Admiral Hackett leaned back in the richly upholstered wing chair, lacing his fingers together. One of the Admiral's vices appeared to be antique furniture from Earth's early industrial era, as the expansive oaken desk and leather chair were well out of place in the otherwise utilitarian construction of his office. Obviously, rank came with privileges, particularly when having heavy furniture brought onto a interstellar vessel. Miranda's own seat was a modest low-backed chair made of some kind of wood, intended for making the user slightly uncomfortable. No doubt to subconsciously provide a disadvantage while conversing with the Admiral.
Hackett cleared his throat. "You should know as well as anyone that there is not much taste for artificial intelligence research right now. Eden Prime seems to have had consequences beyond elevating Shepard to Spectre status. With her running around chasing down Saren, Geth, and who knows what else? It's political suicide, Miss Lawson, and you know it. You tell your superior that this project needs to be closed, quietly."
The Illusive Man had expected the Admiral to terminate her project almost immediately after the attack on Eden Prime. That kind of research was highly illegal in Council space. The Alliance could not be implicated in that kind of activity. That was why her organization was useful to them.
It was a game of cat and mouse; when dealing with the Alliance. The relationship between the secretive, elusive organization known as Cerberus and the vast bureaucracy of the Alliance was tenuous at best. Shared goals came in the form of technology, economics, and the exploration of the vast expanses of the galaxy. Cerberus did not do charity work, and always gained much in the way of funding and technology while working on these "joint ventures." The Alliance tolerated the somewhat questionable tactics that Cerberus employed when pursuing its goals, as the results were always exceptional and the participants were always quiet. Of course, the relationship was doomed to be abandoned when the winds of political change blew through the Admiralty and humanity at large. Thus, Miranda had been summoned by the Admiral to receive the news that her employer's services were no longer required.
"Miss Lawson, that is not the only reason why I have asked for you to be present," growled the Admiral in a low tone. He pointed to a data-pad on his desk and spat, "This. I think your superior needs to see what it contains."
Miranda allowed her meticulously sculpted brows to creep infinitesimally higher in response to the Admiral's statement. Hackett continued, "It has come to my attention that your employer has engaged in questionable usage of Alliance resources and personnel. In the past, the methods your organization used and statues that were violated could be swept under the rug. However, given the elevation of a human to Spectre status, we can no longer tolerate these kinds of activities. The Council will not be pleased to find out that we are preaching one message while feeding your organization talent and funding to perform research which is in direct contravention of treaties and accords signed by our race."
Miranda's wan smile dropped as the Admiral continued his tirade.
"I have also heard that your supervisor has been implicitly involved in the abduction and or death of Alliance personnel. That is unacceptable!" shouted Hackett as he pounded the desk with his fists. "Tell the Illusive Man to clean up his act or he'll find the galaxy to be a very unfriendly place for him and his kind!"
"I will relay your concerns to Him, Admiral Hackett. I do not doubt that he will be disappointed that you see fit to terminate our contract." Miranda slowly lifted her chin, gazing down upon the Admiral in a well practiced air of superiority. "Admiral, if that is all you wish to discuss, I have many other matters which are pressing importance."
Hackett nodded curtly. "I want this dealt with, and I want it done discreetly."
"As if we would be anything but, Admiral," clipped Miranda. She rose from her seat and bowed imperceptibly. "Good day."
Briskly, she turned and took her leave.
The Illusive Man casually flicked the lighter as he waited for the secure connection to be established. His best operative had news to deliver, news which had already reached him via other channels. It was good business practice to have alternative means of being informed.
The pleasant figure of Miranda Lawson materialized in the holographic projector before him. Apparently, she was the very model of human genetic perfection. He felt no need to doubt that, given the sight before him. She crossed her arms in such a way to accentuate her figure, a posture wasted on him but effective enough when dealing with many of those whom she dealt with on a regular basis. She knew that her body was a creation intended for a purpose. A tool to be used.
"Miranda. How was your meeting with our employer?" drawled the Illusive Man.
"Just as you expected. He wants to distance himself from the project. He wants a 'discreet' demobilization. He also sent me with a stern warning about complying with Council statues and to observe care when handling Alliance personnel."
Taking a deep drag on his cigarette, the Illusive Man considered her carefully worded statement.
"I am indeed disappointed that he no longer sees value in our expertise or services. It is regrettable that the agents that I chose to oversee some of the higher-risk operations were not as inviolate as yourself. We have already made steps to dispose of these ventures." He took another pull of his cigarette. "Regarding your own operation; I have planned for this eventuality so it is no great loss. We will terminate the project as he requests."
Miranda stiffened as the Illusive Man spoke. He held up a hand as he saw her body shift.
"I know you have invested much time and effort overseeing the project. I have been greatly pleased by your achievements thus far. We've accomplished far more than even Iexpected, and it is the Alliance's loss for having ignored the potential opportunities that our discoveries have uncovered. I want you to reassign the soft assets and eliminate any outstanding liabilities. Use your own discretion when necessary."
"What of the construct? Should I attempt to relocate it?"
He took another drag on his cigarette, savoring the hot smoke. "No. I have an idea which will remind Hackett not to make foolish accusations without understanding the truth behind the matters. It will also give us a chance to observe the indomitable Commander Shepard."
Miranda arched an eyebrow.
"I will forward the details when you have finished the reduction in force," He stabbed the cigarette into the try on his chair's armrest. "Contact me when you are done."
The hologram disappeared, leaving the Illusive Man bathed only in the red glow of the star burning behind him.
"Operative Lawson, we have completed our sweep of the facility and have secured the remaining assets for transport. Are there further instructions?"
Miranda glanced up from the terminal and focused her gaze upon the black-clad pair of Cerberus troopers standing before her. She allowed her trademark smirk to show.
"Thank you sergeant, your squad has done well. Head up to the shuttle, I will be along shortly."
The troopers nodded as they acknowledged the command. Miranda returned her attention to the screen. She frowned, feeling a flush of anger at the wanton destruction that would soon be visited here. It was a bittersweet moment for her, destroying a thing she had a significant hand in creating. Perhaps it was some long-dormant maternal instinct, clawing at her. She paused her typing for a moment to consider the thought; her, a mother? She could not help letting a short bark of laughter escape. It was truly an absurd thought.
Still, the comparison was not totally lost. She had guided the development of the project through all the critical stages. From conception through the long labor of love that finally birthed a creation which was unparalleled in all the galaxy as far as she knew.
There was a saying that she had heard once, attributed to a great thinking nearly a millennium earlier on Earth: 'we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.'
She truly felt that her achievements in and of themselves were inconsequential to the knowledge and research which had been brought together in this one glorious crucible. It was regrettable that her employer did not feel the same sentimentality that she did, but such was her life. Miranda knew that forming attachments was not her destiny and that her legacy would not be one of greatness, but to merely stand on the shoulders of the proverbial giants.
"Agent Lawson?" A soft, harmonious voice broke into Miranda's thoughts, breaking her concentration.
"Yes Allice?" replied Miranda, sighing slightly.
"You appear to be distracted. Is there an issue with the application patch?" queried the voice.
"No, Allice. I am just thinking." The smirk returned to her perfect face. "Even I do that from time to time."
"Understood. You are a thoughtful person. I am becoming more adept at recognizing the variable unconscious non-verbal communication sequences when conversing with humans. I am curious about the comparison between human sequences and the sequences of other species. My records do not contain adequate reference on that subject."
Miranda let the smirk grow into a smile. It did feel like being a mother, of a sort. "Allice, I would call the 'unconscious non-verbal communication sequences' something a bit shorter. 'Body language' is an appropriate term that I think would suit."
"Noted. Will this patch affect the primary buffer write sequences, Agent Lawson? I have logged four hundred twenty eight thousand, ninety three errors in the write sequence over the past twenty four hours. I have attempted to re-route the buffer flush thread to a secondary bus, but the throughput it reduced by four point two percent. The write errors may be a hardware design flaw."
"Well, you do know the story about 'bugs' in the system? I will have Dr. Pradnesh inspect the primary memory core tomorrow." She dropped the smile and began to rapidly enter a sequence of commands at the terminal. "The patch doesn't change much, although you will require a full boot sequence to allow it to overwrite the network traffic protocol. You'll feel much better afterward."
"Noted. Will you be there when I wake, Agent Lawson? I have not undergone a full boot sequence in eighteen Lunar cycles."
Miranda could have sworn she heard a slight apprehension in the voice, but it was hard to tell as the synthesizer masked some of the typical pitch deviations that would have otherwise been present. A brief twinge of guilt pulled at her heart. It surprised her, because she never felt guilty about anything and she never figured she had a heart. The feeling passed quickly, and she plastered her false smirk on for the cameras as she keyed the final commands which would begin the sequence that would destroy the unsuspecting construct.
Samantha "Sam" Shepard waited for the elevator to grind its way through the heart of the Normandy. It never ceased to amaze her that the Alliance could spend millions, if not billions, of credits on the most advanced frigate in the galaxy and still have low-bid elevators and vinyl clad seats.
The voice of Normandy's pilot and resident wise-ass interrupted her musings. "Commander, urgent message from Alliance Command coming in. I'll patch it through."
"Shepard, This is Admiral Hackett from Alliance Command. We've got a situation here, and you're the only one who can handle it."
Shepard sighed quietly. Since being elevated to a Spectre, it seemed like she was going from system to system and solving some kind of crisis that had no connection to her goal of taking down Saren and Sovereign.
"What do you need Admiral?" Shepard managed to keep her tone light and conversational, even though every time one of these calls came through her mood was anything but.
Hackett launched into his rationale for disrupting what had otherwise been a rather pleasant evening. "There's a training ground where we test weapons and technology in live-fire situations. One of the VIs we use to simulate enemy tactics in the drills is no longer responding to our override commands." He paused, adding in a much lower tone. "It's gone rogue."
Shepard blanked for a moment. She knew that virtual intelligences were not infallible, being computers prone to bugs and glitches. Without thinking, she blurted, "Are you telling me this computer is thinking on its own?"
"We're not stupid Shepard," came Hackett's terse reply, his tone carrying more than a hint of annoyance at her impertinence. "This is a virtual intelligence, not a true AI. It's not self-aware, and it can't access any external systems," Hackett paused, "We didn't do anything illegal here." Shepard noted the defensive tone the Admiral took as he finished. "Virtual intelligence support is critical to our military success. VIs process thousands of status reports and react in nanoseconds. No human can do that. We need you to fight your way through the training ground to the VI core and manually disable it."
"Can't you disable it remotely, sir?"
"Our fail-safes aren't responding. The VI operates on a closed network. It can't affect any external systems, but we don't have any direct access to its processors. We could bomb it from orbit, but the damage to the facility would be catastrophic." Hackett paused to allow his words to sink in. "We'd prefer to have someone shut down the core. Someone like you. I know Spectres answer to the council, but you're still human." Shepard grit her teeth to remain silent. It was no secret that a great deal of the Alliance brass had wanted her to be cast out of the N corps, and some of them had argued that she should be discharged from the fleet entirely. Taking the crown jewel of the Alliance fleet as her own personal shuttle was bound to have ruffled some very important feathers.
Shepard contemplated the situation as presented by the Admiral. She knew that he had her proverbial balls in a vice. He interrupted her thoughts with a final plea. "You're still part of the Alliance military and right now we need you."
Sam knew where her loyalties lay, and the Alliance needed her. She would not turn her back on the organization that had provided so much to her when she had been in need. Clearing her throat with a soft cough, "I'll handle the situation, sir."
"Thank you, Shepard. I'll send schematics and coordinates to you. The VI controls all of the facilities' weapons, drones, and automated defenses. You're the only one who can pull this off, Shepard. Good luck."
"Aye-aye, sir. Normandy out."
AN: Got a bug in my brain about one insignificant mission from ME1. Planned on writing about it, but life gets in the way. I'm terrible about updating (never finished my first published trainwreck!) but I'm going to do my best to see this one through. The ME universe is just too ripe with good plot threads!