reflected on all of this.
His goals for Cerberus, his life's work, had been subverted by the enemy. The moment he implanted himself with those eyes he knew something had changed. He had thought that he had it under control. Looking back, he could see a clear path of small and simple decisions that showed the same Indoctrination that he had been looking for within the Citadel Council. He had found it, for certain, but only where his Reaper overlords wanted him to. He had been played like a cheap instrument, leading what should have been Humanity's brightest hope to become their darkest future. The future as it stood right now was not one that he would have wanted.
The Reapers had started the battle with about 1:2 odds against them. Right now it was looking more like 1:1. The Citadel forces were being systematically cut down before they could pierce the kinetic barriers of the Reaper Dreadnaughts. One by one the ships were falling, and burning up in earth's atmosphere. If Jack had the capacity to be angry, he would. The Reapers had removed his emotional responses from his mind, to better his ability to micromanage Cerberus. That didn't mean that he couldn't analyze the situation and pass his own judgement. Hell, this whole situation was a giant setup. The Reapers had the battle in their greedy little tentacles, and had agents in every single fleet. These agents could alert the Reapers to any plan that the allied forces were forming. He knew this because he made sure that these agents were in place. For Cerberus. For the Reapers.
His mind went through all of its capabilities. The only thing he had control of currently were his eyes, and his brain was slowly losing oxygen. He could probably act for the next minute or two before his brain lost enough blood that he would no longer function. The Reaper hardware was the only thing keeping him going. So, he had plenty of time to organize his life and all of his decisions. Without emotions to slow things down he could correctly say that he had been manipulated starting within the last ten years. So, when he helped found Cerberus it was under his own power and mental control. He wasn't manipulated then. That at least would give him something to smile about. If he could make his mouth do more than drool senselessly and let his lifeblood drain out. Poor hardware, to stop working when his spine was destroyed. Whose idea was that to have just one connecting point for all his hardware? Oh right. That one was actually his own choice. Now he wished he could grimace. Shepard had far too much practice shooting husks for his liking.
Speaking of Shepard, she had gotten up and was fiddling with the data uplink to the Citadel's core. He had been trying for hours to break in, so he didn't expect her to be able to go anywhere he couldn't. His eyes opened wider in surprise when the lift started working, but she hadn't even gotten past the login screen. He focused, his zoom enhancement focusing on the screen she was holding onto for support. It was showing the same screen that he himself had been stuck at. That meant that this lift wasn't rising from her input, but from an outside source. This all reeked of a trap.
The lift rose, stopping at the base of the citadel. All around him, he could see the fleets locked in a one sided slaughter. One Reaper was nearby, just sitting and observing the citadel. He knew this one. Harbinger, if he could guess. Harbinger was a larger Dreadnaught, and had two sets of main plasma burst weapons. It was a unique addition to the Reaper. Harbinger was sitting a comfortable distance away, content to observe. But to Jack, this all made him come to a realization. Just as he had been manipulated, Shepard was next. How much of the Lazarus Project was made up of Indoctrination pieces of cybernetics? Had Shepard already been compromised?
Judging by her lack of response to the stimulus around her, he had to assume she had been. This was all engineered by the Reapers to control the outcome, while letting the sentient species believe that they were making their own decisions. He knew how this would end, because the hardware in his brain was letting him process all of the facts, conjecture of Shepard's actions, and expectation of how a synthetic might react. The Catalyst, the entire goal of the Allied forces, had connected with the Citadel.
While under the control of the Reapers, he had been told to leave their little project alone. Now he knew why. It was another manipulation, just like the Mass Relays, the Citadel. It was all just another layer on their complete and total victory, making the newly-allied races spend and waste resources on it. Resources that could have been better spent making holdouts, or some other plan that led to the races escaping or such. However, the Catalyst was designed to interact with the citadel.
He was dying, and in his moment of death he could feel at least a little clarity return. Enough to recognize that whatever the Reapers were planning, they needed a sentient to initiate it. Shepard started talking into thin air, seemingly communicating with something in the chamber. He couldn't see anything. Further signs that she was Indoctrinated. Before he could consider anything further, she started walking towards an exposed power conduit. It was all the way on the left, and had sparks that looked remarkably like the red sparks that flowed off of the Reapers. She was delusional, walking towards the conduit with both hands outwards, reaching for the exposed cabling. That sounded remarkably like the Reapers getting what they wanted.
Time to do something about it. One thing that he had built into his head, considering his desire to process information, was another Omni-gel layer, allowing him to fit an Omni-tool into the space where his thyroid used to be. He had software to manage what had been removed. Hardware layers, too. Another layer that had been added was some offensive software. Specifically, a Heavy Overload package. He would have had to use it on Shepard to strip her of shields earlier, but when she arrived most of her hardsuit had been burnt off. So there was no need for it. Now, though, he accessed the software with his slowly dying brain. It was taking too long, but that might have been because he could hardly aim the ocular motors on his implants any more.
Still, Jack Harper had made his life a series of stunning victories. He had only had to kill someone directly three times. Anderson wasn't his choice of action, but he was technically the one pulling the trigger. He could take partial responsibility. Murder in the second degree, but most assuredly not the first or third. The other two were a bit more personal. Still, no sense getting nostalgic when you had a galaxy-wide plan to throw off. Just as Shepard came within range of the conduits, and the energy started arcing towards her, he activated his Heavy Overload. The small tech burst latched onto the conduit, and the sparks changed from their normal red to a deeper orange. Jack could safely assume it was a good thing, because in the background he could see the Reaper, Harbinger, almost get startled and try to charge the Citadel.
Jack couldn't smile, but he really, really wanted to right now. Shepard fell to the floor, mouth spasming and ears bleeding. Looks like the Lazarus Implants were rejecting her. She didn't deserve that. Too bad Miranda didn't go behind his back and put in a control mechanism like he hoped she would secretly do to spite him. Still, it would probably end in the same situation they were in right now. The Reapers would still have won, because all of his decisions were still being influenced by them at the time.
The last thing he saw was a sphere of oscillating colors rising from the Catalyst and rushing towards the Reapers. Including himself, of course. It looked like a grand mess. Shepard and he were both bleeding out on the ground, him from blood loss and her from convulsions as her artificial lung and heart implants failed and stopped pumping. He could appreciate the Reapers taking away his emotions at this point. They would have made him wretch or turn his head away from the energy as it rushed him, picking up speed and -
Melbourne, Australia, 2145
"Sir, stop twisting your head or you'll lose the other eye!" Someone was saying. "Stay still!" "Nurse, bring some restraints, we have to go into the nerve!"
"He's losing blood!"
"Found the bullet! Sinus cavity! Forceps!"
This was not the memory he wanted to have. But the pain was so real, it almost felt like it wasn't a memory, like he was back in Australia. The Reaper hardware should have filtered the pain out by now. He tried to blink, but something was holding his eye open. The other was a mass of pain, almost like there was a knife in there. Shoving his head forward, he could feel the jagged edge of a knife drag on the bone of his cheek. So there really was a knife there. But more importantly, he had not done that in the memory.
"Pinch that! He is losing more blood!"
"Forcep went through into the mouth, get a suture!"
"My Hell! Get that bullet out of him, now!"
That wasn't the script. He wasn't supposed to be seeing this. Yet here he was, on the operating table in Australia. He had gone hunting with his friend and associate, Henry Lawson. Things had gone poorly when Jack got gored. Then, an accident occurred in the worst form when he fired his gun and the bullet refracted and part of it went into his eye. Which lead to the operating table. Henry owned a medical firm that researched genome manipulation and artificial organ replacement. This included his own private hospital, where Jack was being worked over.
This was all during the 'Great Shift Forward' in technology that was happening as the Prothean archive on Mars divulged more and more data. Sometimes it was just fun to break out the old guns and use them. Much more sporting than a railgun system that was as easy as a video game to point and shoot. The mass effect allowed weaponry to change everything. Bullets still hurt, though.
Through the haze, something was forced over his mouth, making him feel drowsy. He supposed that if this was real, he should at least be a gentleman and stay still so they could fix him. But, knowing this must be some lucid dream or some form of afterlife, he had to keep some form of decorum. He breathed in more deeply, letting the cloudiness rush across his senses and take him far from the operating room. Hopefully the next lucid dream would be when he took home President Scott and her very beautiful aide. That was a much preferred memory.
Melbourne, Australia, 2145
"Henry, I am still not positive this is all real." Jack told his friend honestly. "This all feels like a lucid dream." They were in a hospital room that thankfully had a tint control of the windows from the bed, along with temperature control, and control over the door lock. Henry went to the very best of accommodations for his friend. They had been friends since the founding of Lawson Enterprises, when Henry got his first big fund from Jack's company. Jack had a huge host of companies all focused around the networking of capital and manpower. He could be classified as a Venture Capitalist, but at the same time was very different. He was a capitalist for any concern or opportunity that benefited humanity as a whole.
"That's the painkillers, Jack." Henry said, still apologetic about their trip. "You have been heard screaming at night. We have you on so much pain medicine that it is difficult to have you in a mindset that you can think clearly in."
"Oh I can think clearly, Henry." Jack said, speaking but unable to see. His remaining eye was behind a blindfold. "More clearly than ever."
Henry snorted. "I doubt that. But I do need your opinion. I have started cloning an eye for you. But my best doctor claims that it won't be as functional as your previous one for at least a year. The other option is to get some sort of cybernetic enhanced eyes. That would work faster and get you back on your feet. We can start the operation at any time. But first I need to know what you want. We both know your parents and siblings aren't around to advise me on this anymore."
More from Henry that didn't follow the script. Very interesting. This lucid dream was entertaining. Jack would at least let it play out, perhaps to see what the Reapers were doing this time. "The cybernetics sound useful, but I don't feel comfortable using them. I'll take a real eye any day." There. His first real action to throw off the timeline. In the real memory he had taken the Cybernetics, not wanting to take any further time off for a wound. If this lucid dream was controlled by the Reapers, they would implant the cybernetics anyways. His lungs and throat were working fine, if a little tired from the operation and healing. He would not attribute anything to screaming, as that would play into this entire dreamscape that the Reapers had stuck him in.
Henry got up. Here he would tell him that the cybernetics were it. Then this would all be revealed as yet another layer of Reaper plot. "Alright, Jack. We will start the implantation in thirty minutes. I'll do anything I can to make this up to you, my friend." Henry said, getting up and heading for the door. It certainly sounded legitimate, coming from Henry. But unless he could see he couldn't verify if he was lying and going around his back or not. Nothing was real, nothing could be trusted, and he couldn't be Indoctrinated further. Not when he had the choice.
As they wheeled him out of his room, he grinned. Time to test the theory. His eyes would only be the first of many tests in this lucid dreamscape. If the Reapers could replicate his old emotions and memories, he would have to be thorough. Unless, of course, he could throw off the entire plan from the beginning. He was currently one of the five hundred wealthiest humans, and in the top four hundred for most powerful. That didn't matter against the Reapers.
He laughed a tiny bit as they put him to sleep for the surgery. Oh yes, even in his dreams, he would win.
Earth, Sol System, 2146
Jack had tried everything. He was getting no signs of trouble from the Reapers at his attempts to change the memoryscape. It was for certain, not a dreamscape. It was all memories, with his body experiencing the normal amount of pain, physical therapy, tiredness, stress, and exhaustion. Whatever they had done, the Reapers had made all of this so real that it felt real at times.
His hypothesis was simple. The Reapers were analyzing his mind, seeking out the strategies and methods that he would use to counter them, if he had more foreknowledge about them then in the reality that was a complete failure. His eyes had finally recovered, still the brilliant blue that he so vainly loved. He had not been able to change much, as far as he could tell. But so far he had kept the 2140 Olympics from becoming the bomb-ridden disaster that they had normally been. Of course, that was because he had been trying to get more biotic potential in the human race, and had rigged a space ship to explode and create that effect.
Not a single harmful consequence. In fact, the opposite was happening. The Alliance was supposed to be ramping up for confrontation against rebels that didn't exist, in response to the bombing crisis. Now, though, the plans for humanity's first fast attack frigates were being removed from the shipyard, something about peacetime interests. Unacceptable. When the Turians attack in 2157, the Alliance won't be ready in time. Not at the rate they are going.
So, Jack started making a plan. This dreamscape was so detailed that it almost felt like the Reapers were pulling information from more sources than just his own memories. Perhaps the records that were on earth helped them build this dreamlike playground. Jack tested this, walking into random bars and taverns as often as he could, and scheduling random vacations to places that he despised. But in every case he met new people, and of course their background checks verified who they were. The Reapers had a fully realized system. A complete network of people and memories that had him confused.
Shepard wasn't even around yet to help him kill them all. He also had no intention of going through Relay 314, an alpha relay that could dump him anywhere. All of the clues were out there, besides a few known Reaper artifacts on earth, Eden Prime, and Shanxi. He had a list of places to destroy, annihilate, and remove from the history books. But more importantly, he had a plan. If the Reapers wanted a counter-argument to their complete victory, and had him running in their little maze, Jack was going to prove to them that Humanity was more than a threat. Humanity could have won, he was sure. There were too many moments where the Reapers preferred to subvert than achieve total victory. They would not have done so if they believed that Humanity didn't pose a significant threat. They would not have gone to such great effort to subvert Cerberus if it did not pose a great threat.
So, he would give them a show. Prove them right, that their subversions were real. Whether this was what they wanted or not, he didn't know. No actions had been taken to alter the memoryscape from the side of the Reapers. Certain things had changed since he had come into the timeline, and it all could be traced to his own actions. It became harder to trace his spent money, but he could blame his random trips everywhere. So, he had hunted down all of the differences from his memories and this dreamscape. He could feel pain, he could be stabbed, he could be strangled, he could get drunk, and he could feel nicotine again. Now that was something that gave him a bit of comfort. With all of these memories to compare against the memoryscape, he had to do something to keep himself calmed down and focused.
So, cigarettes. The good kind. He had a series of the electronic cigarettes delivered for use when he had a woman over. If Jack Harper was anything, it was that he could enjoy a fine wine, smoke, fight, and to top it all off he would have a fine woman to enjoy as well. So, looking back at his bed, he could see three bottles of wine, a pack of cigarettes, and a model asleep on the covers. Zalia Thern was a wonderful example of humanity. Perhaps he could talk to Henry about putting some of her DNA into Miranda, when he made her. It wouldn't be long now, all things considered. Just in case he already had some of her blood and hair. She was too tired to notice his work, and he didn't have time to sleep with his erstwhile companions.
No, there was too much that needed doing. He could afford to take the time to show off his wealth, his women, as that was expected. He could not afford to come under scrutiny. So, he had to maintain the appearance. More importantly, business had to expand, infrastructure be ready for when the Turians and the Council invaded. Perhaps he should focus more on Shanxi. If perhaps that planet was targeted, and became a security hazard. More military would get transferred there. Jack Harper was not the most infamous bastard of his race for nothing. Of course, in this memoryscape he hadn't formed Cerberus yet. That was only made in response to the fact that aliens did exist, and they did have an agenda. Last month he had created a front company, hiring a few mercenaries and getting a few ships.
Vido Santiago was a very easily manipulated man. He assumed that there was a motive behind his supplier, his clients. Not all of the money involved came from him, of course. Other rich and curious individuals invested in this sort of thing. So a conglomerate of front companies existed, covering the expenses and movements of a mercenary group. Next month they would be sent to Shanxi, to start some trouble. Piracy, rampant violence, and a side dish of targeting pro-military demonstrators. Everything needed to make the angry politicians call in the military. Vido Santiago would die, as he promised to his co worker, Zaeed Massani. Massani had a loyal streak in him. Of course, he had to somehow convince Vido to betray him within the next year in order to create the revenge complex within Zaeed. The drive for this would lead to one of the founding groups of Cerberus.
This time, Jack wasn't going to play nice. Cerberus would rise, and would be ready for when the Turians came. For when Saren Arterius came to Shanxi.
2152, Earth, Van Jensen Towers, Argentina
Seven years. Seven years of tests, work and effort. Jack grimaced. Some of his actions had very real consequences. Shanxi, for instance. Not quite his best work, trying to accelerate the growth of humanity. Vido Santiago had betrayed Zaeed Massani, alright. He nuked the poor bastard when Massani took a bullet through the head and got back up, killing all of the men sent to kill him. So, Vido decided to destroy one of the ships that Jack had gotten him, loading every scrap of Element Zero onboard, and blowing it up right on top of Zaeed. The explosion claimed a quarter of the island they were working at, and released enough Eezo into the air that at least half of the planet would get some form of biotic children at this rate.
Vido then betrayed him for other contacts. Namely a terrorist organization. Calling themselves the Shanxi Reds, and declaring war against the local government, which was Jack's original intention for them to be armed for, they began operations to break down the government of Shanxi. Unfortunately, the Reds had a lot more built up than Jack realized. At this crucial juncture, Jack Harper could only directly see and control the movement of money and goods. He didn't have the AI experts, hacking teams, or spies planted in the secure locations necessary to be able to predict the military response.
The Assembly held off on any decision regarding Shanxi for two weeks. The military was then given the order to go in. By that time, it was too late. The mercenaries couldn't fight any sort of space battle, but they had taken control of the local government. More importantly, budget cuts and lack of ships of any size to bring in armored vehicles broke the Alliance's reaction. Shanxi was put under blockade. Alliance Marines held a few locations on Shanxi, where refugees were fleeing to, but couldn't make any headway against the well armed Reds. Talk of other groups aligning themselves with the Reds was going on all over the cluster, leading to Humanity in chaos.
It was all his fault. He armed the mercenaries with every weapon he could, trusting that the colony's marine contingent was being lead by general Williams, famous for his pragmaticism and preparedness. Instead, General Williams was serving at the Prothean Archive, where a small terrorist action had taken place, damaging the Prothean Beacon. In Jack's eyes the attack was much more critical. The files on the Catalyst had to be removed, it was too much of a threat to his plans.
So, General Hansen was instead in charge of the defense of Shanxi. He assumed that the mercenaries would be poorly armed and armored. His forces got attacked and scattered when the mercenaries stole all of their heavy vehicles and bombarded their headquarters. Vido had been recruiting heavily from the gang-ridden sections of earth. Worse, the colonial militias couldn't even organize before the mercs got to them. The Shanxi Reds had become a full scale revolution, one that the Assembly wasn't ready for and the recovering military wasn't prepared for in the slightest. Arcologies in New York, Chicago, Las Angelos, and other cities in the North American States were rioting in response to the Red's declaration of the Systems Alliance being weak, controlling, and undeserving of their citizenship.
Strikes, riots, and demonstrators were everywhere, parading for or against the Reds. The Assembly had not left the building. So, Jack had to revitalize his plans. The Turians might come to Shanxi and find it in the hands of well armed rebels, or they might just miss the Turians all together if this continued. Relay 314 had been found, but was in the contested zone near Shanxi. No research vessel was allowed near an area known for mercenaries and pirates.
All of this still paled in comparison to the budget that had been issued to the Alliance Military. It hadn't been raised in fourteen years, even with his attacks and raids he had planned. Local militias and police forces all received kinetic barriers and hardsuits, supplied by the government, as the local law enforcement was seen as a better investment than a fleet of ships that couldn't be allowed to investigate crime or do anything more than land troops in emergencies.
From his position in the penthouse suite of the Van Jensen Towers, he could see demonstrators in front of Hiddel Airspace, one of the developers for the combat suits used by the Alliance Marines. They were not very popular right now, as their most recent products had been issued to the Marines going to Shanxi. It had flaws. Many flaws. Being prototype technology, that was understandable. But these flaws all showed in the magnetic grips of the boots. They were functioning improperly, and had not been properly tested for what happened when hit by an Overload. The boots would lock up, making the wearer dead meat to anyone aiming at him.
Hiddel Airspace wouldn't survive the month. Some of their top board members had already committed suicide. The CEO was no where to be found. Jack had money on being somewhere close to the bottom of the Atlantic. Head in his hands, he looked at his old plan, painstakingly handwritten years ago.
1. Establish Shanxi as Military frontline world
2. Encourage Biotics in humans without massive deaths
3. Kill Donnel Udina
Number three he wanted to be fulfilled, but Donnel Udina had yet to become an adult and do something stupid enough to warrant disappearing. Politicians were useful, and there was no guarantee that what he had just done would change his position as Humanity's Ambassador. Number 1 had failed miserably. He had not predicted that Zaeed would force Vido to nuke him. But then Vido had shown signs of imbalance. Number 2 was not as easily accomplished. But he had an in.
Henry Lawson had created a safe amount of Eezo to expose adults to that created the chance of making someone biotic. Or at least their children. So, biotics were coming along, just not in the numbers he needed to have ready for a possible counterattack against the Turians. The first generation of human biotics were coming along, and Jack had already funded the right companies to develop biotic implants. It took considerable force to convince Meridia Corp to design it, but perhaps this time there would be less of the trouble that involved the L2s. It was a pity that he still needed some biotics to experiment on to get there, but Henry provided a large number of clones for the purpose.
Henry was of course, getting suspicious. Jack Harper was a businessman, not a megalomaniacal overlord. At least, this early on Jack had been constrained to that. Which lead to why He was in Argentina.
His Omni-tool, one of the first generation models, and very new, buzzed. "Mr. Harper? A guest is coming up to see you."
"Has he received proper clearance?" Jack calmly replied into the receive
"Yes sir. I sent him with a complimentary bottle of wine for you both."
"Excellent." Merelda. A perfect hostess and example of Argentinian genetics. She had been fantastic the week before, and his hotel stay following had been of exceptionally higher quality as a result. "If I need anything else, I will be sure to let you know."
"Of course Mr. Harper." The line clicked off with a small racket. This first generation lacked many things. Like proper haptic interfaces. They had buttons. He preferred that over touch screen models. His eyes slowly dragged towards the door, his older left eye reaching the door first. His younger and cloned right eye followed, but drifted slightly. Jack didn't mind it so much. He didn't want the cybernetics. When he had upgraded his eye models with supposedly Prothean designs, he had fallen under the sway of the enemy. That wouldn't happen this time.
Though he did miss the zoom feature, infrared, and the ultraviolet. It just paid to be prepared. He barely heard the elevator doors open, at the far end of the hallway. The orderly steps of Henry Lawson came to a stop next to the buffet table prepared earlier.
"Jack! What the hell are you doing?"
"Whatever do you mean, Henry?" He asked, not quite sure what he was complaining about. Or which project. Sometimes it was hard to remember which projects Henry complained about before being Indoctrinated in his actual memories and this memoryscape. He still believed that this was all just the Reaper's playground. He had yet to see their presence, but trusted that it would come. Too many signs still pointed to their existence. The archives, the relays, and certainly the Citadel. It was out there.
"Jack, I know that you funded those mercenaries. One of them was using your directed energy weapon you mentioned. All of their hardsuits were made by Hislopp, with my medical suite installed." Henry was fuming. Ah, so he was worried that I had abused his trust and used him and his technology.
"So what if I did?" Jack casually asked. There were no listening devices here, and nothing could be traced back to him. He knew it. Henry may have just noticed the pattern, the same as anyone could if you were in the game long enough.
"Jack, if we lose Shanxi, we lose the highest concentration of Biotic potential in the human race! Why the hell would you cause this?"
"This was not my intention." Jack told him honestly, sitting down at the table and beckoning for the chair across from him. "I am willing to walk you through my entire thought process, Henry. It is why I invited you here, after all."
"I had to track you down, Jack. I spent two weeks looking for you, only to find you were just sipping wine here in the Towers." Henry did sit down, but was far from alright with the situation. "You want to explain why we might have a hand in the worst tragedy since the Great Wars?"
"Firstly, the leader of these mercenaries now answers to a different client. One that preferred large explosions to smuggling and piracy. My original intentions were to create a rising crime rate on Shanxi, forcing the garrison to ask for help from the military to put down what has now become the Shanxi Reds. This was supposed to take Shanxi and turn it into one of our best defended colonies, where we could create the next generation of biotics in peace.
"The situation went out of control when the man controlling the mercenary company for me was nuked. The very same nuke that started this entire mess. It was also laced with over thirty tons of Element Zero. Most of Shanxi is going to need medical attention for years after this. You don't have to take a side."
"The planet is under blockade, and the military is unable to seize control from the Reds. How can anyone salvage anything from this?" Henry said, looking horrified at the casual mentioning of Jack's mistakes.
"The same way I can look at your genetic efforts to clone female versions of yourself in some sick sense of dynastic authority as simply experiments into the human condition instead of the sickening works that they truly are." Henry looked affronted. Probably was still a secret to everyone else at his labs. "The same way I orchestrated these attacks, with the aim of militarizing our Alliance. I am looking at the much bigger picture. In less than ten years, The Alliance will have either collapsed or become a stronger military power."
He took a sip of his wine, perfectly chilled, thanks to Merelda. "When the Alliance comes out of this, these Reds will be swept away in our new strength. Their supplies will run out eventually. When they do, they will be taken into custody and stripped from their positions." Unfortunately, this army of trained and experienced, albeit rather slightly, mercenaries would not belong to the new Cerberus. His original goal was for these men to be absorbed into what would eventually be Cerberus. Fear was a great motivator. Especially of the things that were dangerous out there.
"They have no fleet to extract them, and no possibility of being backed up. This will resolve itself soon, and you can come in during the chaos, set up a biotic hospital and training center, and we can put together the final piece of the puzzle. Henry, I have engineered this entire situation knowing the consequences. It is only a matter of time."
"What about the rioters on earth? New York Arcology is on fire right now." Henry pointed out.
"They will quiet down as time goes on. These 'Reds' will not last very long. If anything this will be remembered as a scare."
"And if it doesn't calm down, Jack?"
Jack did take a long moment to think about that. "Then I activate a backup plan." He calmly said. "This one is a bit more extreme." He needed some time before anyone was ready for his backup plan. Opening the relay early was risky.
"Enough to warrant nuking Shanxi until there is no resistance." Whether the Turians or the Reds were the targets would be up to the Alliance. He didn't have enough pull there.
"Jack, you sound like you are out of your mind." Henry slowly said.
"I might be. Sometimes I have to map it all out before I can understand it. But the patterns are there. I am not the only one seeing this. Others in the Alliance are coming to the same conclusion and will make the same ultimatum."
"Good god, you need a hobby." Henry muttered.
"The wine, the women, and the travelling isn't enough?"
Henry grumbled. "That's not the problem, Jack." He took a long moment to consider his words. "You have been a conspiracy theorist for as long as I have known you. When I started my company, you had legal documents prepared for me to sell my company to every other investor. I thought you were insane, until I realized this was standard procedure for you. You haven't made anything simpler all of these years. But taking this entire Shanxi situation into your own hands, you are almost declaring the government meaningless. Even you can see the pattern there, Jack. I don't want Humanity torn apart by a civil war that you orchestrate."
Henry was smart enough to see between the lines. He just didn't know about the alien threat looming right behind the relay. "What if I told you it is not Humanity I am worried about?"
Henry glared at him. "That threat is unsubstantiated. Aliens might exist. If they do, they might be hostile. You can somehow see an alien threat on the horizon?"
"Henry, I can't give you direct evidence. It is all a pattern to me. We are expanding so fast that we are hardly finding enough planets to get settled on. Eventually we are going to find something that has already done that. When we do, I don't want Humanity to be unprepared for it."
"Jack, your actions are going to get the attention of certain individuals. Do you know that you are being watched?"
Jack knew. There was always someone watching. He was one of the few people on the planet capable of orchestrating a planetary revolt. "I am aware. There are only ten others that could have done what I did. Among them only a couple have any significant interest in off world activities. I know that they are watching me."
"Yeah, well they certainly know how to pick them. Some redhead had been staked out at the bar for hours. The kind you know can't be single. The Alliance put one of their best on your tail, Jack." Henry pulled up his own Omni-tool. The picture showed a face that belonged in his bed or on a model magazine. Perhaps both. His heart stopped beating for a second when he saw the name though.
Office of Alliance Intelligence
"They know what you like, Jack, and they are just waiting to bait you."
Jack smiled. How quaint. On the inside he was panicking. Hannah Shepard was supposed to be on board one of the ships in the Alliance Fleet. Something drastic had changed. She was in the OAI, not the Navy. What inspired that change? It must have been something he did. Her file said she was an O4. Officer. Some time was spent in the force. Jack had been trying to get his agents into the military for years. He needed to keep track of Hannah Shepard and Greg, the Marine that fathered the hero of Humanity.
"Maybe I should spring the trap." He mentioned. Henry guffawed.
"Of course! An innocent man would take this opportunity. Plus, you were considering going after the hostess downstairs."
Henry nodded. "You've been there first, I would imagine." At his nod, Henry shrugged. "As is usual. I would imagine we are not the first or last in line with her." Henry shared many of Jack's vices. It was why they got along so well.
"Her name is Merelda." Jack said, getting up from the table to grab his designer jacket. "Borrow the suite if you need it."
"Where are you going?" Henry asked.
"To spring the trap. Tonight I will either be in bed with Hannah Shepard or in some sort of prison. Either way I won't be here." Jack said, checking all of his pockets. No weapons. Hannah was probably trained in close combat techniques. All he had was a lighter, his credit cards, a wad of cash, and his cigarettes. Those blessed pieces of calm in his raging memories. This, though, was the first sign of something that might not have been a result of his actions. He had to investigate. "Good night, Henry. Enjoy the food and the room."
"Good night Jack. Don't say anything too forthcoming to the good lady." Henry said, looking a bit worried. Jack couldn't let it bother him, though. His heart rate was on fire, and he was filled with an anxiety that he was unfamiliar with. This was new. This wasn't an expected reaction or subtle manipulation coming forth, this was straight up new information. This had the Reapers all over it.
The elevator hit the bottom floor, and Merelda came over to Jack. "Mr. Harper, what can i get you?" She was always right on top of things. But every tool had its use. Merelda was of more use elsewhere currently.
"Merelda, my dear, I need you to take the elevator up to my suite. You'll find everything you need there…" He said, offering a twinkle in his eye that the old cybernetic ones were never able to do. She smiled, a warm glowing smile that might mislead lesser men. But Jack was not a lesser man. He was a very smooth operator. He could see the hints of a frown at the edge of her lips, the slight change in dilation of the eyes, and the tightening of her shoulders. Merelda liked his wallet much more than his charm. Alas, he had more important things to settle. Namely, the redhead in the black dress sitting at the bar, who had been coolly watching him the entire time he had entered the lobby.
"Of course, Mr. Harper." Merelda said, stepping off to the side to find someone to relieve her post. He did own this company, and they knew of his tastes. They would accommodate him or they would be fired. It was simple. Ignoring Merelda as she stepped into the elevator and to the waiting Mr. Lawson, which would keep both of them out of his hair, he moved to the bar.
Hannah Shepard was not someone he had put much effort into before. She wasn't something he had factored in before. Now, he really wished that Henry had just left so he could have contacted his few contacts that he did have. But considering that she was OAI, there really wasn't much he could do. How Henry came by that information left him wondering, but then again he needed some sort of connections to keep his genetic research viable with the politicians.
Now, though, she was here. This was not coincidence. This must have been a direct result of his actions. Unless this was the first thing the Reapers were doing to confound his plans. He had to investigate this. Nor could he chance her leaving and another agent replacing her. Right here and right now, was the antithesis to his plans. Hannah Shepard, according to his memories(Which he had handwritten onto a journal to preserve their clarity years ago), was supposed to become a Naval Officer, hook up with Greg Smith, and create the hero of the galaxy that Jack was pinning his plan on.
She had no wedding band on, or any sign of a tan line left by one. He could see that from her hand that was on the bar. So, Greg wasn't in her life yet. Or perhaps her life was no longer compatible with the existing scenario. Being in the Intelligence division might make a life with Greg impossible. That would mean that Shepard, hero of the galaxy, might not even be born. The Reapers may have already won this time around with just one move.
He fought the urge to grit his teeth. His plans and actions would mean nothing if Shepard wasn't coming. He was not the charismatic leader of the revolution that he had originally dreamed of being. Jack Harper was the details specialist. He had to admit, being the leader of Cerberus was fun for its purposes, but it had never panned out. It had never become the force of nature that could topple governments and resurrect Humanity in a glorious new image. Unless what you would call the Reaper plan could be considered.
"Bring me a New Alexandria. 2131." Jack said without looking at the bartender. But he knew the man heard him. It was expected that when Jack Harper orders a drink in his own hotel, he gets it. Not thirty seconds afterward there was a bottle and a glass with a temperature filter on the side of it. Perfectly chilled liquid just was one of those luxury inventions that mankind could pride itself on. He didn't actually like the New Alexandria vintage as much as others, but their bottles were highly reflective surfaces.
With it, he could finally take the time to study this version of Hannah Shepard. Young, at least currently, mid to late twenties, he would imagine. Shepard got her beauty from Hannah, for certain. She also got her facial features, hair color, and yet did not have her eyes. Those must have come from Greg. She did not have that inner beauty that normally attracted his attention, or the model body that he usually held as the most important quality in his partners. Still, she did have some grasp of herself. There were no bulges in her dress to suggest that she was armed, but the muscle tone in her arms was a good warning. She could probably win in a fight against Jack.
Unless Jack was prepared for that. His designer jacket had a number of wonderful additions. Firstly, a system to activate kinetic barriers around himself, something he insisted on. Adjusting his lapels activated the system. It was weak, inefficient, and lasted for a minute or two before needing a recharge. But it was one of the first generation barrier systems. The second was an integrated medical suite built into the shoulder pads. He would be able to notice poison or inhalants any time he was wearing this jacket. A minor fortune, but Jack was a paranoid man. He did have the right to defend his interests.
A holdout gun was hidden along both sleeves, and Jack had practiced for hours to be able to assemble it within fifteen seconds. That was a bit more expensive. But the signature material and shape of his jacket was one that hid the weapon quite well. He hoped he wouldn't need it for Hannah. Her dress was one of those comfortable luxury ones. Loose enough to hint at curves, but tight enough to give you an idea of what was actually there. Loose enough to hide a knife or extremely small pistol in a few places. He grinned into his drink. Perhaps that might be the highlight of his night, checking a known threat to his entire plan for weapons.
He took a long drink, and brought out his Onmi-tool. They had only been released for a few weeks, and the sight of the glowing device got some amount of attention. They were expensive. That fortunately would change with time, engineered technology, and some pre-planned competition in the form of alien companies. That would drive human industry to rapid expansion. He would do his best to create hype in the mean time.
Typing up a message, he sent to his two contacts in the Alliance Marines to check for a Greg Smith and find out where he was. It was essential that he be found and gathered. From his memories, and the memory-Hannah's own words, Shepard got her inner fire and drive from her father's genes. That was something that made Shepard something more than Humanity as a whole could offer.
Finishing his message, he locked down the Omni-tool and set it down, anything he could do further from this location not being necessary at this time. So, with nothing to do but find more excuses to examine his target, Jack Harper drank. This wine was one of those more earthy tasting ones. Not exactly his favorite. But the bottle was more important. Hannah took her time to check over his clothes, ostensibly looking for a weapon or some other tool in his suit.
She was most certainly here for him. He couldn't simply let her go on like this, guessing at his intentions. He waved the barkeep over, who acted as fast as humanly possible to exit his thrilling conversation with some of the attorneys here to manage the complete failure that was Hiddel Airspace. It's breakup would be accomplished over the next few weeks. They of course wanted the best of comforts to work from while the Hiddel employees tried to barter for their company's holdings.
"Make sure that the lady gets a glass." Jack said, pointing to the bottle he had in front of him. The barkeeper earned his pay and more when he simply fetched another bottle to pour from rather than sully Jack's bottle. Hannah gave him a winning smile when she received her glass of wine. The bottle did not follow the glass, but was kept within easy reach. Jack let the man go with a nod, knowing that at any moment he could call upon him again. Then, as casually as he could, he went back to his Omni-tool and started reading one of the news stories on the riots here in the city.
He didn't have to wait long. Hannah slid over to the seat right next to his own.
"I take it that was your invitation?"
"Take it as you will. You were bored in my hotel. Everyone else here seems to be occupied or otherwise interested. Yet here is one guest that seems to be uninterested in the current events nor are they among our guest list. So my invitation is one based on both suspicion and curiosity."
Hannah immediately got comfortable. At least one sign that she really was there to observe him. "Do you make it a point of knowing all of your clients?" Her voice was trained to sound a little bit hopeful. But Jack had all of the knowledge of two lifetimes on interpreting body language.
"I make it a point to know all of my clients that don't fit a certain mold. Most importantly, why you don't register on any of the guest books." With that, he took a long drink of his wine. He really wished that this brand tasted better.
"My name is right there in the books, Mr. Harper." she stated, almost grinning.
"Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't. My security officer alerted me that your identity did not match up to the card you brought with you." Jack told her, looking at her directly for the first time. The reflection in the bottle was helpful, but didn't do the woman justice. He noticed a scar hidden underneath one of her shoulders, and some skin discoloration along her collarbone. Most likely from domestic violence. Old, the colors mixing almost perfectly into her skin. "My concern is that I have an Alliance officer in my bar that has no reason to be here other than to contact someone."
Hannah's eyes were hard. But her face hadn't shifted at all. "You seem to be insinuating something about me. I trust you won't complain if a girl has some secrets."
"It depends on the secrets you have. Your name is most certainly not Allison."
"Whatever gave you that idea?" She asked him. Probably interested in his contacts, which at this time he had none. Thank God for Henry Lawson. Well, then he had nothing to lose since he had no one to reveal.
"The same man who told me your real name." He casually mentioned. He desperately wanted a cigarette right now, but that might come off as a nervous habit. Which it was. You don't go through two lifetimes of memories without at least some crutch or escape. "If you wanted my attention, you have it. What does the Alliance need from me, that they are willing to send you?"
Hannah grinned. Let her think she had the advantage for now. "The Alliance has no need of your services or tactics, Mr. Harper."
"Yet here you are at my hotel, most likely with a team in support of your surveillance. You have something you want or need, and I am hoping to deal with it before questions start being asked. My clients expect a certain amount of privacy, you must understand."
"Oh, it is your clients that I am worried about, Mr. Harper. Very specific clients." she said, but never took her eyes off of him.
"Please, call me Jack." He offered. If nothing else happened, Jack would never break character in front of her.
"My name is Allis-"
"Your real name, please. I don't deal with secrets very easily." He said, smiling.
"I truly go by Allison." She countered, unperturbed.
Jack laughed a bit. "My contacts tell me you go by Hannah."
Her gaze travelled down to her cup. "Hannah is my middle name. Your contacts are misinformed, Jack."
He would not flinch. This blatant lie must be something that the Reapers had done. He had done nothing to anyone near Shepard for good reason. In order for his plan to go forward, Shepard had to be born under the right circumstances. Something had been done to Hannah Shepard. He hadn't done it. If he had, he didn't know how he did.
"All I have is a notification that an intelligence officer is at my bar. A Staff Leuitenant, at that. I don't much else about your background or details about your life." At this point, all of this was true. "That does not mean I am not interested in hearing about it. What is all this about?"
"At this time, you should worry more about your clients, Mr. Harper. We don't have anything to tell you or alert you to." Hannah smiled. He would not call her Allison. That would be letting the Reapers win, even on a small level. "Thank you for the drink. Next time perhaps something a bit more tasteful?" She said, standing up and walking back to her seat.
Jack gritted his teeth and drank more of the earthy wine. She gave him only one more glance before pulling out her own mobile device and settling back into her chair comfortably. He took all of this in, and contemplated, running through the scenarios in his head. It was not coincidence that she was here.
His Omni-tool vibrated. Glancing down at it, he scowled.
Greg Smith is MIA, according to the AAR of the troops that attacked Shanxi's port. His body was not recovered, nor was around 200 others. Intelligence reports place him in three possible locations. Dead on the field, in hiding and fighting a guerilla action, or a prisoner of the mercenaries. Local agents can't narrow down the possibilities. Greg Smith is a Commander, and most of his files are classified. Trained as a Spec. Forces Operative.
Jack kept up his scowl, sending another message to his few remaining contacts in the now-subverted Shanxi Reds. He used one of the contact users that the Reds were familiar with, one of their clients and suppliers. Little did they know he had stopped supplying them.
One of your prisoners taken in the fighting might be a high value target. I need a list of the prisoners taken in the fighting, It will be worth your time. Jack then left a large amount of money as a potential bribe. It was less than ten minutes later that he got a confirmation of a reply, from three of the five contacts he messaged. Greg Smith was among the names. As were fourteen other unlucky men and women. Ransom and Execution to occur tomorrow. Jack gritted his teeth. They were going to kill him. He divided up the money between the three contacts, letting them all know that he appreciated their honesty. They wouldn't remain contacts for long, all things considered. Within a month this entire situation would become impossible for the mercenaries to maintain. But the military had no plans to go down there in force again for a while.
Jack couldn't convince anyone to keep him alive when the leaders of the Reds answered to someone else. But he needed Greg Smith alive. This called for some well deserved nicotine. Lighting up a cigarette, he heard the sound of footsteps leaving. His bartender had left him a small bowl for his cigarette and had topped off his glass. All while not alerting him. That was dedication. Or just a very real fear of being fired for bad behavior. Jack could at least let him have a large tip as compensation. He probably got paid this much in a month, but the amount of comfort he was creating in Jack's life was worth it.
He couldn't let Greg Smith die. But at the same time he didn't have any Cerberus Commandos, Kai Leng, Miranda, or any of his old dependable lot of minions. Nor did he have anyone who could shoot a gun readily at his disposal. The closest thing he had was Zaeed. He had been nuked. Well, he could always try to create some false signal and send in the cavalry. But they were still using those Biddel Airspace armors. They would get torn apart. At current conjecture, Greg Smith would be executed tomorrow.
Unless Jack took a serious risk. Ashland Hislopp had just completed their prototype space yacht for him. It was the fastest spacecraft that he could both afford and build, which made it humanity's best. The military might have had better engine technology, but Jack had slipped in an extra large element zero core.
Prep the Talon for launch. Will be there within 4.25 hours. He sent to his contact in Ashland. He didn't have anything other than a ship and a prayer of this new plan working. But he needed someone with guns and the knowledge of how to use them. Jack had fired his in practice, but had never quite gotten that soldier mentality down in this memoryscape. In his previous set of memories he had been a soldier for a short time. Perhaps it was his hatred for traditional authority, or his need to question everything. Either way he did not enjoy any thoughts of being a soldier this time around.
His memories showed him entering the armed forces, but that only slowed down his plans. In his old life he had run into a Reaper artifact during his time in the military. Going from what he remembered, he had already found and destroyed it. He didn't feel like slowing down his plans within this memoryscape the Reapers had him caged inside. He could accomplish more without the connections he made last time. Four years for two lousy contacts that betrayed him in the end? Then again, he was Indoctrinated. They did have some logic behind their decisions.
He needed some guns and some people that knew how to shoot them. Loyalty would be questionable in any group that he went to, and he would be subject to even more intense scrutiny if he tried to hire any other mercenary group that was open. His motives would be questioned in every case he was considering. All but one would lead to eventual incarceration and jail time.
He groaned, but got up from his chair anyways. Walking calmly over to Hannah, he sat down beside her.
"Here for the next drink already?" She said. "My notes tell me you don't usually do this unless you have quite the dry spell."
"You are here about Shanxi." He stated. Her eyes darted towards her drink. "Your suspicions have merit. If you want to confirm or deny them, you are going to come with me in the next few minutes when my shuttle gets here. There is a situation developing that requires the expertise of someone more militarily minded than I."
She had to think about this for a moment. "Wait, what?"
"You heard me." He let some cigarette smoke go past her face. "Five minutes until my shuttle gets here. You have until then to decide." By God he hoped she would make the choice that ended with Greg Smith alive and well. From there, Jack ignored her attempts to get his attention. He walked to the elevator, and flagged down the concierge. Merelda was upstairs, which means that her replacement had to do. Jaime was a decent replacement. He was slightly underappreciated, and overpaid. In his expert opinion, not worth the time he would spend talking to him.
"Jaime. There is a bag in my room that I need. It is at the foot of my bed, and is the only bag in sight. Get that, along with my wallet on the table. I need it in two minutes." He said in a no nonsense manner. Jaime actually did his job and rushed up the elevator. Jack didn't want to interrupt Henry if he could avoid it. Sending Jaime would be considerate. Going up there himself would just be rude.
He turned back to the bar, where he could see Hannah still staring at him, wondering if he really was going to do this. Jack wasn't sure. His entire plan rested on Hannah and whatever team she had as backup. Since he had the time, he made another message to his contact at Ashland-Hislopp.
Send four of the newest hardsuits to the Talon. Add in three of your new Lancer rifles and any sniper rifles still in the experimental stage. Add some Hammer shotguns and some pistols that seem workable. Include some grenades and the kinetic barrier suites inside each of the hardsuits. I will cover the costs.
After finishing the message, and cursing the technology for not being intuitive enough. The future would bring great things. But by the time he had finished typing, Jaime had come with his bag. He was also straight faced. Henry must still be in the dining phase of the seduction. Either that or he found Merelda not to his tastes. At least he could safely say that he offered him the best.
Hannah saw him directing Jaime with his bag. She got up immediately. She marched towards him, any training on civilian actions gone as she approached. Even with those heels she walked like all the recruits were trained in boot camp. "What did you mean back there? About Shanxi?"
"Everything you want to know or can guess at." He calmly replied, as he noticed people clearing the way outside. "My pilot is here. Are you in?"
"I'm on assignment, I can't just leave!" she said, looking towards the elevator. So she wasn't here for him, but rather for someone else. Oh well, their loss.
"Allison." Hannah, in his mind. "I have need of someone trained by the Alliance for special operations. I am going to Shanxi right now. Your mission, important as it may be, will be eclipsed in importance by this one."
She started walking with him. "Shanxi is under military blockade, you can't just go past it!"
He turned and looked her in the eye. "Humanity itself is at stake if I don't. I normally don't involve myself directly, but this time is a special occasion. You and your team are invited to join me. But if you are coming, the time is now." The shuttle was coming down, and as he walked it started blowing the coats of the people surrounding him. His was heavy, and barely moved. She noticed that, he was sure.
"Why should I even trust you?" She yelled over the sound of the shuttle.
"You'll never know why if you don't get on right now!" He said, directing Jaime to place his bag in the back and stepping gingerly onto the shuttle's seats. These first generation ones just weren't that comfortable, and shook terribly. But he sat down, blowing the last ounce of smoke from his cigarette and handing the butt to Jaime. He took it and moved to deposit it immediately. "You coming?" He had to yell. The shuttle was just too loud.
She had a moment of indecision, and then stepped onto the shuttle. "My team is en route. They didn't catch up yet."
"Thirty minutes. They'll be-"
"Too late. My shuttle is leaving. I have already secured armor and weapons." At this she looked over at him, with a look that could almost be called hostile. "If you want to know why I am doing all this, you can either watch the news tomorrow or be there with me as we make history." He said, settling back into the seat cushion.
"You sound insane!" She yelled back.
"It is relative." After what he had seen, most certainly. "Are you going to watch the news or help me?"
She glared at him for a moment. "I guess it is relative. I'll go, just to make sure you get arrested. Or committed." Jack smiled. "Whatever end comes first, I suppose." She stated finally.
"Let's make history!" He said, tapping the glass and letting the pilot know that they should get started. Like a well paid and well trained minion, he took off without a moments notice and the door closed at almost one hundred feet. He put on a headset and spoke into it. "Ashland-Hislopp. Once we are over international boundaries go as fast as you can. They are expecting us in hanger B at their headquarters."