Disclaimer: Mass Effect is the creative property of Bioware.


Most people didn't realize that being unsociable and being informed weren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Most people assumed that in order to stay up-to-date on one's surroundings, one had to actually get out and talk to somebody, ask what was going on.

Most people, Jack decided, were fucking morons.

Growing up in the Terminus systems went a long way towards developing your situational awareness; either you learned to utilize your surroundings to your advantage or you woke up with the cold steel of a compliance collar around your neck, packed ten to a cell on a batarian slave cruiser...or worse, you didn't wake up at all, because some two-bit hood on Omega's streets had pulped your head with an electromag wrench in the interest of making a couple credits. The stakes were lethally high when you lived on the edge, and a little situational awareness went a long way towards tipping the odds in your favor. With experience having irreversibly burned this knowledge into her brain, it was a reasonable conclusion that Jack had chosen to stay in the Normandy's cargo hold for more reasons than its seclusion.

Sure, it was quiet and a good distance away from the rest of the assholes running the ship, and that was enough of a reason on its own to take over the hold. But the real advantage of the room was that the ship's designers had attempted to mimic the original Normandy's streamlined ventilation system without taking the SR-2's increased size into consideration, and the result was no less than five different openings to the vent shafts within twenty feet of the spot where Jack slept. It kept the room pleasantly cool, sure (and after coming out of cryo she'd found herself much more acclimated to the cold than she'd used to be), plus the vents could make for a quick escape route, but all of these were incidental. No, the great thing about the vents was that, if you were patient and stayed still, it was possible to eavesdrop on most of the Normandy. The shafts were wide enough that sound carried perfectly through them, and although the acoustics that came with metal surfaces could distort a voice somewhat, it was the best source of intelligence an unrepentant LWOP (that's "life without possibility of parole" for you upstanding citizens) could hope for in an unfamiliar environment.

Every conversation that went on in the mess hall came through in crisp detail, and with a little concentration it was simple enough to pick one out and listen in. This proved to be a hell of an asset for staying up to date, particularly since what Kelly Chambers knew, the entire ship knew (and after days of putting up with the yeoman's incessant chirping, Jack was beginning to think her designation of Miranda as the "Cerberus cheerleader" was a bit premature). Even when the mess hall was quiet, there was always something going on elsewhere in the ship; at that very moment, Jack could hear heavy footsteps above her in one of the bays, as rhythmic and steady as a seven-hundred-pound metronome. That fucking krogan had been pacing for the last two hours, growling to himself with frustration, and the repetition was beginning to wear on the convict's last nerve. She understood boredom, and the itch to take the edge off with a good fight, but two hours? It could've cleaned that big-ass shotgun it carried around, or spent some quality time with one of the Fornax issues that kept circulating through the ship, or torn up Miranda's office. Preferably the last one.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. A half-second pause. "He turns around, and..." Jack folded her arms, drumming her fingers against her biceps with staccato precision.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Pause. "And turns again..."

Her shotgun was lying next to the bunk, freshly cleaned and loaded with a bandolier of thermal clips hanging off its stock. She could snag it, be upstairs in thirty seconds, and pick a fight with the krogan. It'd probably take the edge off his boredom, and after enduring those footsteps for the past two hours, she'd find throwing him across the hold to be immensely satisfying.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Pause.

Jack was not one to suffer annoyances quietly. Adversity, real adversity, she could deal with herself, with no need for anybody to go shoving their way into her business and asking if everything was 'all right', talking about feelings, all sorts of therapist bullshit like the commander kept trying to pull. Annoyances, though, tended to get dealt with swiftly and violently.

...therapists. Seriously? What kind of game was Shepard playing, coming around trying to be all friendly when it was obvious she didn't have any interest in being part of the big, happy Cerberus family? Probably thought he could peel back twenty layers of hardcore genocidal bitch and find a scared little girl who just wanted to be accepted, like in all those ridiculous gushy vids. Like it wasn't enough that Jack killed for their little band of misfits, Shepard wanted them all to be friends on top of it. Maybe they could hold hands while skipping through the Omega 4 and getting lasered into shreds by the Collectors because their asshole commander couldn't figure out how to run an operation without everybody getting---

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Pause.

"Okay, that's it," Jack growled out loud, grabbing the shotgun. She racked the slide, loading a thermal clip (a lesser person would've saved the gesture for attempting to intimidate the krogan, but Jack didn't waste gestures on the dead, which included anybody she intended to fight), and stormed over to the staircase, intent on going up and pummeling Grunt enough to make him stop pacing for five damn minutes. Just as she passed under one of the ducts, however, the faint echo of Joker's voice gave her a brief pause.

"Welcome back, Commander," the pilot was saying, and it wasn't hard at all to picture the smirk on his face. "So I hear you're two for two on Dantius sisters; gonna move on to the parents next, or...?"

"Can't take credit for that one, Joker. Our new recruit took out Nassana...not that I'm disappointed to see her go." Yeah, that was Shepard's voice. Jack wasn't really sure what to make of the commander at times; his shooting skills and the Star of Terra mounted in his cabin (she'd bypassed the lock and snuck in once in the interest of gathering some intelligence) testified that he knew how to kick ass when ass needed kicking...but the way he acted sometimes had her seriously wondering. The first words she'd said to him were "Shit, you sound like a pussy", which was kind of telling when it came to his demeanor.

Well, if Shepard was on his way back in with the away team, she'd have to go up, slap Grunt around, and be back in the cargo hold quickly. Their boss was the type to interfere with perfectly normal ways of resolving a problem, and a lecture from him would just piss her off more at this point. So it was that the plan evolved as she quickly scaled the stairs: instead of actually getting a fight going, she'd just lob a singularity into the krogan's room and call it even. (He was, as far as Jack was concerned, getting lucky this time.) Yup, and there was the door, now, right past the elevator, which...was opening. Shit.

"EDI will scan your vital signs and get you the proper security clearance," a familiar voice was saying. "It's over here in the surveillance room; Zaeed usually hangs out there and guards the security system." Sure enough, it was Shepard, with another figure in tow. Double shit.

Well, it was too late to just stop and head clear the other way; that'd look suspicious. No, she'd have to find a way to circle around, and that'd mean acting casual and getting past the commander. Trying to look as nonchalant as possible, Jack ambled up to Shepard and his companion, offering a curt nod. "Hey."

"What's up, Jack?" Shepard asked, evidently none the wiser—until about five seconds later, when his gaze dropped to the strap over her shoulder, eyes narrowing slightly. Slight suspicion edged his next question: "...and why are you armed?"

Ah, right, hadn't really thought this part through. "Going up to see the professor," she improvised. "Thing needs a little more kick if I'm gonna keep up with Grunt's new toy."

The commander rubbed at the back of his head, apparently finding the explanation reasonable. "To be fair, Grunt's not a biotic," he mused out loud. "But good to see you're keeping up nonetheless---"

Unexpectedly, the man at his side spoke up. "I take it this is another of the team, Commander?"

The voice was resonant, a crackling rasp lower than most humans were capable of reaching, and it gave Jack enough pause that she finally took a second to examine their new squadmate. He was a drell; that was immediately obvious. Emerald scales covered his exposed flesh (which, given the unzipped nature of his jacket, was pretty damn generous...not that Jack was one to talk), trailing up to reptilian ridges around his jawline. The dewlap at the base of his neck shifted with every word he spoke, its folds rippling whenever his voice hit a particularly low note.

Jack knew from experience that drell scales were smoother than they looked; she had encountered one before her Purgatory days, a hallex dealer from Omega. He'd sold her ten cases at a reasonable rate and she'd repaid him a few hours later, up against the wall in a filthy alley behind Afterlife. It hadn't been half bad.

"Ah, right, introductions." Shepard gestured towards the drell, and there was a rather transparent 'play nice' message in his eyes that Jack didn't particularly appreciate. "Jack, this is Thane Krios; he's going to be helping us out with the Collectors."

...Huh. The legendary assassin. That made the third celebrity on their ship...and unlike Shepard (whose accomplishments were all in Citadel space) and Archangel (who'd started his reign of terror shortly before they'd locked her in Purgatory and thrown away the key), she'd heard plenty about Krios and his ability to accomplish the impossible. He was supposed to be an obscenely good shot, capable of infiltrating, taking out his target, and vanishing again before anybody realized what had happened.

Well, they'd at least picked up someone who was competent...and who wasn't Cerberus, more importantly. Jack nodded cautiously at the drell.

To her surprise, Krios bowed his head in response. "A pleasure to meet you," he rasped. "I look forward to working with the---"

A crash down the hall cut him off. It had a vaguely meaty tone to it...rather as if a krogan had headbutted the port bay window. "The hell was that?!" Shepard exclaimed, glancing with alarm toward Grunt's door.

"Your pet krogan's been stomping around all fuckin' day," Jack spat, grateful for an obvious invitation to vent her annoyance. "Either shut him up or you're gonna find his head in your fish tank."

The commander was a man of priorities, and while he took issue with her tone, it held way less priority than addressing the (hulking, shotgun-wielding) problem. "Hang tight for a second, Thane," he said, legging it down the hall. "I'll be right back." The door closed behind him a moment later and, with a whoosh of finality, left Jack in the hallway, alone with the puzzled assassin.

"Uh, we've got a krogan on the team," she offered, somewhat lamely, by way of explanation. "Kind of a pain in the ass sometimes. So, uh...you're Thane Krios, huh?" Almost before the sentence was out of her mouth, she winced, and a dull ache made itself known right next to her L5. Shit, what a way to start a conversation.

To his credit, the drell took it gracefully, not bothering to comment on her keen grasp of the obvious. "I am, yes," he answered, his back ramrod-straight and his hands clasped behind him.

Jack leaned back against the wall, taking a hand off her shotgun to scratch lightly at her close-cropped scalp. "It'll be nice to have somebody around who knows what the fuck they're doing," she conceded. "Plus you're not another Cerberus whore...less of those we have around here, the better."

A smile tugged at the edge of the assassin's lips as he studied her. Following his gaze over her tattoos, she noticed he had two sets of eyelids over his gecko-like pupils...creepy. "You seem to have heard of me, then?" he inquired, not having missed the implied compliment to his skills.

"They say you're the best," Jack offered, shrugging a shoulder. "Hell, you're supposed to have a body count close to mine. 'sgotta count for something."

Krios nodded politely. "I was trained well," he demurred, still looking her over---no, sizing her up, Jack realized after a moment. Smart of him. She let just a touch of biotic energy shimmer around one hand, in an 'I know you know I know' type of posturing. No reason to let the assassin think she was intimidated.

His chuckle was rich in tone, and the frequencies of its inhumanly low pitch tickled at the back of her eardrums. "I believe I'm...passingly acquainted with you as well, actually. Your name was all over the hanar networks after that incident with the space station."

Both sets of eyelids opened wide for a second, the black sclera glazing over.

--dismay and shock distilled down into politely-contained outrage, angry reds tinting the bioluminescent clouds. "Our holy moon, defaced." Melanindra's tentacles squirm with dismay. "The criminal has wronged us greatly. This one can only hope that she is brought to justice"--

It was over and done with before his inner eyelids could finish blinking again. "You...agitated many hanar that day," Krios ventured, his voice neutral, but the implications obvious. "I have not seen such a display of grief since Rakhana."

Ah, right. The relationship between the two races was well-documented, and she probably should've considered the whole 'vandalism' incident before talking to a drell. Well, it wasn't like Jack was on the Normandy to make friends.

"Yeah," she said, shifting away from the wall a bit and resting her hand on the shotgun. "So you out for revenge or something? Because if you wanna throw down in the hall, believe me, I've been listening to that krogan all day and I'm fucking spoiling for--"

"I have no intentions of starting a fight," he answered placatingly, holding up a hand. "We are on the same side now, and from what Commander Shepard tells me, you served a sentence already. A grudge anchors the soul to carnal thoughts, to vengeance, and I have no need for such a burden." His tone had not changed from the pleasant, nonchalant manner in which he'd introduced himself, but Jack still got the impression he was indirectly trying to get a shot in.

Leaning forward a bit, Jack stared the drell down, making a point of keeping the shotgun between them like a protective talisman. "Good," she finally said. "Stay out of my way, Krios, and I'll stay out of yours. You start getting a stick up your ass about the space station and want me to splatter you, let me know and I'll oblige."

Whooosh. Shepard hurried back out into the corridor, sweat gleaming on his forehead. "That was...tense," he grimaced. "Situation's defused for now, but we're setting a course for Tuchanka." There was a pause as he examined the two, and the frosty silence between them obviously didn't go unnoticed. "...Everything all right here?" he finally asked.

Jack didn't break the stare. "Peachy."

"Quite," Krios agreed, bowing affably. "Your crew is fascinating, Shepard, and it'll be quite the experience to work with them. Now, about that security clearance?"

With that, he turned, and the two men headed down the hallway, chatting quietly about Grunt and the Tuchanka trip. Jack watched them disappear into the surveillance room, then turned and marched back to the stairs. Fucking hanar-lovers, thinking they owned a monopoly on being wronged.

On the way back, she stopped at Grunt's door, banging on it twice with the shotgun. "Hey! Krogan!"

"What?!" called an agitated voice from inside.

Content that he was within, Jack tossed a biotic warp inside the room and headed down the stairs. The enraged bellowing, punctuated by crashing metal and breaking glass, brought a satisfied smirk to her face. Underneath it, though, she was still a little unsettled by the conversation with Krios. She'd established dominance, sure, but he didn't seem impressed, and she still wasn't convinced he wouldn't try to get payback for the hanar.

Ah well. Considering the circumstances, it was just another thing to keep an eye on. Hopefully he'd be content with the terms she'd laid out, and they'd get through the mission without any incidents.

Hell, if all went well, they wouldn't exchange another word.