Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia

September 20th, 2188


Jack struggled to get through the front door without dropping her carry bags. Her balance was nearly all the way back, which was a good thing. However, she'd overestimated the amount of groceries she could manage at once.

"Should've made two trips," she muttered to herself as she helplessly watched a lime bounce on the hardwood floor.

"Shit! Miri, could I get a hand here?"


She was losing one of the bags.

"MIRI!" she shouted.

Two more limes hit the floor, followed by a bag of rice.


She maneuvered across the dining room like a clown dancing on a tightrope before managing to heave the groceries onto the counter. A mess of contents scattered in every direction, some of them wound up on the floor. It took a good ten minutes and several pages worth of foul language before she got everything collected and stowed away in the cooler dry bins. When she was finished, she grabbed a cold beer on her way to the window.

It was a hell of a nice place, this little home on the beach. Not too big, not too small, and not too fancy, but the location was fucking perfect. Zaeed, that crazy old son of a bitch, had left it to her in his will. Jack wasn't quite sure what she'd done to get this far onto his good side, and she'd probably never know, but goddamn, she wasn't going to turn it down. It was the nicest thing she'd ever owned.

She took a swallow, savoring the trickle of cool amber froth, and stared out the window. Miri was out on the sand in front of the house, notepad in hand, wearing nothing but a pair of sunglasses and a piece of string around her hips that made a mockery of the local ordinance against full nudity on the beach.

Jack leaned forward, allowing her eyes to do a bit of ogling from a distance as she downed her beer. After she dropped the bottle into the recycling station, she moved to the bar and made up two drinks, one whiskey sour, and one third degree martini. She set the drinks aside, ambled down the hall to the bedroom, and shed her clothes. Pulling open the top drawer on the dresser, she located a pair of black bikini bottoms, scooped them up, and pulled them on. A few minutes later she was tap-dancing over hot sand, a drink in each hand.

Once she reached the blanket, she knelt down and held out the martini. "Your drink, princess."

Miranda Lawson turned her sunglasses in Jack's direction. Her lips, rather than forming a smile, curled into a devilish smirk. In the old days Jack used to hate that expression and what it represented. She'd take umbrage to that smirk, and she'd always want to erase it with extreme violence. Recently, however, it had taken on new context. It was still a flashpoint between the two women, but what it ignited was something else entirely.

'Uh, oh, one of these moods,' thought Jack.

She held out the martini for Miranda. Lawson took the drink in her left hand and set it aside as she leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on Jack's lips. Jack barely had a moment to savor the kiss before she felt herself being pulled down onto the blanket. Miri's sundrenched skin was slippery with oil and sweat, and smelled of coconuts, which immediately turned Jack on. And so it went, drinks forgotten or spilled, arms and legs entwined, they writhed atop the blanket like two desperate teenagers on a second date.

Miranda slipped her fingers under Jack's bikini bottoms and gave them a tug. As they began to slide down, Jack clutched at them desperately, remembering where she was. She laughed and shook her head, indicating to Miranda that they should stop.

"Miri, we're on a public beach," she protested feebly.

Miranda had a peculiar glint in her eyes. "Are you afraid?"

Jack growled. No way in hell she was going to back down now. She let go, allowing Miranda to strip her bottoms off…

Jack was roused from her deep sleep by bloodcurdling screams. She sat up in bed, disorientated, and began fumbling in the darkness. The screams continued, followed by muffled weeping. A calm came over Jack as she followed a spark of cognizance, and then she fell into a familiar pattern. Taking hold of Miranda's shoulders, she gently shook her partner, waking her from the nightmare.

Jack called out "lights," which revealed a familiar sight. Miranda, frantic, covered in sweat, and trembling like a frightened cat.

She shot up out of bed, eyes half opened, glancing about. Jack moved in, wrapping her arms around Miranda.

Jack spoke with a practiced, gentle tone. "You're ok, baby, it was just a dream."

"Shit," said Miranda. "I'm sorry."

Jack hugged Miranda tight, and nuzzled her neck. "Nothing to be sorry about."

She ran her fingers through Miranda's short hair, and felt her body start to loosen and uncoil. The breathing slowed and deepened, and then Miranda turned to her, tears dripping from her puffy eyelids and wetting the dark circles underneath.

"I love you," said Miranda.

Jack felt a rush of adrenaline each and every time she heard those words. She squeezed Miranda even tighter, and then kissed her cheek.

"I love you too, Miri," she said.

It was so easy to say those words now, even though it was still weird as fuck.

"Did you ever have nightmares, you know, after you first escaped the facility on Pragia?" asked Miranda.

"Oh hell yes," said Jack. "Every fucking night for about a year. Kept dreaming I was back there. Alcohol helps a little, but not always. Over time… well, not as many, but they still show up every now and then."

Miranda climbed out of bed and stood up, peeling off her sweat-soaked shirt. As she searched her drawer for something else to wear, Jack let her eyes drift over her lover's body, tracing all the familiar lines. Miranda's fading scars were illuminated by a slight sunburn, except for the left arm, which was still pale.

"Your new arm didn't burn," said Jack.

Miranda shook her head. "The synthetic skin is more resistant to radiation, though, I still shouldn't be out in the sun that long."

Jack chuckled. "Neither of us should."

Miranda sighed. "About that, I'm sorry."

"It's ok," said Jack. "It's been a few years since I was busted for anything, so I was about due."

"That was the first time I've ever been arrested," said Miranda.

Jack shrugged. "Getting a citation for public lewdness isn't a real arrest, Miri. It doesn't count unless they lock you up."

Miranda's voice tensed. "Lucky for us, then. After Amaranthine… well, I don't like being locked up."

Jack shrugged. "It's a huge fucking fine though. I really need to start thinking about a job again, and fuck… sooner or later I'm going to have to pay taxes on this place."

Miranda turned to her. "Well, about that…"

Jack stiffened. Miranda had inherited what was left of her father's fortune, which was still a shitload of money. She was worth millions. It made Jack feel a bit uneasy.

"Miri, I appreciate it, but I don't want you paying for everything. I need to earn my keep," she said.

Miranda sighed. "That's not what I meant. I… well, I was going to save this for your birthday…"

Jack cut her off. "I don't have a birthday, or at least I don't know when it is, and I've never celebrated it."

"We need to change that," said Miranda.

She sounded determined, so Jack shrugged. "Ok, whatever you say. Just don't expect me to blow out candles or wear a fucking party hat."

Miranda laughed. "No candles, no hats, I promise, besides, I think you'll be too busy managing all of this."

Miranda retrieved a notepad from the side of the bed and waved it at Jack. It was the same one she'd been going over on the beach.

Jack cocked an eyebrow. "Miri, what are you up to?"

"Remember back on Amaranthine, when you found me…"

Jack nodded. "Found you? That's one way of putting it."

Miranda continued. "I took Petrovsky's head off so I could get into his security room."

Jack nodded. "Uh, huh, I sort of worked that out by now."

Miranda handed Jack the notepad.

Jack looked it over. Touched the screen, and watched a bunch of numbers roll by.

"What am I looking at?" she asked.

"Accounts, stocks, holdings," said Miranda. "Everything that's left of Cerberus that the Alliance hasn't seized. It's all been laundered through several prominent Volus brokers, so it's clean."

Jack could see it all now. Numbers slid across the screen, all of them equating to credits. "Shit, Miri, there's millions, or tens of millions in here. What are you doing with this?"

"Not I, you, and there's well over a hundred million credits in there," said Miranda.

Jack shook her head. "Huh?"

Miranda sat down next to Jack. "Once I got into Cerberus's system, I was able to seize control of all their assets. I know all their protocols so it wasn't that difficult. I was going to channel it to the Alliance, so they could use it for reparations for all the suffering Cerberus caused, but I realized that most of the people that Cerberus came in contact with are dead now, or it would take years to track them all down, and meanwhile the Alliance bureaucrats would piss it all away.

So, there was you. You were raised in a Cerberus facility, as far as I'm concerned, they owe you an entire life. I know this doesn't make up for it, but you always wanted payback. What better payback than this? You own Cerberus now. Everything they have left is yours. I put it all in your name, well, various aliases that are all assigned to you."

Jack was stunned. "Miri, what the hell am I going to do with all of this?"

"Anything you want," said Miranda. "Once upon a time, didn't you tell Shepard you wanted to be a pirate?"

Jack laughed. "Fucking hell, did you listen in on every single conversation on the Normandy?"

Miranda shrugged. "It was my job."

Jack shook her head. "Anyway, yea, but that was then, and I'm not sure that's quite my style anymore. Also…" she grinned. "I'm not the one with the metal arm."

Miranda sighed. "I certainly walked into that one."

"Sure as shit, princess," said Jack.

"Princess again, you've been using that a lot lately," said Miranda. "I hope cheerleader isn't going to make a comeback as well."

"No way," said Jack, her lips curling into devious smile. "You're not a cheerleader anymore, but you are my princess."

"Oh… God," said Miranda. "That's the cheesiest thing anyone has ever said to me."

Jack stuck her foot out and brushed Miranda's bare leg with her toes.

"But you love it, don't you," said Jack.

Miranda cocked her head and did her best impression of being unimpressed, but her reddening cheeks betrayed her.

"See, you're blushing," said Jack.

"Because you're impossible," said Miranda.

"Because you like it," said Jack, as she continued stroking Miranda's leg with her toes.

Miranda gave up, and crawled back onto the bed, maneuvering her way into Jack's lap. Jack wrapped her arms and legs around Miranda and began kissing her neck.

"You like it," Jack insisted with a whisper.

Something escaped Miranda that sounded suspiciously close to a giggle.

"I suppose I do."

Jack sat on the couch sipping her morning coffee, half watching the news while ideas drifted through her head. She couldn't believe what Miri had done for her. She was rich as fuck. What was she going to do with all those credits?

She stared out the window. Miranda had taken a call just minutes ago, and was pacing the deck. It looked serious. Jack was a bit worried, but she didn't want to stare. She turned her eyes back on the news and increased the volume.

The holo display showed images from the Krogan home world. Jack couldn't believe it, but it actually looked worse than it had when she was there a few years earlier with Shepard, and that was saying something, because it was the biggest pile of shit she'd ever set foot on.

'The Normandy was destroyed, but the relay was undamaged and the crisis was averted due to the heroics of Commander Susan Rizzi, who, sadly, was killed in action. She's been recommended for her second Star of Terra, and if she receives it, she will join Commander Josslyn Shepard as the only other soldier to be rewarded with the Alliance's highest honor twice in a lifetime.

In other news, former acting Secretary and President, Gianna Parasini, accepted her new post, becoming Humanity's fourth Councilor. Meanwhile, former Councilor Dominique Okuda has continued to surge in the polls. It is a forgone conclusion that he will serve as the next President of the Alliance…"

Jack grumbled to herself and shut the news off. She wanted to hear more about Tuchanka, not politics. She shook her head, thinking about Joker. Lucky bastard always seemed to find his way to an escape pod at the very last second. She meant to get in touch, but the time just sort of slipped by.

She glanced out the window. Miranda had dropped the call, and was standing at the rail facing away. Jack got up off the sofa and made her to the deck where she slid into place near Miranda who was staring into the ocean.

"Everything ok?" asked Jack.

Miranda shook her head. "That was Liara."

"Ah," said Jack. "Is she back on Thessia?"

"No," said Miranda. "She's still with Shepard."

"I thought she was going to bury Shepard, or shoot her into a star or whatever," said Jack.

"She's having second thoughts," said Miranda. "Serious second thoughts."

"Second thoughts about what?" Jack wondered. "She's not going to turn the body over to fucking Alliance research, is she?"

Miranda leaned against the railing, her brow furrowing. "Not a chance, but apparently she received a mysterious communication. She's convinced herself that it was the Geth, and she's got this idea in her head that Shepard can still be brought back."

"Oh, fuck," said Jack.

"Yea," said Miranda. "And that's not the worst part of it."

Jack gulped down the last bit of coffee as a bunch of shit broke loose in her head. She swallowed and likewise turned to the ocean, staring into the rolling waves.

"She wants you in on this, because you did it before," said Jack.

She didn't need to see Miranda's acknowledgement. Jack knew it to be the truth.

"I don't know what to do," said Miranda. "The Reapers, they did something to Shepard. What if…"

"Miri," said Jack. "It's Shepard, you know you have to try."

Miranda turned to Jack, smiling, and nodded. "Thank you for understanding."

Jack smiled back, but she felt uneasy. At just that moment a shadow fell across them as the sun slipped behind the clouds. She hoped it wasn't a bad omen.

To be continued in Mass Effect: The Wraith Wars.