Commander Shepard has been recovered.
The Lazarus Project will proceed as planned.
With those words, Miranda Lawson signed off on probably the single biggest project she had ever undertaken; not as personally important to her as fleeing her father, perhaps, but monumentally more complicated and requiring a thousand times the resources and tenacity. Bringing a man back from the dead...
Well, if she had to do it, she had to do it. The Illusive Man did not look kindly on failure, even from his best agents, and more to the point he had made it clear this was a task that humanity could not afford to fail, as a species. John Shepard might not have been the bloody golden god that the universe at large believed him to be (in her professional opinion, at least) but he was definitely an icon. A figurehead for them to rally around. When the Reapers made their next move, and they would, his presence would be something that humanity could use to focus their efforts, stand united. Bringing him back from the dead would only make thatsymbolism stronger, more vibrant.
Assuming, of course, the members of Lazarus Cell could actually do it.
"So... this is really all we found?" Wilson, the chief technical officer of the project and her second-in-command, said as he gazed down on the pile of burned charcoal on the operating table.
"We also have his brain," Jacob Taylor, her acting chief of security and former (very former) boyfriend said, washing some Shepard off his hands. He'd accidentally tripped one of the lab techs and gotten a little on him. "It's in the helmet over on the side table."
"It's not attached to anything."
"Yeah, but at least that means you don't have to make him a new one," Jacob countered. "... Maybe. How does this work, anyway?"
Miranda sighed, looking down on what could charitably be described as the end result of a terrible barbecue, and recognizing she somehow needed to make it into a person, then plug the severed head over on the side table (Oh God they hadn't even wrapped it in plastic or something? It's leaking) back onto it and hope it worked.
"Okay. We can work with this," she said, not entirely sure that was true. "Get the medics in here, scrape off the... the burned parts... and get some tissue samples that aren't too badly damaged. We need to start cloning."
"Cloning what?" Wilson asked.
"Cloning everything, unless you seriously believe any of his organs still work!" she snapped. "And for the love of all that's holy, please put that head in stasis! We need it as intact as possible for when we... we..."
"Glue it on?" Jacob suggested.
"We are not gluing it on, we are using a combination medi-gel submersion and nanotech weave, combined with cybernetic implanting, to re-attach it artificially to his nervous system after he has a nervous system again."
"So high-tech glue, then."
"Jacob, you are absolutely not helping. Wilson, I just gave you an order."
"And I really wanna undertake it, but he's... dead. So I don't think..."
"We're trying to fix that!"
"I... well, I've worked in medicine for awhile and... you can't?"
"Fine, you tell the Illusive Man that the five-hundred million credit investment he made in this project is just going to waste."
Wilson blinked. "You know, if we get that much funding, how come I only get paid-"
"Wilson I will shoot you."
Nobody got much sleep the first few weeks, as a crack team of doctors, geneticists, and cybernetic engineers assisted by the finest VI medical systems and armed with the best supplies money could buy all came to one conclusion: Shepard was totally dead.
Fortunately, the fact they were going to follow him if the Illusive Man was disappointed with their work was a great motivator, and the team took into high gear with their continuing efforts to kinda-sorta try to at least get something done. At this point, making the remains moist instead of crunchy would be a triumph.
And a triumph, in Miranda's opinion, was sorely needed.
"All right. Now, I understand as well as anyone that Shepard is going to need kidneys. Preferably two," Miranda said. "But since we have extensive gene-cloning facilities on-site, I'm forced to question why someone spent a million credits of our budget to have three thousand kidneys imported to us."
"Well. Um. Doctor Laestrom and I were talking..." said one of the project doctors, a squirrely looking little man hiding behind a medical cabinet, said.
"And we agreed that perhaps cloning wasn't the best idea," finished Laestrom herself, a woman who managed to be both a foot taller than Miranda and probably half the weight by being about the girth of a coat hanger. "It's just that Doctor Millerson and I both worked on a previous cloning project..."
"And it ended extremely badly."
"Lots of death."
"Acidic death, in fact."
Miranda rubbed her temples, thankful on the inside that her absolutely perfect physical form allowed her to look impressive even while she was doing this. "Well, then. I have exactly three questions to ask of you. First, how do you expect any sort of problem to emerge from a bunch of disembodied organs in cloning tanks?"
"Well... evil Shepard, obviously."
"Evil Shepard!" Millerson repeated. "Like... like a clone of Shepard who wants to replace the original. He'll awaken, only he'll be evil and he'll try to kill the original Shepard, and it will be a whole thing."
"I... no. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Why would we make an entire cloned body? We can obviously recreate individual organs and tissue as needed. There's no chance we'd ever make an entire new Shepard," she said with a sigh.
Wilson, who had just been happening to walk past the door at that moment, blinked and thought to himself: Huh. A whole clone Shepard? Yeah, I bet we can find a use for that! I'll go grab a spare petri dish and some Shepard goo later. He then continued walking to lunch, whistling the jingle to his favorite brand of gum.
"Now, second question," Miranda continued in blissful ignorance. "I need to know why you decided to get three thousand kidneys, when at the absolute most we are going to need two. You recognize there is a finite amount of space in the human body, and we need to fit other organs in there. And this is after we have a chest cavity to actually put things in!"
"Well, we didn't get these in strictly legal ways," Doctor Laestrom admitted.
"We had 1,500 hobos murdered," Doctor Millerson clarified.
"Because we needed kidneys that would be a match!" Laestrom said. "But Cerberus is very pro-human, so we couldn't just take them from a hospital."
"And you think taking them from people is better?!"
"... Is it not?"
"I... that... but... no. No. Not engaging. Because I have one more big question, and it kind of ruins whatever scrap of logic you may have had in this mental disaster you have conjured while the rest of us were actually working," Miranda said. "Why, may I ask you, are all of the kidneys you have gathered for the good of the project's tissue reserves... goddamn CHICKEN KIDNEYS?!"
"You... can't prove that."
"THEY ARE STILL IN THE CHICKENS!" Miranda roared, reaching into the cooler by her desk and brandishing a frozen chicken in wrath that could melt the stars.
"It is... possible we checked a wrong box somewhere on the shipping manifest...?" Laestrom admitted meekly.
"And we feel really bad about those 1,500 hobos now."
As Miranda was on the verge of drawing her sidearm and showing them exactly how the hobos felt, her comm buzzed. With a sigh, she settled for saying, "Both of you, back to the labs. Fix this. And we're having chicken tacos for dinner for the next three months, so that's on your heads. I need to report to the Illusive Man."
As the project idiots left the room, Miranda sighed and activated the Quantum Entangler that kept Project Lazarus in communication with the Illusive Man's headquarters at Cronos Station. The image of her employer, immaculately dressed as always, a cigarette in one hand, gazed at her dispassionately as the link was established. He nodded once, about the most emotion he ever showed. All told, the Illusive Man resembled a middle-aged womanizer more than he did the head of a massive and influential paramilitary organization. At least, until you looked into those extremely off-putting eyes...
"Miranda," he said, the closest he gave to a greeting. "Progress report?"
Miranda sighed. "It looks bad, sir. The state of the body is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. We've managed to preserve some brain tissue, but it appears that everything else will need to be re-created from scratch. If you insist on using the original body..."
"As much as possible," the Illusive Man insisted. "Commander Shepard is more than a man. He's a symbol, and a natural leader. We need to maintain his original mind."
She winced. "I still wish you'd let me insert a control chip. His relationship with Cerberus has been rocky, to say the least."
"I know, but I am confident that when he understands his options, he'll make the right choice," the Illusive Man said flatly. "And when that time comes, dealing with it will be up to me. You just focus on bringing him back."
"You know, sir, it's not going to be possible to leave him completely unaltered. At the very least, some cybernetic implants to hold his body together and take on the function of muscle tissue that has atrophied during the process will be needed, or he won't be able to so much as walk for a year after he's restored."
The Illusive Man didn't visibly react beyond a slight nod of his head. "I understand, Miranda. His mind is more important than his body, in any case. Some physical mods shouldn't be too much of a problem, so long as he's still recognizably Shepard."
"As you say, sir. In that case, well... we're looking at a long road. Reconstructing his muscle tissue will take months of medi-gel immersion and nanotech injections. Most of his internal organs will need to be cloned. Reconnecting the nervous system will be probably the most delicate surgery ever attempted by human doctors. This could take literally years to achieve, sir."
"I understand, but remember... time is death, in this case. Another colony was targeted less than two days ago," he replied. "New Stockholm. Only 900 inhabitants, but..."
"But they're getting worse. The last one was only four months ago," Miranda finished for him. "We'll work harder, sir. It won't be easy with incompetents like Laestrom and Millerson on staff, but..."
"Ah. Are they holding up the project, Miranda?"
"It was something of a snafu with the supply lines. I can deal with it."
The Illusive Man shrugged, reaching off to the side, and pressing a button on a console she couldn't see. "Consider their contracts terminated. This is important, Miranda, crucial to the future of both Cerberus and humanity as a whole. I won't allow anyone to interfere."
"Sir, really, I can deal with..." she paused. "You killed them, huh."
"Those cyanide capsules in their molars are not for show," he said. "Keep working hard, Miranda. I'll be in touch."
The link cut off, and Miranda sighed. "On the one hand, losing those two isn't a big issue for the project. On the other, now who is going to eat all that chicken?"
Being the chief was just the worst.
Two months later...
"So is that a human heart?" Jacob asked as the Lazarus Project creeped into its fifth month of operation, poking the glass container. "Or is it chicken?"
"I will hurt you, Jacob," Miranda murmured, double-checking the protein bath to make sure everything was setting properly in the clone tissue. Behind her, Wilson walked past dragging a corpse, but honestly that had become something not entirely unheard of around the project; Miranda was discovering very quickly that while Cerberus commando teams did rather well, the science division had a huge mortality rate, both because they tended to experiment themselves to death and because the Illusive Man was not terribly patient with their tendency to make very, very stupid decisions.
"I'm sorry," he said with a grin, the smarminess of which reminded her very much why she had dumped him and was considering seeing if she could make him the next 'lab accident' to claim a staff member.
"The damn chicken references stopped being funny a damn month ago. And by this point, I think most of the staff who were actually here to see the incident have been killed anyway."
"Well, if it helps," Wilson said, dragging the body another few inches and panting for air, "The first test of the cybernetic endoskeleton we're lining his bones with just crushed Sanderson's neck. So that will probably give them something else to talk about."
"That's just what he gets for turning it on before he finished testing the auto-responses," Miranda said, not looking away from her terminal.
"How did you know he did that?"
"The fact he's dead was a hint," she said. Her comm beeped, and she winced. "The Illusive Man wants to make contact again. I was hoping he would wait a few more weeks until we actually have something other than repeated failures to report."
"Try to stop him from executing any more of the engineering staff?" Wilson asked. "I need more people to help with the cybernetics now that Sanderson's gone."
"No promises. Unimportant people, please leave the office?" Miranda said.
Neither Jacob nor Wilson moved.
"Do I really have to explain this to you?"
Sighing at the knowledge they were viewed as slightly less important than the slimy organs in the cloning tanks downstairs, the two men stepped outside and Miranda activated the quantum entangler. As before, her superior appeared, though she noticed he had a glass of bourbon instead of his cigarette this time. "Miranda."
"Yes, sir? Regarding the... erm... issues from last time, I have to note that the cybernetics are coming along very well, and we're within a month of having an entire working circulatory system cloned. Once we get blood flowing through his... erm... his charcoal, I have reason to believe the Medi-gel soak will start to have more effect, and..."
"I have every faith that you can do the job you were assigned, Miranda. Which is why I'm not here for a progress report, but for a new directive. Consider it a side-note to the main project."
Miranda blinked. "Sir?"
"When last we spoke you mentioned cybernetic modification," the Illusive Man said, taking another sip of his bourbon and pouring himself a fresh glass from a bottle next to his chair. Had the holographic connection been clearer, Miranda might have noticed it was mostly empty. "And I've been considering the merits of that."
"Oh? Well, we're planning on several implants; in order to keep him alive until kidney function can be restored, we'll need a detox system. And in order to bolster muscle tissue so he can move without physical therapy after being revived, we-"
Miranda froze mid-sentence, her mouth actually hanging open from the last word she had been speaking, because she frankly just couldn't will herself to move enough to close it. Finally, after a few long seconds (and another shot of bourbon) she said, "... … Sir?"
"Eye lasers, Miranda. I believe it would be in our best interests to give Shepard some sort of cybernetic eye that can shoot laser beams."
"I... sir, I don't see..."
"Exactly, Miranda. You don't see, because your eyes are, at the moment, woefully organic."
"... Sir, what do you mean 'at the moment'?"
"Nothing. I was merely making an analogy, not implying that all Cerberus operatives will be rendered into techno-zombies at any point in the future."
"But back to the notion of Shepard and eye lasers."
"I... yes... that's. Sir. I don't think that is, for lack of a better term, a thing."
"Miranda. As you know, the best way to advance human interests is to take for ourselves the best and brightest ideas that other races have to offer. One of these races is the Reapers, and they have eye lasers."
"They're also sentient warships, sir!"
"Regardless, their dominance over the galaxy proves the viability of eye lasers as an evolutionary leap. Therefore, in order for Commander Shepard to be the ultimate soldier that we need him to be, some kind of Reaper-esque eye laser system is going to be required."
Miranda sat in silence for several long minutes once again, vaguely wishing that she was the one with a bottle of whiskey in her hands. "We can... well, we can... give it a try, I suppose...?"
"That's what I like to hear. Good luck."
As the signal cut off, Miranda gazed at the empty air where the Illusive Man's image had been. Finally, after another few minutes of questioning her life choices thus far, she clicked on the base intercom and said, "Engineering, do we have any, erm... laser eyes, in stock?"
"... … … … You realize that's not a thing, right sir?" the engineer on staff said.
"I think we need to make it one."
Two months later...
"All right, people," Miranda said, looking down the conference table at her various department heads. "Muscle growth?"
"Fifteen percent complete, should be ready to start implanting cybernetic tissue within two months." Engineer Lassiter said.
"Good. Clone culture lab?"
Dr. Vincine adjusted her glasses with a proud smile. "A heart, fifteen feet of artery tissue, and six pints of blood, ready and waiting. We can begin the process of restoring circulation to the main body at any time."
"Ahead of schedule. I like to hear that," Miranda said, the closest to pride she showed her team. Then she winced, turning to Wilson. "And the... ugh... the laser eye?"
"I'm really proud of this one," Wilson said, standing tall. "In the engineering department, using the principles behind the geth's plasma cannon tech and the power source from a LOKI mech, we've managed to piece together a laser eye that meets all of the Illusive Man's specifications." He placed the eye on the table, smiling with pride.
Miranda blinked a few times.
"How come it's the size of a basketball?" she asked, after far too long.
"Well. We've had a few issues with portability, yes."
"It's supposed to be an eye. It's bigger than his head."
"... Okay, look. Square with me, Miranda: You only asked me to do this because you knew it couldn't be done," Wilson said, narrowing his eyes. "The tech department is ahead of schedule, so you knew we could afford to waste our time and energy on this stupid laser eye."
"Considering what you've produced is a laser head, I apparently was right to distrust your ability."
"You can't make it any smaller! We tried! The Illusive Man asks the impossible!" Wilson said, slamming his hand down on the laser basketball. It began to glow.
"... Should it be doing that?" Dr. Vincine asked.
"EVERYBODY, GET DO-"
The Next Day...
"Five casualties," Miranda muttered as she changed her bandages. "Wilson was sadly not among them, but I can fix that."
"Don't bother, Miranda. This wasn't incompetence, but a sacrifice to the future of humanity," the Illusive Man, taking a gulp from a full-sized glass of beer which he had poured a shot of bourbon into. It was called a 'depth charge', according to Jacob. She'd allowed him to join her for this meeting, just to be on the safe side. She needed someone to stop her if she tried to have the entire project killed.
"I disagree, sir. In fact, I tend to feel the laser eye project was not a worthwhile use of resources even if it had functioned, and it super didn't function, so..."
"I agree with you, Miranda," the Illusive Man said soothingly, taking another gulp of his alcoholic mash-up. "Which I why I've been considering other avenues."
"... Other, sir?"
"I was placing too much value on Shepard's role as a personal combatant. His true role will be leadership, commanding a team of elites," the Illusive Man explained. "And to that end, I've had the propaganda division come up with something that I think will help him appeal to the public more."
"Oh! You mean some kind of minor plastic surgery? Improve his looks, maybe a nose tweak or-"
"We need to give him a vagina."
Jacob choked. He hadn't been eating anything, he just kind of choked on air. It was hard to blame him.
"I... sir?" Miranda said, really hoping she had heard that one wrong. "Are you... entirely serious about making..."
"Shepard a hermaphrodite, yes," the Illusive Man said, pouring himself another depth charge. "If you consider it, it's really the only rational option."
"... is it, though?" Jacob asked.
"As I have said, Shepard's true value is as a symbol of all that is best in humanity. However, as a male, he can only symbolize 50% of the human race," the Illusive Man explained in a maddeningly calm and logical tone, as if he was discussing the weather. "In order to truly stand as a symbol that all humanity can look to, he must represent all humanity. And that means turning him into a hir."
"One of the new pronouns created by Project Hermaphro, the cell responsible for devising new words to properly market the new man/woman gender hybird Shepard we will create. Since s/he is to have fully functional male and female biology, s/he will require new pronouns to set hir apart from the rest of monogendered humanity as s/he leads them to glory, showing us all everything that is greatest about our species."
"I... sir. I am forced to consider that Commander Shepard would probably disapprove of this plan."
"I trust that when Commander Shepard awakens, s/he will make the right choice and understand that Cerberus, much like hirself, exists only to defend humanity. As a result, any action we take is the morally correct one, by virtue of our goals being entirely noble," the Illusive Man said.
"Yeah, sir, you say that..." Jacob began.
"I'll look forward to your next update. Oh, and make sure that Shepard is appropriately pretty, Miranda. We need to make hir look good for the cameras," the Illusive Man said, before flicking off the quantum entangler and letting his image fade out.
Miranda, unsure of what else to do, looked at Jacob and fought down any sense of lingering distaste she may have had for him as a romantic interest. There were bigger issues at play here, and she needed someone on her side. "So. Um. Jacob. About this... order."
"I gotta say. I know that technically speaking we're okay with... like... modifications to Shepard's body, because it's his mind we really need?" Jacob said. "But I have to assume that if I died in a fire and then woke up as a half-man, half-woman for no obvious reason, it would have a big impact on my mind."
"At least we could have passed off the laser-eye as a needed prosthetic," Miranda agreed, feeling a great deal of relief to have a confirmed supporter. "There is precisely no way that Commander Shepard will ever believe that we 'absolutely needed' to give him a vagina."
"Maybe if we like... arrange it's location so he can kinda, y'know, take his other 'equipment' and..."
"Whatever you're about to say, be aware that it will get you shot," Miranda said.
"... Never mind. I guess our other option would be to give the job to someone who absolutely won't succeed at it. You know, like The Producers where they fail on purpose?"
"... Jacob, have you ever actually seen that play? Or the vid version? Or... even actually read a summary?"
"Nah. I was busy doin' situps," he said proudly. "Best abs in the galaxy."
Dammit, he's right, Miranda thought, admitting silently that you could indeed grate cheese on those things. "Well. While your knowledge of theabtre... theatre! No abs!"
"Oh," Jacob said with a smirk so smug he could have collapsed a star with it, "there are abs."
"While your knowledge. Of theatre. Is somewhat lacking," Miranda snarled. "I confess the idea might have some merit. I think we need to get Shepard alive and... you know, as close to 'original flavor' as possible, while making it look like we're doing the Illusive Man's awful idea. Then, once Shepard is alive again, he probably won't even remember he asked, he'll be so happy. But who can we trust to fail it?"
"Well... who failed at the laser eye thing?"
Miranda blinked a few times as her mind processed the memories of earlier that day, and she smiled the most wicked smile she had perhaps ever had. Jacob shuddered as the temperature of the room dropped five degrees.
"Wilson," she said, thumbing on her comm, "would you come to my office, please? I have a special assignment for you."
Three months later...
Wilson sighed, pushing his bucket of Shepard goo down to deck five for more cloning experiments.
It turned out, and he was as surprised by anyone to learn this, that growing your own Commander Shepard was kind of hard. He wasn't actually a medical doctor, being mostly involved in engineering and robotics, so that was probably a big part of it. Mostly he just kind of poured Shepard goo into the tank when he could, and kind of watched it mold itself together into a Shepard.
It was mostly goo. But it kinda had a Shepard face on it, and that was progress. After all, after nearly half a year of work, the real Shepard was also still mostly goo, even if they did have his brain frozen somewhere.
But now his progress was being halted by this ridiculous new assignment. The fact that turning Shepard into a woman didn't seem worthwhile to start with notwithstanding, he didn't actually know how to do it and Miranda had said that if went over his (very limited) budget whilst pursuing the goal, it would be taken out of his pay. To 'motivate' him.
He had tried pouring Shepard goo into a bowl and seeing if it turned into a woman-Shepard who could then be sewn onto the other Shepard, but that wasn't going well so far. He had also tried to reprogram the security mechs to become his helpers in this task, but that hadn't accomplished much beyond making them murder Dr. Allise and try to harvest her blood for what they called 'woman-splicing'.
It had been a pretty severe technical glitch, but on the plus side, their firing protocols were still spot-on! That proved his engineering work was still pretty cool.
"Wow! Would ya look at that?" a perky voice said from behind him, causing him to jump halfway out of his skin. "You sure do seem to be making something impressive down here!"
"Oh! This? This is... nothing. Which is... to say. Not. A thing that is. Important," Wilson said, stepping in front of his little 'side project.' "I was just... making. Soup."
"Really? Because it looks like a clone!" the unreasonably perky young man, who Wilson was pretty sure he had never seen before, said with a giant multi-gigawatt smile. "Or, well, it looks like it could be a clone at some point in the future, if you knew how to make a clone. And also possibly a vagina! Not sure what you're growing that one for. Not many good reasons I can think of, if y'know what I mean, hahaha!"
"... Right. Um, who are you, exactly?"
"Well, I'm just tickled that you asked!" the man said, his black eyes gleaming with raw enthusiasm and his hair parted so sharply that it looked like it could have cut a man in half. "My name is Bob!"
"... Hi, Bob?"
"Hi to you too, Mr. Wilson!"
"How do you know my name?"
"I don't! Lucky guess! Don't ask questions!" Bob said, smiling. "I was just looking around down here, because I'm a loyal Cerberus worker who works for Cerberus, and I was wondering if maybe you, Mr. Wilson, were concerned that you don't get paid enough! I wouldn't know myself, because I don't know who you are!"
"Because to know the name of someone I have never met, well, I would need to have access to some pretty impressive intelligence systems! Particularly to get myself smuggled onto a Cerberus platform if I didn't work for Cerberus! That would be pretty amazing, huh Mr. Wilson? I bet you'd need a toooon of money and influence to pull that off, huh?!" Bob asked in a tone just slightly below a shout, pure joy radiating off him in waves.
"Which is why I didn't do it!" Bob shouted in glee, patting Wilson on the shoulder like a proud coach congratulating a star quarterback. "But if I had, well, that would mean I was connected to someone super rich, wouldn't it? And if someone who wasn't making enough money for all the hard work he did were to meet someone who might be willing to pay him a ton of money to sabotage things, well, I bet that would be really interesting! Someone like that could end up super rich if he were to take on a job for someone like the Shadow Broker!"
"Wait, do you work for the Sh-"
"Someone LIKE the Shadow Broker, Wilson! Not that I work for anyone like that, because I don't! Nobody here does! We're just having a hypothetical conversation, you know!" Bob said warmly. "Like say, hypothetically. Wilson, would you like ten million credits?"
"... Yes. Yes, I would," Wilson said, starting to get a much better handle on how things were going and suddenly quite happy with it.
"Well! Hypothetically speaking, I bet that someone who totally hates the Illusive Man, like say someone who is maybe, possibly involved in Brokering things in a Shadowy manner, but who I don't work for, would be willing to pay you ten million credits to make sure this project falls apart and deliver Shepard's body to him!" Bob said cheerfully. "But I wouldn't know that for sure! Why, I don't even know your name, Wilson! Just a loyal Cerberus grunt, that's me! Otherwise I could never have gotten on board this station, haha! Not even by killing the real Bob and taking his place before he was shipped on board in the last staff transfer!"
"... So how will the Shadow Broker pay me if I do what you ask?" Wilson asked.
"I have no idea, Wilson! I don't know anything about him or work for him or have spent three years as an assassin in his employ!" Bob said. "Maybe he'll give you the keys to a giant Scrooge McDuck-style vault, or maybe he'll give you a big bag full of nickels, or maybe he'll give you the access numbers of forty-two different bank accounts on worlds scattered throughout Citadel Space and the Terminus Systems, all of them under different identities that you will also be provided! Obviously you'll need a lot of fake ID's to hide under when you're running from the Illusive Man, but you'll have plenty of money to do it! HYPOTHETICALLY!"
Wilson took a step back and shook his head a few times to get the ringing out of his ears. "You know, for a Shadow Broker agent you aren't very stealthy."
"That's because I'm not! And I'm most certainly not operating under a three hour window before my intrusion is detected, so I'm gosh-golly-darn glad that you are so enthusiastic about debating this hypothetical scenario with me!" Bob said. He handed Wilson a small sheet of paper, and said, "Well now, since you've been just a pal, I think that maybe I should hand you this piece of paper which probably doesn't contain the information to access ten of those accounts I mentioned! But hey, if it did, that would be about... and this is math, Wilson!... that would be over two million credits! Wow, that sure does sound like a great downpayment, doesn't it? Maybe even enough to buy your loyalty! Haha, kidding! You seem like a great guy. I have been having a great time recruiting you for murder and sabotage! Not that I've done that. I don't even know your name! Who's the Shadow Broker? I wouldn't know."
"... You know what? If these accounts are real, that's enough money for me to actually believe your blatant lies," Wilson said, pondering the fact that Miranda really didn't pay him enough, and frankly he didn't even know how to make a vagina anyway.
"You are just the greatest guy, Wilson," Bob said enthusiastically, reaching into his pocket and drawing out a black mask and a small sidearm. "Well, I'm certainly not gonna go steal a shuttle and escape! You keep in touch, Wilson. Or whatever your name is, haha! Not a spy."
Bob left the room, and Wilson couldn't say he was unhappy about that, as he turned to his two bowls of Shepard-soup and said, "Well. Sorry to tell you this, Goo and Girl-Goo, but you two just became a hobby. Wilson got himself a paying gig."
Two months later...
Miranda whistled a cheerful tune as she sat down, stopping and rearranging her face into a mask of cool professionalism as soon as she clicked on the quantum entangler. "Sir."
"Miranda," the Illusive Man said by way of greeting, pouring several bottles of liquor, one of which had a skull and crossbones, into a giant novelty mug. "Progress report."
"We have had... little progress on certain side operations, but overall I am very pleased with the situation. We have working versions of all Shepard's major organs prepared, the cybernetic endoskeleton and muscle enhancements are closing in on 60% complete, and we believe that within the next three months we'll be able to start connecting them the remains and start reconnecting blood vessels and nerves."
The Illusive Man did not smile, because he rarely did, but he he did nod in satisfaction as he took a swig of his concoction. "Excellent progress, Miranda. I'm very pleased with your achievements thus far. Now then, let's discuss lycanthropy."
"And of course, after we complete a full reconnection of the circulatory and nervous systems we can begin re-growing muscle tissue and... wait, what?" Miranda said.
"Lycanthropy. A term occasionally used to refer to a psychological condition, but I am more particularly interested in the fictional disease which turns humans into werewolves when exposed to a full moon," the Illusive Man said. "I would like to begin integrating it into the project."
"I... sir, you just said it is a fictional condition. So I am not entirely certain how you... wish us to do that," Miranda said, her happiness dissolving.
"I understand that it will be a difficult addition to the regimen, but I believe that you can manage to mimic or recreate the condition using available technology," the Illusive Man said firmly.
"... … … Why?"
"I have come to the conclusion that drawing on the image of legendary monsters will greatly increase Shepard's ability to inspire the masses. It will enable us to build a new mythology with hir as a quasi-deity figurehead," the Illusive Man said, draining his giant mug and opening several more bottles to pour into it.
"Well. I... suppose that makes... some sense. In a way. Sort of," Miranda said doubtfully. "But I feel it will harm his ability to lead in the field when he cannot... speak. Or hold a gun."
"Which is why we are using a sort of man/wolf hybrid form, rather than a more traditional giant wolf. This will allow Werewolf Shepard to hold guns and speak in human languages," the Illusive Man said, and God he sounded like he really thought he was being reasonable. "In addition to hir already built-in laser eye, the end result will be what I like to call a laser-gun-wolf. In addition, the mythical werewolf form will allow hir to become invulnerable to any weapons other than silver bullets, which the Reapers do not use. By this method, we will have created the ultimate man/woman/wolf/robot hybrid killing machine to lead humanity as our vanguard in this final battle."
"You heard me, Miranda. This is essential to the advancement of humanity, and I'm trusting you to make it happen." The Illusive Man finished off his second pitcher, wiping a bit of liquid from his mouth. It began to melt through the floor. "I will check back in on you later for the progress of operation Lazarobowolfwoman."
"... Lazarus, sir."
"I know what I said."
Five months later...
"All right. Wilson," Miranda said. "Give me your latest status report."
Wilson kicked back, his feet up on her desk and his shades gleaming in the lights of her office, as well as the giant golden medallion that spelled out his name in diamonds. Miranda sometimes felt like asking where he'd gotten that, but to be perfectly blunt, after over a year of working on this disaster zone of a project, she had kind of learned to stop asking things.
Eyes on the prize, Miri. Eyes on the prize.
"Well, you know, these things are super hard. I tried putting some wolves in a blender full of moon dust, and nothing happened at all," he said. "And that vagina thing? Not working at all! No matter how much porn I show it to teach it the right shape."
"... Wilson, I begin to feel that you are not emotionally invested in this project anymore."
Wilson shrugged, checking his ruby-encrusted platinum watch to see the time. "I don't know what you mean. I think this project has really given me a wealth of new experience. It's made my body of knowledge very rich as a scientist, you know?"
"... Wilson. Let us be very open with ourselves here. I think by this point you are fully aware that, outside of managing the engineering staff, you actually don't do anything around here," Miranda said, very slowly so the crazy would understand. "I am not expecting any progress on Project Hermaphrodite Werewolf Cyborg. I do want to know how close Shepard is to being active again. You know, as a real person."
"Do you mean the original Shepard or the clone?"
"Nothing!" Wilson said. "Shepard is doing fine! I bet he'll be alive again in a few years! Everyone will be fine."
"Wilson. I know that you are not precisely a normal person," Miranda said, slowly. "I also know that you have taken on a series of... mildly off-putting side tasks related to our current, unusual situation."
"It turns out that werewolves don't exist!" Wilson confirmed.
"I know that. But we needed someone to handle these extremely important tasks, which is to say we needed to pretend they were important because the Illusive Man is... shall we say, charmingly eccentric," Miranda said. "I don't like you, and you don't like me, but we both like not having cyanide injected into our molars, and so we need to get Shepard back to being alive. Please tell me, for real and true, how close we are."
Wilson coughed. "Um. Well, that is to say... I don't... actually so much... know. For sure. I mean, the cybernetic limbs and stuff on... the bones and... things are... good? But the rest of it... is... squishy?"
"... Wilson. I have been spending the last several months trying very hard to make sure that the Illusive Man doesn't actually talk to us about things. It's hard. Pretending I can't talk to that man is a full-time job in and of itself. But it's only a matter of time before he manages to make contact at a time I can't pretend to refuse the call, and then we're going to have to explain why we don't have a Shepard and we don't have a multi-gendered werewolf."
"With a laser eye."
"I remember the mission statement. But my point is that I don't have the time and energy to oversee all aspects of the project directly anymore. Nor do I, if we're being honest, have the expertise. We have reached a point where what remains is the purview of cybernetic experts and the best doctors in the galaxy working on incredibly sensitive melding of flesh and machine going down to the nanotech level. I can't offer much assistance to a lot of these programs. You, however, are down in the trenches. You built half the cybernetics we're using."
"And I really should have built them worse, it's gonna make things hard later..."
"NOTHING. Now, I will just go run off and find a scientist..."
"You are a scientist."
"One who has more direct interaction with the main project, I mean!"
"You're the lead engineer."
"Yeah but I don't know anything!" Wilson squawked, sprinting out of the room. Miranda heard him slam into a wall outside when he didn't turn fast enough, followed by the sound of his footsteps heading down the hall as quickly as they could carry him.
Miranda sighed. "Where are those molar-cyanide pills when I really need them?"
"Director Lawson?" her comm said, making her jump a little as she hadn't realized it was clicked on.
"Y-yes? I mean, yes," she said, composing herself quickly. Wouldn't do for the hired help to realize she had emotions. "If it's the Illusive Man, we're having an unexpected cosmic storm that's blocking any and all communications."
"Oh, no, sir, it's not anyone calling," the voice on the other end (Dr. Lendstrom? It was so hard to keep track when they kept dying) said cheerfully.
"Glad to hear it, doctor. Get back to your duties, and-"
"It's someone visiting! A shuttle with Alpha Black clearance just docked."
Miranda sat in silence, staring at the comm on her desk, and trying to will the person on the other end of the line to die. When it became clear that didn't work, she settled for saying, in a tone that let the hapless doctor know he was fired if/when Miranda worked out which doctor he actually was, "And you didn't think to mention that to me before now becaaaaaaause?"
"Um... well, nobody really wanted to call you and say this? It's just you have kind of a temper, so..."
"STOP. EXPLAINING." Miranda hissed, rising from her desk to try to determine what fresh Hell was about to be unleashed on the Hell she was already in from just working on this project.
"So. Jacob Taylor, huh?" the man said, and Jacob fought the urge to punch him. It wasn't so much what the man had said, but the way he said everything made Jacob want to punch him.
"Heard you used to be Alliance. I used to be Alliance. N7. Were you ever N7?"
"Of course you weren't. Only the best of the best, and all that. Of course, I was still too good for them, too. Had to head off on my own. Defend humanity in my way. My way or the highway, that's my motto. When you're the best of the best, you gotta do things your way, y'know?"
"Yeah, that's great, but-"
"So, you wanna do a pushup contest? I mean, I'll beat you. Nothing personal, mind you, but you seem a little flabby. Probably living here all this time surrounded by wimps and aliens."
"There actually aren't any ali-"
"There better not be," the man hissed suddenly, drawing his sword and stabbing the wall a few times, apparently just to prove he had a sword. Why he had a sword wasn't quite clear to Jacob, but a lot of things about this guy weren't clear.
"Mr. Leng, if youuuuuu could pLEAse calm down?" the woman with him asked. She was pretty, with dark skin and long brown hair framing delicate features and a smile that was a little bit fake, though she seemed to be slightly less slimy than her companion. But then again there were literal buckets of slime less slimy than Kai Leng. "I underrrstANd that you don't want to be here..."
"Of course I don't want to be here! Maybe you didn't notice, but Shepard is N7. Well, I'm N7!"
"... And?" Jacob asked.
"I shall not be replaced," Kai Leng snarled. "You'd know that if you weren't a turian in disguise! Or are you? You're not. I was testing you, and you passed. Not as well as I would have, but I'll take it. You can be my sidekick."
"I'm sooooooo sorry," the woman said, smiling awkwardly. "Heeee's just a big ol' silly, and doesn't much want to be briiiing back CommANDer Sheparrrd."
"... … I gotta ask, what the Hell is that accent?" Jacob asked.
"Hahaha! Well, you KNOW how it iiiiis. I've just spent soooooo much time going about being ALL CerBERus about such things that sometimes I myself am not knowing what my own acceeeeent might be," she said with a smile. "But I'm just dedicated, y'know. Really worrrrrrking on things, or my name isn't Maya!"
"... I thought you said your name was..."
"Hope! Hope Lillium! Like I said, my name isn't that! I'm not using it yet!" she snapped, her impossible accent getting suddenly and sharply British for a few seconds before she took a deep breath and said, "Noooot that you shOULD rememberrrr any of this. It's just not imporrrrrrtant. What is important is ourrr inspection of CommANDer Sheparrrd."
"An inspection I was not informed about!" Miranda snapped, storming into the room. "Jacob, what is going on h-"
"Well then, Miranda Lawson. Cerberus's... second best operative. The Illusive Man's second-most trusted confidante," Kai Leng said. "He took me out drinking last week. Whiskey. Johnny Walker Blue. Five-hundred credits a bottle, and he got it for me. Not you. I guess that means I'm more important than you, hm? I am."
"... … … What?"
"I'm just saying, Miss Lawson, that you need to accept that some of us have the Illusive Man's personal confidence, and some of us just spend all their time on unimportant little side projects. Some of us."
"... You realize he's spent almost two billion credits and a year and a half of work on this project, right?"
"Oooooh, sounds like someone's overly competitive!" Kai Leng crowed. "Sign of a lack of confidence, some might say. Some like me. Saying it about you."
"Misteeeeeeeer LeNG, don't forrget we're here to MAKE an inspecTION."
"Was that an asari?! Is she in my mind?! I'll kill you all!" Kai Leng screamed, apparently somewhat surprised by Hope (Maya?) tapping him on the shoulder to remind him of this.
"I... apoloGIZE for him. He's a bit HIGH-strrrrung," Hope said, wincing slightly. "But verrrry dedicated to his crrraft, can't FAUlt him forrr that."
"... What is that accent?" Miranda asked.
"That's not imporrtant. What is imporrrTANT is that the Illusive Man has been sooo concerrrned with the lack of PROgress upDATEs that's he's decided you needed a physical INSpecTION." Hope crossed her arms, and for just a second from out of her cheerful demeanor, a burst of weapons-grade smugness erupted and her voice became very British as she muttered, "And prove to him I should have your job, you overblown pinup model."
"What was that last p-"
"NoTHING at all!" Hope squealed. "Just silly old Angela Versei... I MEAN HOPE LILLIUM... being her silly old SELF!"
"... Oooo...kay. Um. Well, I will... assign one of the doctors to show you around..."
"Oooh, so you want to hoist us off on the grunts? Calling us unimportant? Think you're better than me?" Kai Leng snarled.
"Well tough, bitch! I see right through you. Can't fool my robot eyes. I have robot eyes, you know. Got 'em from the Illusive Man. He's like a father to me. Got me signed up for all kinda crazy cyborg implants to make me even more perfect than I am," Kai Leng hissed. "Got bionic legs already. Gonna get muscle implants, and a shield in my palm, and kick-ass ninja eye protectors. To protect my robot eyes. That I have."
"... …. ooookay?"
"But that isn't the point! I see you for who you are, Miranda Lawson, and who you are is a coward trying to avoid the chains of command. I'm not afraid of command, being an N7 (did I mention I was N7) who left the Alliance because they appease the aliens. But you are too afraid to have senior staff guide us around. Because you know we'll find the evidence of your incompetence that way. I can see it in your filthy, empty, strangely asari-like soul."
"Right. Um. Well. Senior Staff, I can do that. Jacob here is..."
"Heading out to inspect security!" Jacob said, running away.
"Traitor!" Miranda screamed as the door slammed behind him, leaving her alone with two people who actually somehow made her pine for the presence of her own subordinates.
"Oh-ho. Think you can handle a tour alone, huh? Think you can handle me? Leading me all over? Showing me stuff? You've got backbone, Lawson," Kai Leng said. "Appropriate for my rival."
"We're not...wait, where did your friend go?"
Kai Leng smirked. "Please. I don't have friends."
"... … … And you're proud of that?"
Wilson smiled, polishing his emerald-encrusted gold chalice. "Man, that was close, Shepard-clone. I was really scared for a bit that Miranda might have worked out I have secret plans."
"Awww, a nice loyal man like you? Probably no secret plans at all."
"GAAAAAAAAAH!" Wilson screamed, whirling and throwing his chalice (which didn't have any liquid in it, he just loved having valuable chalices around. Turned out being super-wealthy introduced you to all sorts of new hobbies). The woman, a very pretty, dark-skinned woman with a fantastic catsuit and an aura of smugness so intense it could collapse stars, smiled at him as she caught it.
"A little jumpy, hm?" she murmured. She sounded very British. "But then, you are building an interesting little thing down here, hm? I don't think I knew about this part of the project."
"Oh. Um. Well. It's... unofficial," Wilson said, stepping in front of the tank containing Shepard-clone, perhaps hoping she wouldn't notice it if he was talking. Considering it was a giant glowing glass tube with a mostly-formed Shepard inside, that was perhaps wishful thinking, but money did weird things to people.
"And marvelous. However did you manage it?" the woman murmured, looking over the tank (and ignoring the much smaller tank which appeared to contain a vagina). "However did you manage it with such limited equipment?"
"Oh, you know. I ran some electricity through this tube and poured Shepard goo into it. And over the last year or so it just kinda grew."
"... That doesn't sound real."
"I know, right?"
"Well, I suppose that the results are more important than the process," she said, shaking her head to clear the stupid out. "But I do have a few questions."
"Noooo, you don't."
"I... what? Yes. Yes I do."
"I... stop that. I'm going to ask questions. I'm an investigator."
"I don't think you are. I mean, I'm pretty sure we would have gotten some kind of warning if you were a real investigator, right? You wouldn't have just shown up."
"Well, that's possible. I mean, there are a few ways you could take things from here," she admitted. "First of all, you could assume that I'm here because I've been growing disillusioned. Perhaps putting together a long list of dossiers for the inevitable mission that Shepard is being revived for, seeing the endless list of filthy aliens that the leader of our so-called Human Supremacy group wants to recruit like we were some filthy beggars turning to our enemies for their scraps to defend ourselves, has left me questioning the very purpose of Cerberus. If it's even worthwhile anymore. If the Illusive Man even cares about humanity, or if he just wants us to be whores submitting ourselves to the whims of our inhuman overlords in exchange for whatever pittances they choose to give us."
"... … Um. Well. That's... harsh."
"We're being hypothetical here, Wilson. Remember, there's another option we have for thinking of here."
"Um... what is it?"
"You could not ask any questions or think anything, give me this clone, and I'll give you a ton of money."
"... … … I like this option better."
"I had a feeling you would. Of course, I'll need to investigate the goods. Make sure this clone is physically perfect. Mentally pliable. Completely racist; not just a little racist, here. I need some hardcore, Kai Leng-level unthinking disdain for everything non-human. Preferably with a huge inferiority complex about it, too. Makes them easier to mind-screw."
"Well, that depends on how much money we're talking ab-"
"Five million credits. Cash. I hope you don't mind if the chits have some blood on them."
"I'll start putting the really crazy programming in right now," Wilson said, trying not to drool. "By the time I'm done with him, he'll be like the Nazis and the KKK had a baby, and that baby was absolutely convinced that anyone who succeeds at anything is doing it to personally spite him."
"I had a feeling we'd get along, Wilson."
"So. I see you have a cloning facility here, making organs. I have one too. It makes real clones. Whole clones. You can't see it though. It's secret."
"So, I see you have security mechs. I don't need those. I prefer to deal with my own enemies. Get up close and personal, handle things personally. Rather than hiding behind machines like a complete coward. But, you know, to each their own."
"So, I see you have Shepard's corpse in stasis. I guess if you think he's worth having around, that's decent enough. But you know, he died. You know who's never died? Me. So I guess, when you look at it that way, your entire job is to bring to life someone who's not as good as me, which makes you double not as good as me."
Miranda had her sidearm at her hip, a thermal clip loaded. Every time Kai Leng spoke as she led him through the complex, she wasn't entirely sure if she wanted to use it on him, or herself. Either option would make sure she didn't have to talk to him anymore, but she had to weigh the pros and cons. Con: she would die. Pro: If she shot him, he might have time to make a speech about how amazing he was at being shot and how his blood was probably higher in iron than hers.
Calm, Lawson. Calm. We're almost done. "Yes, well, Mr. Leng."
"Please, Miranda. Call me Mr. Kai Leng."
She twitched, the sound of her teeth grinding in her mouth actually making it harder for her to hear the blood pumping in her temples from the rage. "WELL. MR. LENG. I have shown you the labs, and our progress. As you may see, we have nearly completed rebuilding Shepard's nervous system. We've cloned all relevant organs, have begun processing muscle tissue with the cybernetic implants, and we're only a matter of months from integrating the brain back into the reconstructed body. We should be complete with the entire project within the next three weeks, followed by another month or so of physical therapy to get Shepard back up to fighting shape once he wakes up."
Kai Leng nodded. "Hm. Well. That's pretty impressive. Better than expected. The Illusive Man felt that it would probably take you two years, but it's only been a little under a year and a half. You're ahead of schedule. You're doing well. Probably going to look good when he sees the results."
"... … Thank you...?"
"Yes, you might look really great. If nothing goes wrong and sets back the project," Kai Leng said. "But I'm sure nothing will."
And then, behind them, in the labs they had just vacated, several small explosions went off, shaking the room and making Miranda jump halfway out of her skin. "What the Hell was that?!"
"HAAAAAAAAAA! Say good-bye to all of your computers and records, Lawson! This battle is over, and the winner is Kai Leng! Without that data you'll never be able to proceed with reconstruction on schedule! You'll have to check and re-check everything, doing all of your calculations by hand without your poor, lost computers! You will never manage to get back on schedule, and my superiority is proven!"
"... You do realize that we kept back-up records, correct?"
"And of course we have more computers. We have four entire working databases to maintain and triple-check all test data. We're funding most of this by selling off the medical techniques we're discovering as we proceed, we couldn't afford to lose anything."
"Ummmmm... that is... I... well, I mean to say..." Kai Leng said, looking around awkwardly. Finally, he screamed, "SMOKE BOMB!" and ran out of the room.
Miranda blinked a few times as he fled, and then blinked a few more times as Kai Leng's shuttle flew past the viewport heading toward where he had entered the system, presumably to rendezvous with the larger craft that had dropped him and Miss Lillium off.
"Um... sir?" one of the lab techs, scorched and limping, said as he walked out of what was left of lab three. "You... do know that we actually lost a good deal of the nervous system map. We need to completely redo it to continue connecting nerves to implants as we keep integrating the enhanced tissue into the main body. We actually did lose several months of progress."
Miranda smiled as she watched the shuttle departing. "And yet? Worth it."
Hope Lillium AKA Maya Brooks AKA Angela Versei AKA Ace Reporter Skippy O'Toole (she hadn't particularly liked that cover ID) stepped into the hammer, pulling behind her a clone storage container marked 'Ham,' and stopped to look at where her shuttle was supposed to be.
"I swear, this is just like that time I beat him at chess and he hid under an assumed identity on Eden Prime for three weeks."
Five Months Later...
Miranda smiled at the quantum entangler, which she had 'accidentally' drowned in rubbing alcohol.
She smiled at the shuttle bay, which she had 'accidentally' had keyed to her personal control, and thus rendered un-openable to anyone but herself.
She smiled at her personal intercom, and said, "Status report, please?"
"We've made up all the progress we lost during the 'inspection' and then some, sir. Commander Shepard is over 95% rebuilt, at least structurally, and may even be waking up in a month or two!" Dr. Rosenthal said cheerfully. "And even better, we've only had three fatalities this month!"
She smiled at her computer, which had a screen-saver of dancing bunnies and flowers on it, and ran her hand along the holographic display. It began to play her favorite waltz, and she leaned back in her chair to enjoy it, sighing contentedly. On schedule. No emergencies. Not much in the way of staff replacements. You know, I think for the first time, the Lazarus project is going well.
"Special delivery!" Wilson said, stomping into her office and laying down a new quantum entangler unit, the heavy machinery slightly denting her immaculate desk as he slammed it down, and her blood went cold.
"Where did you get that? Why is that here?" she whispered harshly.
"... I made it. You told me to," Wilson said.
"What?! When did I do that?!"
Two weeks earlier...
"I have to say," Miranda sighed cheerfully as Jacob poured another shot, "this is going much better than it was when the Illusive Man was actually involved in the project."
"HA! I thought you liked him, too," Jacob chuckled, taking a swig from the bottle. It was filthy, but Miranda was too buzzed to care.
"I like him. He's... generally a good boss. It's just that I think that maybe the stress of this situation is getting to him. The whole 'Shepard' thing and how important it is. He seems to be drinking a lot."
"He always drinks a lot."
"Yes, but it's turned into 'werewolf' amounts of drinking. He needed to be cut off," she downed her shot. "The quantum entangler 'breaking' was the best thing that could have happened."
"It's broken?" Wilson asked, tipping his head into the room and with his shimmering golden crown and platinum-sheened sunglasses. He couldn't see out of them, but apparently he felt that was a worthwhile sacrifice. "How did that happen, Rachel?"
"Oh! Um, sorry, boss. Just Rachel has the same accent, so..."
"Maybe you should get glasses that you can see out of," Miranda said. "I'm half-drunk, and even I can tell that."
"You're more than half-drunk," Jacob muttered, looking sadly at his mostly empty bottle of bourbon.
"And you're more than half a jerk," Miranda said.
"I rest my case."
"Either way, sir, if you want, I can probably cobble together a QE unit to work with. I don't have much to do anymore ever since my clone got... um... I mean... ever since... something."
"HA! You go right ahead and do that, Wilson. I'm sure you can manage to piece together the most complex piece of communications equipment in the galaxy from the random spare parts we have," Miranda chuckled, rolling her eyes.
"On it, boss!" Wilson said, turning around and slamming into a wall.
"Bloody Hell man, can't you recognize sarcasm when you hear it?!" Miranda snapped. "Literally every job you've been given for the last year and a half has been intended to fail! How have you not picked up on that?!"
"I... huh. I guess I was... distracted. See, I very coincidentally have four or five rich uncles that all died at once, so I've had a lot of spending to do, and..."
"I don't care what you actually think, Wilson! Just for the love of God get this thing out of my office before..."
The Quantum Entangler buzzed, clicked itself on, and the image of the Illusive Man appeared above Miranda's desk, turning her blood to ice. "Miranda," he said.
"S-sir. It's... so nice that we have managed to regain communications with you. You've been gone so long. How... how did we manage?" she asked, glaring daggers at Wilson, and resisting the urge to throw real daggers at him.
"A good question, but one for another time. You've been incommunicado for some time, Miranda, and Kai Leng's review of your base was not glowing. I prefer glowing," he said, taking a long tug through a straw. Whatever the liquid coming up through the tube was, it was glowing and released a kind of hideous steam from his mouth when he exhaled.
"Erm... well, sir. I believe operative Leng is somewhat biased against the project in general and myself in particular."
"Did you prove yourself superior to him in any way?"
"A bit, yes."
"That tends to do it, yes," the Illusive Man admitted. "But that no longer matters, in any event. I'm back online, and it's time I took control of this project again."
"Um, sir... we're actually almost done? I feel we're probably within weeks of total success, so now is not the best time to be making any changes to proced-"
"I've determined that Shepard should be able to spit acid like a Rachni," the Illusive Man said, taking another swig from his straw. He reached out and lifted a small metal keg by his side to pour another glass, and Miranda couldn't help but notice that the writing on the side of the jug was krogan lettering, and appeared to also be written in blood.
"Sir, are you drinking ryncol? Or, and this is the only other thing I can think of that might look like what you just put in your mouth, the distilled essence of a human soul?"
"Not important, Operative Lawson. What is important is that when hermaphrodite werewolf Shepard runs out of charge on hir eye laser, s/he will be left defenseless. Therefore, the only logical option is to also add rachni acid sacs to hir lower jaws, allowing hir to spit corrosive fluid as a final line of defense."
"... … … … Logical?"
"Glad you were listening, Lawson. I know it will be difficult to manage, but you've led this project for a year and a half now. I have faith you can pull it off."
"Ah.. well. Yes, sir. The thing is, sir, that I'm not... entirely sure that the project works the way you seem to think it does...?" Miranda said, trying really hard to not add on 'because you're insane' to the end of the sentence. "Because all of those things you asked for... ummm... I mean, I certainly put someone on them, but not all of them were plausible with our resources, or cost-effective or... you know, a real thing. So..."
"Miranda, I don't employ you for excused. I employ you for results, and Chet down in accounting wants Shepard to be able to spit acid. Also, Randall in the mailroom has pointed out that in order to properly capture Shepard's new multi-gender status, s/he should have a boob."
"Only one boob, because s/he is taking on the qualities of both men and women, and therefore will only have half the boobs of a full female. But the one boob s/he has should be exceptional, Miranda. Large, but not oversized. Firm, yet supple. And properly positioned. You have to put it off to the side, not in the middle of hir chest. That would just be silly."
"I... that... you... what?"
"Good luck, Lawson. I expect a status report every day for the remainder of the project. Illusive Man out."
The Quantum Entangler clicked off as the link was broken, leaving Miranda staring at thin air for a few long, mindless seconds.
"I... am gonna head down to the lab. Run... a few tests. On something," Wilson said, perhaps spotting for the first time that Miranda having him in biotics range was not conducive to his continued breathing. He was lucky, though, because right at that moment all she had the presence of mind to do was kind of slam her face into her desk a few dozen times. It was pretty cathartic.
Three weeks later...
"You're my only friend, you know," Miranda sobbed, sitting next to the mostly-reconstructed Commander Shepard as he had a machine pump his blood for him. "The only one who gets me. You never ask me to give you a vagina, or a robo-eye, or lycanthropy, or acid spit. Or a monoboob. Or tentacles that hold swords. Or a jetpack in your spine. Or the power to see in the dark like a cat, but 'cooler than how they do it, because cats are jerks.' Or the ability to restore your life by eating mushrooms. Or all the powers of beloved comic hero Super Spaceman. Or, and I quote, 'some kind of magical wand that will allow hir to smite hir enemies with moon power'. Or..."
"Daily conversations with the Illusive Man have been really hard on you, huh," Jacob said, patting her on the shoulder.
"Shut up! I don't need your pity!" Miranda screeched. "You don't get me! Only dead Shepard gets me! He's the only friend I've ever had!"
"You... realize he's dead, right?" Jacob asked. "They're just putting blood inside him at this point and seeing if that makes the rest of it work."
"Of course he's dead! That's what I like most about him!" Miranda hissed. "He's so silent! He's so undemanding! He just sits there and listens to me, not like certain other men! Certain other Illusive Men!"
"Oooookaay... well, I'm just gonna... head out and leave you with your... dead... friend?" Jacob said doubtfully.
"Hey, is he waking up?" Wilson asked.
"My God, Miranda, I think he's waking up!" Wilson snapped.
Miranda's eye widened. If Dead Shepard woke up, then she would be alone. Friendless. With only Jacob to talk to, and if she was being honest: Jacob totally didn't count. As a person. "Dammit, Wilson I'm... he's not ready! Give him the sedative!"
"It's not working! His heartrate is still..."
"DOUBLE THE DOSAGE!"
"Couldn't that be unhealthy for hi-"
"Jacob get out of here you are not helping!"
"That much sedative could be unhealthy!" Wilson admitted, quadrupling the dosage. Miranda's yelling aside (which was hurtful), he had kind of been laboring under the impression this project was not going to actually work. He had been paid a lot of money to sabotage it, and like, 40% of it had already been spent on amazing hats. His jaw dropped as he looked at the lifesigns. "He's... fine. Heart rate is dropping back to normal. Um. Which was on purpose!"
"Of course it was!" Miranda snapped, leaning over Shepard and smiling as his eyes closed and his struggles ceased. "Don't try to move, Shepard. Just stay still, and sleep. Sleeeeeeeep. Sleep the sleep of the pure and just. Forever and ever."
"... … … So like, I know I shouldn't comment too much. Not a scientist. But I'm really starting to question if you two are the right candidates for this job after all," Jacob said.
One week later...
Miranda sat in her office, mourning the loss to come as she looked through her scrapbook.
"See, Shepard?" she said, through the intercom so Shepard could hear it in his sleep. "This was the day we found your brain. Oh, how nervous I was! But I think deep down, I knew back then that we would one day be best friends." She giggled a little bit, her eye twitching slightly. "Here's the second week! Oh, what fun we had trying to get viable tissue samples from your charred remains! And haha, here's the mission log from when I suggested putting a control chip in your brain. Not that you'll need it, because you're the only person who will never wake up and torment me. Not my best friend, Dead Shepard. You'll just sleep. Sleep, as you have done these past fifty-thousand years since the Lazarus Project started."
She sat for a moment, eyes twitching slightly, smiling brilliantly at nothing. Then she burst into tears, burying her head in her hands.
"Damn you, Dead Shepard! It's all your fault!" she bawled. "If you hadn't died, I wouldn't have come here! I was supposed to be perfect, you bastard! I had everything; power, brilliance, an ass that deserved its own museum so the universe could remember it after I'm gone! And then I was shipped off here, to this hellhole, and had to spend the best years of my life trying to rebuild you, you son of a bitch! Who would want me now, huh?! I'm a shriveled up old woman waiting to die!"
She sat for a moment, sniffling away her tears. And then she smiled, taking a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, Dead Shepard. I didn't mean that. You're my most favoritest comatose corpse, you know! And I'm still very pretty, thanks to the magic faeries we used to bring you back to life! They gave me three wishes, you know. I used the first for eternal youth, the second for a magical unicorn I have named Mr. Starsparkles, and the final one was for the best friend ever. It was you!"
"Um... director Lawson?" said someone on the other end of the line. "You... do you know we can hear you, or...?"
Miranda smiled at the intercom for a few seconds in silence, before her teeth clenched in unspeakable rage.
"Of course I know, you moron! Do you not recognize a cry for help?! Why have none of you gotten me into counseling yet?! I'm clearly slipping mentally after the stress of dealing with you people for two goddamn years! Or, I guess I should say, three weeks, because Cerberus techs are so mind-bogglingly incompetent that all the doctors who started this mess with me are dead except for that useless asshat Wilson! And good lord, as much as I hate every single one of you, I hate Wilson most of all."
"This... this is Wilson, ma'am."
"Get off my intercom, I was talking to Dead Shepard!" Miranda screeched, the glass of absinthe mixed with lighter fluid on the corner of her desk shattering from the volume.
It was a good drink. The Illusive Man had suggested it five days ago, when he'd called to tell her that Shepard should have wings that turned into a snowboard when he spoke the magic phrase,"Cool as Ice, Bro!", enabling him to fight Reapers both in the air, and on the snowy slopes of the perfect ski mountain. Desperate to numb herself, she had been drinking it pretty much non-stop since then, and it felt great. Some people thought it might be affecting her mental state, but that couldn't be true; everyone except Dead Shepard and her was an illusion, after all.
She giggled for a few seconds, and passed out.
Wilson sighed, and stepped out of the lab, waving at Jacob. He had a very serious problem.
The fact of the matter was, and against all damn odds, Shepard was waking up. He had tried octupling the sedatives, replacing the sedatives with cyanide, opening up some of the sutures and putting stuff inside, and shipping live varren onto the station, but Shepard's recovery was still miraculous and somehow actually getting better. For someone who had created this entire project specifically because he was dead, the man was proving weirdly durable.
He had considered some more direct options, like walking in and shooting him. But there were some issues with that; their names were Jacob (who was giant and muscled and could crush metal with his mind) and Shepard himself, who Wilson was starting to believe would catch the bullet with his teeth and shove it down Wilson's throat without ever waking up.
He could just not sabotage things, but that left him with the unfortunate position of having spent over four million credits of the Shadow Broker's money and not doing anything in return. He strongly suspected that that galaxy's most infamous criminal and information broker would not be super-pleased by this, and probably wouldn't accept an IOU on paying that money back. Not to mention that fact that the Illusive Man and the Broker despised each other, and being found out for taking the contract in the first place would piss off Mr. Illusive considerably. Since he was the galaxy's second most infamous criminal and information broker, this was not a great backup plan.
He sighed. "Oh, defense mech. I think that tinkering on you is the only thing that's kept me sane. You, and my diamond-encrusted shuttlecraft."
"Thank you, sir," the LOKI defense mech he had been tinkering with said. There had always been plenty of them on the station, but with Jacob around they mostly just stood next to doors looking shiny. Wilson hadn't even really needed to tinker with any of them since that time he had been working on Clone-Shepard and needed the extra muscle.
"Haha, you remember back when I was cloning Shepard, defense mech? That was a fun time. Pouring Shepard-goo. Putting a vagina in a tank! Haha, remember that time I reprogrammed some of you and you killed Dr. Allise at random? Man, you crazy... kids..."
He stopped. He blinked.
"Sooooo. Defense Mech. If I were to reprogram you to say... kill everyone but me. What would you say to that?"
"This unit awaits programming, administrator."
"And if I were to reprogram... all of the defense mechs. To kill everyone but me. Would that be... plausible?"
"As chief engineer, you have administrative access to higher command functions."
"Hee. Hee heehee. Hahahahahahaa. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"
"Evil laugh detected. Would you like this unit to engage Minion Mode?"
"Oh, you mechs are just the best."
Miranda opened her eyes, and regretted it. "Oh God. Oh, God. Oooooh Goooood. Head. My. Head. Why the hurting?"
She saw the three empty bottles of absinthe on the floor next to her desk. "Oh, right, I've been drinking poison. But it's not my fault. Because I need Dead Shepard to make me happy. Or... something. … How long have I been drunk? Am I drunk now?"
Something exploded in the hallway, making Miranda's head hurt so much she nearly passed out again. "Oh God. Loud. Why. Make less loud, world. Jacob. Jacob, why loud?"
Nobody answered, and she remembered that she had not actually opened her commlink or buzzed him. She did that. "Jaaaacob. There's sounds."
"Mira*bzzzt*? Comm's*bzzzzzzzzzzt*, I can't*bzzzzzzzzzzt* under attack, *bzzzzzzzzzzzzt*..."
She sighed, turning if off and grimacing in annoyance. "Dammit, Jacob. If you kids are throwing an explosion party, I will be so cross. If you wake up Dead Shepard and take away my... myyyyy..."
She fell to her knees and threw up in her office waste basket. "Oh God. Oh God. What have I been drinking? Was it literal poison? It was. How am I alive? Illusive Man. I hate you so much, sir. All your fault."
The door to her office shattered inward, a pair of armed mech storming in, their rifles raised. "Target acquired. Locking o-"
"SHUT. UP." Miranda roared, lashing out with her hungover, headache ridden mind. Her biotic powers flared, gripping the two mechs and slamming them into the ceiling before crashing them down to the floor so hard they crumpled like tin cans. "Okay. Okay. I guess the mechs trying to murder me was a bad sign. Something's going bad. I should call Jacob."
"Just did that. Didn't work. Ummmmm... ugh. This is probably Wilson's fault somehow. Jackass. What should I do next? Painkillers. Some delicious painkillers would be great. I can take them with some absinthe and poison."
"Crap, Shepard! They might kill him! Again!" Miranda was still a bit fuzzy, but she was pretty sure that after having spent two years bringing Shepard back to life, having him die again would be a major downer for everyone. "I should... do something about that! Call him? Call him!"
She clicked open her direct line to the lab storing Shepard, and wiped her tears off it while she did. "Shepard? Shepard, I know that I said I care about you the most when you're dead, but you need to wake up so you don't die in the bad way."
"... What...?" said a very groggy male voice on the other end.
Miranda fought off the urge to sob, consumed by sadness as Dead Shepard was lost forever. Alas, for the loss of her one true friend. Alas, for the disappearance of the greatest source of comfort in her life. Alas, for...
Wow, I am maybe still kinda drunk.
"Shepard. You need to... wake up. And fiiiiind... a pistol. Yes. There will be a locker. It will have a door."
"Open the door," she clarified. "Because the locker. Has things inside."
"... … So, am I still asleep? Because I have to be honest, the logic of this whole situation really feels like a dream," Shepard said.
Wilson smiled, kicking back and drinking some wine from his solid gold chalice. It weighed thirty pounds, but there was no better way to drink something. "So, unit five. Is everything dead yet? Because I mean, let's be totally honest, Cerberus personnel are really great at dying, so it can't be that hard to kill them all."
"30% of all combat units disabled."
"... what? But I mean, only Jacob and Miranda are any good at fighting, and I'm sure Miranda was drunk, so..."
"Target Shepard has awoken and begun countermeasures," unit five said cheerfully. "37% of combat units now disabled."
"He woke up?! Goddammit, how much sedative do you need to inject into this dude?! He's like... like magic, or... something! Space magic! But there's got to be sixty robots fighting him! He can't kill them all!"
"43% of combat units disabled."
"Useless-ass robots!" Wilson shrieked. "Okay. Okay. I can work with this I'm the best. I'm a genius. Admittedly I'm a genius at engineering, which isn't greatly useful right this second, but I also made a clone-Shepard, so I must be pretty smart at other things. I just need to make... Shepard. Not kill me!"
He paused, using his brilliance to ponder a plan, and finally said, "I've got it! I'll pretend the robots are after me too, and Shepard will think I'm his buddy! There is no way that plan can go wrong, unless Miranda is still alive and figures out I'm somehow responsible."
One Tutorial Level later...
Miranda holstered her gun after murdering Wilson, a deep sense of peace falling over her. She hadn't actually been 100% sure it was him until he'd actually shown up here alive; sure, he was the most likely person to sabotage tech systems, but he was also just so Wilson. The possibility has always existed that he had just accidentally taught someone else to do it and then choked to death on a his own tongue. But in the end, Wilson must have been the traitor, because if he wasn't the traitor he certainly would have been the first to die.
Probably eaten by rats.
"All right then," Miranda said. "We need to get out of here. Jacob, I..."
And then she stopped.
Oh. Oh, bloody fuckin' my.
Shepard, coated in the machine-oil blood of his foes and with eyes that blazed like a god's, stepped out from behind Jacob to look down on Wilson. Miranda did not squeal, but only through years of practice, because wow. Movie-star features chiseled like granite, the room-filling confidence of a natural leader, abs you could cut goddamn diamonds on. She was so happy she had not remembered to pack armor in that supply locker. So, so, happy.
"Why did you do this? He was with us!" Shepard said.
Miranda kind of swayed back and forth, coyly toying with a strand of her hair. "Oh. Well. I mean, I didn't know he was a friend of yours. He was an eeeensy bit of a traitor, but it's not important. Would you like me to bring him back from the dead? I could do that. For you," she purred. "If you ask me reeeeeeally nice."
"Um... well. No. If you're sure he was a traitor, I guess it's understandable. But shouldn't you have interrogated him...?" Shepard asked, looking super hot while he was confused.
"Oh, interrogation. Do they ever even work? Practically everyone has a cyanide capsule these days. Or an optical nerve flashbang, but I've always preferred the classics. Tell me, Shepard, do you like the classics? Roses, red wine... leather spy catsuits?" Miranda asked, licking her lips. "I have a closet full. This is the most modest one."
"... How nice for you...?" Shepard asked.
"How nice for you."
"Um. Miranda?" Jacob said, raising his hand.
"Jacob I am busy."
"Right, it's just the station's about to explode, so we should... like, because of the mechs? And the reactor? Maybe get off of it."
"Eh? Oh, right! That," she said. "Shepard, we have a shuttle waiting to take you to our backup location. It's small. Intimate. Practically just you and me."
"I'll... be sure to keep my gun handy, then?"
A single shuttlecraft pulled away from the station that had housed Project Lazarus, containing the mostly successful (he wasn't a cyborg hermaphrodite werewolf with acid blood, but he was okay) results of its work, and really the only two operatives on board worth noticing.
Behind them, the station's reactor, damaged by multiple missile impacts, waves of gunfire, and the fact it was built by Cerberus and therefore kinda just a piece of crap anyway, detonated in a nuclear fireball that scoured the stars, wiping all trace of Project Lazarus from existence.
And other than the collection of truly fantastic hats Wilson's room, amazing hats made of gold, silver, and gems of all the colors of the rainbow... nothing of value was lost.