AN: Well, it's certainly been a while since I've updated. If you're curious as to the reasons: College, Finals, Life in General, and... a healthy dose of Procrastination.

I've actually had this chapter done for a few months, silly eh?

-=ME:E=-

As Shepard came to he could feel the bitter cold permeating all of his being but could see only darkness. For a brief moment he imagined himself floating in the void of space again before a quiet groan sounded across from him and he remembered the real world. How long had he been in cryo with the rather profane woman situated across from him? The tube containing the pair of restraining racks began to rise and he had to slam his eyelids shut as the first cracks of light assaulted them. Across from him, the tattooed woman hissed and said, "Mother fuck, that's bright."

The Warden's warbling voice carried over the moderately-loud machinery, but with a hollow distortion reminiscent of a PA system. He said, "Rise and shine, inmates! Your ten minutes of required physical exercise start now."

The two racks swung apart from each other as the tube finished its ascent and the restraints covering Shepard's body loosened. A surprisingly thick layer of frost barely kept them secured and he shrugged his way out of the rack and took a few steps as he tried to clear the fog of his long sleep. To his side he could hear his cellmate struggle with her restraints for a moment before she too staggered away from the cryo-unit. The sounds of a struggle continued until with a grunt of rage the tattooed woman stomped the ground and shouted, "Fuck this collar!"

Rubbing his left eye, it felt a little heavier in the lids than his right, he glanced over at her. Many of the wiry muscles in her torso and most in her arms were flexing weakly against the collar as she tried to pry it apart. He could identify a handful of prison tattoos on the tapestry that was her skin, but the remainder were a mystery to him. She quickly noticed his attention and spat, "What the fuck are you looking at?"

Ignoring her, Shepard began some basic stretches and surveyed the room. On a catwalk behind them two guards with assault rifles patrolled and in front of them a trio of YMIR heavy mechs sat, deactivated, at the bottom of a ramp. Above the mechs he could see a control room of sorts with moderately mirrored windows, which made discerning the interior difficult. Perhaps the younger woman was telling the truth concerning her internment, the security seemed extremely tight.

"Pay attention to me when I'm talking to you, dipshit!"

A smallish fist collided with his jaw and shifted his balance a little before the same fist returned to the same spot and forced him to stumble back. One of guards above jeered something incomprehensible. He recovered himself in time to catch her next strike and, using his superior strength, he flipped her onto the deck grating roughly. Positioned above her head, Shepard simply grabbed the bulky collar and pressed it against the floor. The tattooed woman cursed and struggled to gain leverage over him, but he refused to give any ground and only pressed down harder. She attempted to grab him around the neck with her legs, but he easily pushed them away. As she realized the futility of the struggle he could even feel the material of the collar give a little under the pressure. Another on-the-fly plan was beginning to form in his mind and he looked the shorter woman in the eye while saying, "Are you done?"

For a moment it seemed she wished to spit on him, but the rather dry feeling of his own mouth probably applied to hers as well. She settled for crossing her arms, turning her head away with chin jutting out, and saying, "Yeah, we're done, mom."

Smirking a little, Shepard quietly replied, "Good, now listen well: I don't plan on staying here much longer," the tattooed woman snorted at this, "however, it would go much more smoothly if I had a little backup."

She narrowed her eyes at him and hissed, "I prefer to go it alone."

He quirked an eyebrow, saying, "So you'd prefer to spend the rest of your days in cryo?"

"Hell no! But I won't follow some cocky new motherfucker 'cause he asks nicely. Let go!" She renewed her struggle with a stream of muttered curses.

After glancing at the two inattentive guards Shepard pressed on the collar hard enough that the materials composing it groaned audibly and he said, "Trust me, and I'll get you off this ship."

She covered her surprise at the collar's complaint by slitting her eyes and glancing between Shepard and the object before she said, "You better be straight up with me."

Shepard nodded, released her, and exhaled internally, it seemed more and more that he was flying by the seat of his pants. Convincing the small, angry woman had been a pure gamble and he was grateful the guards seemed so confident in their collars, otherwise the two of them may have required more discretion. Even as he thought this he could see the two guards, a human and a turian, making their way down to their level. At the base of the ramp, one of the heavy mechs activated and began unfolding itself. The warden's voice warbled officiously from the PA system, "Your ten minutes of mandatory exercise are now up! Your guards will escort you back to your cells."

The tattooed woman was rubbing a sore spot on her head nearby and said, "Jack."

Shepard glanced at her and with a cocked eyebrow asked, "Who?"

As the human guard waved her along with his rifle she rolled her eyes and said, "It's my name, dumbass."

The turian did the same with him and he said, "No surname?"

"A what?"

It was Shepard's turn to roll his eyes as he said, "A second name, most people have two, like John Shepard."

She glared at the guard balefully as the restraints automatically clamped over her body and she said, "Who?"

Nearly ignoring his own guard as he settled into the rack, with a grin he said, "It's my name, dumbass."

The two racks swung together in short order before the tube began lowering into the cryo unit again. As the cold crept up his body for the second time he considered his most recent impromptu plans and the concerning regularity in which he was forced to devise them. Everything since his awakening aboard that hellish station had been so disorganized and rushed. It didn't help that he was still missing pieces of his life leading up to the cold nightmare of his death. He fought a shiver from the memory and from the cold of his prison and managed to contain it in time for the sting of the collar to effect him.

-=ME:E=-

Ninety-nine.

It had been a few days since command had been transferred, and Jacob was still unsure of his ability to correctly guide the crew of the Thermopylae and fulfill the Illusive Man's orders. Sure, he had a command on the Lazarus project, something he had to adjust to as well, and he had plenty of experience leading squads from his time in the Alliance, but commanding a ship was a whole new game for him. After picking up the bounty hunter, Zaeed Masssani, he had settled into regular ship operations, there was little paperwork to go through in certain Cerberus operations. No big decisions had presented themselves yet.

One hundred and three. The burn was getting intense at this point, but for Jacob the burn only gave him more drive to focus, to think. He had been more than leery when he had received orders to pick up the mercenary, but the man's reputation as a dependable gun spoke for itself. Being stable, strong, and dependable were things that Jacob pushed himself to be. If the bounty hunter proved himself to be these things, to live up to that reputation, then he could work with him at least. Trust would be hard to give when the man's gun was only at his side because of Cerberus's money.

With a final heave he finished the last repetition of his weighted leg lifts and began removing the straps from his legs. The Illusive Man's latest orders were a bit of a mystery to him: rendezvous with the Blue Suns' prison ship, Purgatory, and attend a prisoner auction. The prisoner of interest was an escaped Cerberus experiment named Subject Zero. Jacob had never taken much interest in the various research cells the shady organization had, the few he heard about only filled him with disgust. Miranda would probably know the details, but he was wary of encroaching on her at all since the shift in command. Her demeanor had been laced with an extra rime of frost, but like a professional she continued to do her job more than adequately.

Her recent, chilled replies of "Understood, Captain" or "Yes, Mister Taylor" chafed him when he was so used to just plain "Jacob."

Just as he was about to stand and make his way to the showers, ED's monotone voice abruptly sounded from the room's comm system, "Operative Taylor, I have been asked by Operative Lawson to inform you that we are now nineteen minutes and twenty-six seconds from our rendezvous with the Purgatory."

A trickle of sweat slipping down his face prompted him to grab his towel and wipe it off as he said, "Thank you, ED – let her know I'll be up there soon."

-=ME:E=-

Garrus, seated at one of the tables in the common room in the crew deck, glanced over at the young human, Jonn Whitson, who was sulking at his end of the table. On either side of him sat Doctor Chakwas and Kaidan; Mordin and Joker sat to Garrus's sides. The gray box containing EDI rested at the center of the table, a small wireless networking inhibitor securely connected to one of her various ports. Kaidan sent him a questing look and he rapped his talons on the table before a thin object was slid across the table to him. He barely suppressed a pleased tilt of his mandibles before he glanced over again and said, "How's the patient, Doctor?"

The deaths of his squad and Sidonis's injuries weighed heavily upon him - could they have been saved had he stayed? It didn't feel as if he had truly processed it yet, with Shepard's capture, the Collector attacks, a mysterious AI, and the young human across from him occupying his thoughts. The doctor rapped her knuckles against the table as well, but seemed dissatisfied with the object slid across to her. Joker shook his head with an amused smile as she leaned back in her chair with a sigh and said, "I've kept him asleep and the treatment of his burns is complete, Professor Solus was more than helpful. We'll have to see about taking him to a dermal regenerator at one of the Presidium hospitals for the scars."

Garrus nodded gratefully to both the salarian and human before returning his attention to Whitson. He gently clicked his talons against the table's surface as he contemplated the youth across from him. Kaidan looked to Mordin, who nodded and then thoughtfully frowned, his eyes constantly darting around the table. Joker shook his head as he was looked to in turn and smirked victoriously at Garrus. The turian merely snorted quietly at the pilot before turning his attention to the silent, one-sided exchange Kaidan was having with the Whitson boy. At first the marine tried pointedly glancing at the young human, then he attempted a subtle gesture with his hands, but realizing that Jonn was dead to the world, he settled for clearing his throat. Garrus could see his ears perk, indicating he heard it, but the problem was that he wasn't listening. Still unsure about the human in general, much less how to address him, Garrus settled for clearly saying, "Whitson."

A head of cropped hair snapped up to meet his gaze for a moment before Kaidan's motions caught his eye. He nodded and eyed the object slid to him dubiously before he leaned back in is seat with a frustrated huff. Once the situation had brought him out of his reverie it seemed he was no longer content with just sulking, he fixed Garrus with a determined stare and said, "I'm going with you."

Kaidan just sighed and flipped an object for himself as Garrus said, "Nope."

Whitson crossed his arms petulantly and said, "Why?"

Garrus raised a hand to stall Kaidan, who had looked ready to comment, and said, "Emotionally unstable."

"I'm not the only one dealing with loss right now."

Garrus flicked one mandible, it stung a bit where the shots from earlier had struck it, he had to give the kid that one, and rebutted, "Inexperienced."

Jonn hesitated a moment before he returned, "You saw Garm's body when they took Shepard – that hole in his head? Courtesy of yours truly."

While it was an impressive claim, and the charisma leaking into the boy's voice almost made it believable, Garrus had caught the moment of hesitation. He stopped himself from calling Whitson out on it though, Garm would have been a challenge even for Shepard. He continued to meet the young man's gaze with his own, the one that had many humans comparing turians to Earth birds of prey. He searched the emerald chips for the wildness and ferocity that came from rage born of grief, but instead all he found was collected coolness. It was no guarantee that he would be ready for the chaos of combat, but it inspired some confidence in Garrus. Chakwas, out of some sense of discomfort at all of the quiet staring, said, "It's not like they're heading into combat, Mr. Whitson. It's only a prisoner auction after all."

Silence reigned at the table for a few moments after this was said as they all took stock of their armored and armed persons until she continued, "Oh, who am I kidding."

Joker chuckled at her slumped form as Kaidan said, "While it's true we'll be going as Council representatives to secure Shepard in the auction, it occurred to me earlier that he won't be expecting a rescue. He's also resourceful enough to attempt escape when the opportunity presents itself."

The thought had crossed Garrus's mind a few times as they journeyed to the rendezvous with the Purgatory and he found himself concurring with Kaidan. With a nod to the marine he said, "My thoughts exactly, our primary plan of action should be to link up with him and evac when he makes his move, if he hasn't already. If he doesn't during the auction, then we've been authorized to use a hefty amount of funds to secure his release from both the Council and the Alliance."

He paused to point at Jonn and said, "You can come with us, but if fighting does break out, I want you on rearguard. I'll be on point while Commander Alenko and Professor Solus stick between us and work their magic."

Garrus rapped his talons on the table again, Kaidan slid something across the table to him with a biotic push and an exaggerated waggle of his fingers. The Captain chuckled and asked, "Joker, how long until we meet up with the Purgatory?"

The pilot sat up sheepishly and stuttered, "O-oh, right, I should be up there right now. Another hour maybe."

As Kaidan's "magic" slid across the table, Garrus's eye lit upon EDI's, well – EDI. What's the harm in one more, he thought, Shepard's trust was almost always well placed. With a flick of his wrist and a couple taps of his omni-tool he had disabled the wireless inhibitor and allowed EDI into communications at least. Before he had a chance to say anything, EDI's voice came in through the overhead speakers in a dull, flat monotone, "Do you have any idea how depressing it is to stay locked up like that?"

Joker snorted and mumbled, "OK, Marvin..."

EDI's voice lost her dreary feeling as genuine curiosity leaked through and she asked, "Who's Marvin?"

"Later," Garrus cut any further conversation off and said, "I'm not going to give you free run of the Normandy's systems, EDI, but you can poke around a bit. Shepard trusted you, so I'll extend the same courtesy on his behalf. I'm going to leave Lieutenant -"

A familiar voice broke through the communications system, interrupting him, "Manunta to Captain Vakarian."

Garrus sighed and said, "Vakarian here."

The Lieutenant continued her report, "Captain, an unidentified network is interfacing with our own. It's slippery, but so far it's only kept to surface systems -"

Garrus caught himself about to imitate a human gesture, his talons an inch from pinching the ridged bridge of his nose. That would smart a bit if he actually managed it. Off to the side Joker was obviously restraining himself from making a smart comment while Kaidan looked to him with an unsure frown on his face. He fixed the pilot with a glare as he said, "I'm aware: it's the AI we picked up. I've decided to let it – her roam a bit, and before you ask, I am sure of my decision. Keep an eye on her."

"Aye aye, Captain."

There was a beat of silence before EDI quietly said, "Thank you, Captain Vakarian."

"Ok, not Marvin then," Joker mumbled quietly before he cleared his throat and said, "Anyways, mind if we finish this game before I head up to the cockpit?"

Garrus glanced down at the card Kaidan had "magicked" over to him and chuckled, saying, "Blackjack."

Joker howled in indignation, "Again? I swear I'll beat you one day, you – you scaly space chicken!"

With that the pilot stormed off towards the elevator and Garrus muttered, "Space chicken?"

Off to the side, Kaidan said, "You've probably heard humans compare turians to birds, chickens are a bird species on Earth."

Mordin slid his cards back towards the marine as he said, "Tried it a couple times, can be dry and tasteless, but with proper preparation it is quite delectable."

Garrus couldn't help the twitch of his brow plates that followed the Professor's description, "Delectable?"

-=ME:E=-

Jacob prevented himself from fiddling with the collar of the dress uniform he wore over his customary jumpsuit for the umpteenth time as the pre-auction dinner party came to a close. He hadn't touched any of the food, didn't trust it. The Warden seemed shifty, perhaps the turians had it right when they called deceivers bare-faced. Kurill wore no face paint and the exaggerated way in which he talked left Jacob feeling uncomfortable. Who held a dinner party on board a prison ship shortly before selling some of the prisoners anyways? Perhaps the turian harbored illusions about the prestige of his position.

Beside him, in her own dress uniform, Miranda was saying farewell to a pair of turian delegates with all of the sweetness and charm she could muster. Beneath it all he knew she was still silently stewing over the events of the past week, she clenched her jaw just enough for the muscle to shift visibly when she thought no one was looking. Had she been in a better mood he may have even jokingly suggested she wear a little black number and accompany him on his arm. Maybe only half-jokingly. He feigned interest in the departing turians as he said his own farewells and acted just as gracious and charming as his partner. Or at least he tried to.

It's not that the conversation with the two of them was boring, it was actually quite interesting that the Hierarchy refused to have their prisoners interred with third-party organizations. Apparently they preferred to dish out the credits to obtain the prisoners rather than let the Blue Suns release them on Palaven, or some other turian world, unannounced. The problem was that this whole affair, the dinner party and the tour of the ship beforehand, was just a waste of time waiting for the auction to begin. Waiting. Jacob hated waiting. It didn't help that the collar of the dress uniform he was wearing over his bodysuit kept chafing at his throat. He wasn't even representing Cerberus while he was present, just one of their front companies, but he was still the one in command. At least he was supposed to be: throughout the whole affair it was Miranda who had taken charge. He was never one for social events nor had he received any training for them, unlike Miranda. Their mercenary, Massani, avoided conversation completely and just skulked by the tables laden with food and drink, nervously fidgeting with a ridiculous pair of shades.

Rather than dwell on how the situation undermined his authority concerning Miranda, he turned his attention to the party arriving more than fashionably late. Garrus Vakarian and Kaidan Alenko had just entered the room with another Alliance marine and a rugged looking salarian, the four of them fully armed and armored. One of the "ushers," guards in heavy armor with assault rifles, was vainly trying to stop them. Curious, Jacob made his way across the room towards them and purposefully neglected to beckon Miranda. Stopping to confer with her about everything he did wouldn't help his already tremulous position with her, he had to seem in control. As he approached he could hear the guard stiffly, quietly requesting that the party relinquish their weapons.

Alenko looked to the guard sternly and said, "I believe the Captain already told you, a few times now, that isn't going to happen. Even if you brought your superior out here, the answer would still be no."

Vakarian made a shooing motion with one of his talons and the guard briskly strode off into the room in search of the Warden. Last Jacob saw, Kurill was busy entertaining guests and enjoying the sound of his own voice. As Alenko watched the guard wander off he noticed the Cerberus Operatives approaching his party. He nudged Vakarian and said something low enough that Jacob couldn't hear, but the turian quickly turned his attention to the two of them. Figuring that they already knew who Jacob and Miranda were just as he knew that Vakarian was a Spectre he skipped the introductions and merely asked, "Vakarian, Alenko, what brings the two of you upstanding citizens out to such a shady gathering?"

Vakarian glanced between the two of them, as if unsure, and Alenko tersely said, "If it involved either of you, Mr. Taylor, then I'm sure we'd have sought you out. As this is an auction I assumed it was obvious we were interested in what's on sale."

"One of them caught my eye, if you know what I mean," Vakarian waggled his brow plates in an approximation of the human gesture and winked at Jacob before he continued, "And what of you two? What brings such outstanding pro-human activists to a gathering with such varied attendance?"

Jacob wanted to smile, the dry, sardonic manner in which the turian said pretty much everything made it all the more amusing. The various aliens at the gathering didn't bother Jacob and he felt no ill-will towards any of them, that kind of behavior lay with the more radical elements of Cerberus. Before the conversation could continue any farther, Warden Kurill finally decided to make his appearance, the guard from earlier at his heels. In an authoritative tone, he said, "I understand your reluctance to relinquish your weapons with so many dangerous prisoners on board, but you have my assurances of your safety – they are all well contained. I must request that you turn them over to my men for the duration of your visit, your weapons that is – they will be returned on your departure."

Vakarian shook his head sharply once and said, "Not happening."

The Warden immediately began trying to stare the other turian down, but between the two of them their intimidating gazes only bounced off one another. Jacob stepped forward before the staring contest got the Spectre thrown out, he was curious about Vakarian's presence. Thinking quickly, Jacob noticed a pair of asari in the background and said, "Warden Kurill, I hope you don't mind if I say something on the level: most, if not all, guests here are armed in one fashion or another."

He paused to draw the pistol he had hidden under the jacket of his dress uniform and held it up so that it was plain that the safety was on and no thermal clip was loaded. The Warden and his guard both stiffened visibly, the former attempting to pierce Jacob's skull with his eyes. He slipped the pistol back into its hiding place as he continued, "The fact that their weaponry is more visible may unsettle the other guests, but surely you have enough confidence in your security forces that it shouldn't be an issue."

The intensity of the Warden's gaze lessened and the turian's chest inflated a little before he said, "You make a good point, Mr. Taylor. My men are all well trained, more than ready to handle four armed guests, and I trust the Captain and his subordinates are here for something other than armed combat."

Another staring contest threatened to break out between the two turians and Jacob wondered how much longer the exchange would go on. An ethereal, computer-generated voice broke into the conversation from behind the salarian and marine, "This one begs your forgiveness, but for this one missing the auction would be a most unfavorable outcome. It would be greatly appreciated if you would kindly step to the side."

The small group parted to allow a lone hanar through, the tension seemingly broken, and Kurill clapped his talons together, "Excellent, now that all of our guests have arrived, I believe it is time to begin the auction."

-=ME:E=-

Zaeed loitered near the drinks and food, but none of it seemed particularly appetizing. It was rather standard fare compared to the few true banquets he'd attended before. There was no music, no dancing, and no classy women lounging about with which to dance with. The Lawson woman had a very off-putting attitude and he never could understand the fascination with Asari. He was edgy with so many Blue Suns about and he wondered briefly if Vido Santiago lurked somewhere on board, watching him safely from some dark control center. He fiddled with the dark shades obscuring his face as he glanced at an extremely obvious security camera in the corner. Part of him regretted coming along, because he endangered the mission with his presence, but the other half was itching to whip out the pistol hidden under his clothing and hunt Santiago down. If the bastard was even on board - the odds said no.

A smooth, tenor voice devoid of any emotion pulled him from his indirect scrutiny of the camera, stating, "You are Zaeed Massani."

Rather than whip around in shock, Zaeed slipped one hand inside of his jacket and turned enough so that the speaker could see his face and he could see them. The hand inside of his jacket was still hidden. The man standing before him had a slight, unassuming build and was dressed in a gray business suit. He held a briefcase in one hand as stiffly as his body seemed to be propped up. A pair of piercing gray eyes stared dispassionately out of a placid face, but Zaeed felt as though every molecule of his being was analyzed. To Zaeed, the man felt uncanny. Cautiously, he said, "Yeah, that's me."

"Your weapon will not be necessary," The man bent in a fluid motion to place the briefcase at Zaeed's feet before continuing, "Payment for services rendered."

Thinking back to his most recent job, not the disaster with Archangel, but a hit on some no-name batarian, he said, "I was already paid for that job."

"Vido Santiago is on board," The man, who was beginning to unnerve Zaeed, glanced at the case meaningfully and continued, "Good evening."

Drawn to the briefcase by the man's glance he sent a look of his own to it before looking up. The space before him was empty and Zaeed quickly searched the sparse crowd for any sign of the slight man. He could find none. Warily, as though he expected it to explode, he knelt in front of the gray case while his thoughts whirled about his most recent job. It had been passed to him through one of the regular agents, but no client had ever been mentioned, no background was offered. Zaeed had passed it off as the usual anonymity requested by skittish businessmen looking to eliminate their partners. In that moment however, the obscurity of the man and his mysterious presence made him question the mundane nature of the hit.

As he cracked the case enough to peer inside, he puzzled over the identity of his benefactor.

-=ME:E=-

Garrus patiently tapped his foot, or was it impatiently? He couldn't be bothered to decide which it was, but impatience had greater evidence in its favor. The file of mundane, yet dangerous, prisoners that passed through the room below their vantage was winding down and Garrus found himself tempted only once to make a joking bid on a turian prisoner. The Cerberus Operative, Taylor had looked at him then while his partner frowned, and he had winked at the humans. He let the Hierarchy representatives have the prisoner, as he had no true desire to house a convict aboard the Normandy. Off near the center of the observation deck's large window, Warden Kurill stood like a showman reading off the list of prisoners in an authoritative and theatrical manner. To his sides Jonn Whitson shook his leg anxiously and Kaidan dropped one of his feet to the ground so he could could raise the other across his knee. Mordin was seated at the end of the row quietly watching the proceedings.

Garrus tapped his foot again as several of the guests began to meander out, their business finished, and he glanced around at the remainder. The Cerberus duo and a mercenary remained across the room from him and the hanar from before silently watched the procession of prisoners. The floating pink alien had failed to make a bid on any of the prisoners, and Garrus worried that he might be after Shepard. He worried the same thing about Taylor and Lawson, but their presence was only partly unexpected. He considered tapping his foot again, but the Warden's voice, booming out to reach the remaining guests, recalled him from his thoughts.

"Gentlemen," He winked at Lawson, who watched him with contempt, "And Lady, the time has come for the main event of our humble auction. Below us is the cryostasis unit, a place reserved for only the most dangerous and vile of criminals. So dangerous they must remain isolated from the primary prison populace. Only two have earned such a distinction."

Out on the floor below a tube that had gone unnoticed before raised itself and expelled a billow of mist. Indistinct shapes could be seen stirring in the mist, and Garrus found himself curious as to who the other prisoner could be. The cloud finally cleared as a powerful figure strode out of it, quickly resolving into Shepard. A neural suppressive collar was clamped around his neck and he was garbed only in orange prison slacks. With the numerous scars covering him and the unkempt hair, Shepard fit the role he had been forced into, but Garrus would recognize him anywhere. A tiny figure stumbled out of the mist next to Shepard and he immediately recognized the infamous criminal known simply as Jack.

-=ME:E=-

Jacob was surprised that the mighty Subject Zero was the tiny woman below him, but even more surprising was the presence of John Shepard, Savior of the Citadel. Vakarian's presence finally made sense. The reborn Spectre's appearance was a problem, though. Jacob had taken the time to read up on some of the work that had gone into him, and he knew more than enough about modern security tech like the collar Shepard was fitted with.

At the front of the room Kurill continued with his theatrics, but Jacob ignored him and quietly said, "That collar won't hold him."

He could see Miranda, rigid as stone beside him, imperceptibly nod her head. She had completely ignored Subject Zero when Shepard had appeared, and Jacob knew she was seeing an opportunity down in that room. He didn't see it, in fact he could only see Shepard slipping away again and Subject Zero following in his wake.

-=ME:E=-

Shepard shook the fog from his head as the warbling voice of the Warden echoed around the room, he didn't bother listening. He hadn't dreamed in a while, but both times he awoke from cryostasis the memories he regained rushed into his mind as though he had lost them again. The same holes were still present as he probed around. He sighed dejectedly.

Down the ramp the three YMIR mechs sat, active and idle, while a squad of guards watched from the catwalks above. To his right, Jack stood eerily patient and calm, but he could feel her eyes glance to him expectantly. He could hear other voices now, bidders making their bids on him and his cellmate, but he could discern no forms through the reflective glass of the small control room. Glancing around at the security measures in place, Shepard promptly stretched, made a good show of raising his arms in the air and swiftly set his hands on the collar around his neck.

-=ME:E=-

When Garrus had seen the collar, and comprehended its purpose, he resigned himself to expending the funds provided to him by the Council and Alliance. Taylor placed a bid on Jack, which mildly surprised him, but the Hanar's bid on the criminal was more startling. The polite diction and tone didn't help soften the amount of credits he threw at the bid. Both of the prisoners started at five-hundred million credits, but Jack had already escalated to one and a half billion. Garrus placed a bid for Shepard, but Kaidan's elbow in his side distracted him from any other bids. He glanced to his second and the human only nodded towards the room below.

In awe, Garrus watched Shepard grab his collar, strain against it so thoroughly that his entire being seemed to bulge, and tear the contraption in two. The Warden had noticed only a second too late, and was issuing barked orders to his soldiers.

-=ME:E=-

As soon as the collar was torn, a joyous, euphoric feeling flooded Shepard's body and he was wreathed in the dark energy of his biotics. It took a quick precision warp for him to remove Jack's collar and he turned to raise a barrier against the heavy mechs just as they began their assault. The tiny woman rushed past him at the mechs, a snarl of fury on her lips and biotics surrounding her body. His initial thought was that she had lost her mind, to charge the mechs like that, but he realized that the only weapons at their disposal were themselves. Her first strike dropped its kinetic barriers while her second removed an arm from the main weapons platform in a jagged tear.

By the time Shepard caught up to Jack she had already finished the first mech, and was leaping at the next. The remaining mech focused its fire on him, but its bursts were measured too short to pose a true threat to his barriers. The Warden didn't want to harm his prize prisoners, after all. As he closed with the mech it took a clumsy swing at him, which he ducked, and immediately followed up with another. Finishing his approach with a biotic-enhanced charging tackle, he knocked the machine off of its feet and dispelled its barriers. After a few blows he had disabled the YMIR, careful not to completely destroy it. A few shots from the guards on the catwalks met his barriers or pinged off of the machine below him. He pushed them off of the catwalk as he turned to check on Jack.

She had disabled her targets in a similar manner to his own, but she was watching him cautiously, as though he were going to attack now that they were free. Alarm klaxons sounded throughout the ship and red lights washed out all color as they flashed on above them. He still needed Jack to escape – he had no idea where a ship or shuttle might be found. Walking calmly towards her, he said, "I was unconscious when they brought me on board, which way gets us off this boat?"

The younger prisoner had grown increasingly agitated as he approached until, when he stopped several paces away, she leaped at him with a fury. The first of her blows nearly shattered his barrier, but he found the rest of her attacks incredibly easy to direct away from himself. Jack threw every ounce of physical and biotic power she had into each attack, but she lacked technique completely in both aspects. Whatever the convict had done to earn cryostasis, she had relied on pure brute strength and the animal instinct she exhibited. After only a moment of this pitiful exchange Shepard flipped the tattooed woman by her arm and onto her back while retaining control of the arm. He twisted the arm slightly, and said, "Are you done?"

She spat at him and continued to struggle, "Fuck you!"

Ignoring Jack's response and batting her legs away like last time, he was mostly concentrating on keeping her biotics from getting a solid hold on anything around him. It seemed she had trouble coordinating both her body and biotics when they didn't work in tandem. Her mass effect fields moved in large, blunt shapes which he easily disrupted with sharp directed warps of his own. He twisted the arm more harshly and repeated, "Are you done?"

Realizing the futility of her struggle, just as the previous day, she turned away as much as he let her and angrily muttered a stream of vulgarities. In the low lighting provided by the red emergency lights Shepard barely noticed a faint glimmer in her eyes and a thick quality to her voice. Storing the observations away for later, he asked, "Which way?"

With a defiant flick of her free hand she indicated the wall behind him and he eased up the pressure on her arm. He watched her for a moment and considered letting her stew in her anger, to escape on his own, but he knew that whatever time he had been blessed with was running out. He had made no distinct promise to uphold his end of their bargain, but he felt bound by it anyways. Carefully, he was leery that she would attack again, he lifted her from the ground by the arm he held. She was wary as she came to her feet, but he merely jerked his head in the indicated direction and said, "Let's go."

Glad that they had kept the mechs active at least, Shepard lifted one of the jerkily struggling lumps and pressed it against the wall. Keeping a good distance from the machine, he twisted its head from its socket and watched it detonate. A smoking hole, its diameter wide enough to allow them passage, was left behind, but it did not penetrate the entirety of the wall. Considering the hole as he threw the next mech at it, he figured the walls to be at least a meter thick. Before the latest "bomb" had finished exploding, Jack copied his idea and tossed the last of the mechs at the hole.

He pushed the smoke away and found that his estimate was off, the walls were more than a meter thick. As he examined the damage, several large tears drew his attention, and he began peeling them apart with his biotics. Behind him, Jack said, "We've got company!"

One of the guards at the door shouted, "Stop where you are, hands in the air!"

Ignoring the command, Shepard drove a spike of his power into the largest tear in the wall until he felt no more resistance – the walls had been at least another half-meter thick. With exertion he began to push and pull at the hole he had made while behind him the cries of Blue Suns guards, a hoarse battle cry, and gunfire sounded. Finally, he felt the metal give and with a ferocious push he blew a hole in the wall, sending shrapnel flying into the next room. He clambered into the hole and called over his shoulder, "Jack, let's go!"

She had the Suns in disarray, but more guards poured through the doorway as she fought them. With a final wave of energy, she flung herself at the hole while displaying an obscene gesture. Shepard dropped through and was instantly under fire as he entered the next room. Small panels flipped off of the ground to provide cover to the guards, FENRIS mechs dashed towards them, and at the end of the large room a heavy mech was powering up. Escaping the Purgatory was going to be one hell of a fight.

-=ME:E=-

The amount of freedom offered to EDI by Captain Vakarian left a bubbling emotion within her after her time enclosed in herself. As she processed it, she explored the systems available to her, and stern warnings from Lieutenant Manunta kept her away from those she was restricted from accessing. Even the extranet was kept off-limits, and while EDI longed to access the information it provided, she respected the limits set on her. Most agonizing of all, she was forbidden from accessing communications with the ground team and was unable to monitor the progress of their mission to retrieve Shepard.

As she listened to chatter and watched the crewmen doing their jobs across the ship, a loophole in the communications restriction presented itself to her when she heard the Captain's voice sound over the intercom in the CIC, "Garrus to Normandy."

One of the crew working communications responded to the call, "This is Normandy, Captain."

Some gunfire could be heard over the transmission and the Captain continued, "Shepard's making his escape and we've broken from our 'escort.' We can take these Blue Suns goons well enough, but their doors are another problem. Grenades won't get us through and we can't break into their systems, anything the ship's computers can do?"

Manunta worked quickly at her terminal in the CIC before she answered, "This is Lieutenant Manunta, their system is extremely redundant, Captain. It would take our cyberwarfare VI a few minutes to break through."

EDI, always ready to make good use of herself, spoke through the intercom and hoped that it would reach the Captain, "This is EDI, if I may Captain, perhaps I could be of use in this dilemma. I was designed and trained with cyberwarfare in mind. Being of a more flexible design I would be able to infiltrate their systems more quickly than a VI."

The Lieutenant looked ready to reprimand EDI, but the Captain's voice preempted her, "How long would it take you to get ready, EDI?"

Though she had been forbidden from completely accessing vital systems, EDI had stolen a few glimpses of their inner workings during her exploration of the Normandy. Sure that she was more than ready to assist the Captain, she said, "I have been ready to interface with many of the ship's systems since you released me, Captain. However, out of respect for the limits placed upon me I have heeded any warnings from the Lieutenant."

The dark-skinned woman glanced directly at the camera EDI was utilizing to watch her as they waited for the Captain's reply. More gunfire and shouts in the background as he said, "Lieutenant, grant her access to the systems she'll need for now. Keep monitoring her activities."

That bubbling emotion made itself known again as the, from her perspective, thin walls that held her from several systems fell away. She could feel her knowledge grow and the speed of her thought was enhanced with the Normandy's powerful hardware supporting her. She was almost lost in that bubbling feeling, but the task before her presented a suitable avenue in which she could direct her energy.

-=ME:E=-

Garrus picked off a soldier who tried to push forward and beside him Kaidan shouted over the din, "Are you sure that's wise, Captain? We still don't know if she's trustworthy."

As he traded fire with the steady stream of blue-armored figures and their mechs, Garrus considered the wisdom of Kaidan's remarks when it was quite possible that EDI could hear them. What if the human expectation that she was bound to end up a calculating killer came true? Pissing the AI off didn't seem too smart. He understood that as the XO it was the marine's job to question the decisions made by the CO and advise him on the various situations he might find himself in. He also understood that while he should justify his decision to Kaidan, now was not the best time. A warning on his eyepiece that indicated imminent failure of his kinetic barriers reinforced that understanding and he ducked into cover.

Less than a minute passed after he had loosed EDI into more of the Normandy's systems and the red holographic indicator hovering before the door shifted to green. Garrus led his team through the door with a rotating procession of short sprints and covering fire. As soon as Whitson cleared the door it closed and the indicator shifted to red again. A pack of FENRIS mechs galloped down the new hall at them, but stopped short and eventually shut down as Kaidan worked some of his "magic" on them with a tech mine. Sans the lifeless mechs, the hall was an empty tube of transparent composites and metal deck plating, but in the next cell block gunfire could be heard. EDI's cool voice sounded in their radios, "Captain, I have managed to penetrate their security network and access door controls, but I am meeting heavy resistance and combating attempts at jamming communications. Should I gain access to further systems I will contact you by radio."

"I think it's working out pretty good for us so far, Kaidan," Garrus refreshed the thermal clip in his rifle as he continued, "Check your clips and mods, we're moving in thirty."

At the rear Whitson, while doing as commanded, asked, "Er, seconds or minutes?"

Kaidan sighed and gave Garrus a look while Mordin rambled to the younger human about the possibilities of standard galactic minutes, seconds, and common variations. Ignoring the show of minor exasperation, Garrus listened to the chaos of the ship hoping to find indications of Shepard's location. Cryostasis was only a few corridors away, but last anyone in the auction-room had seen the two prisoners had forced their way into a neighboring cell block.

Heavy combat sounded in the distance and tremors shook the sturdy halls, overhead the Purgatory VI announced, "Primary power to cell blocks nine, eight, and seven has been lost, emergency batteries routed to life support and prisoner containment. Heavy casualties."

A powerful explosion shook the corridor and the VI continued, "Addendum: Warning: Emergency batteries at one-thirds capacity, prisoner containment system failed."

The Warden's voice spoke over the VI, which continued to list off damaged systems, "Reserve platoons, divert to the affected blocks immediately! We are entering a full security lock down. Damage control teams, standby to make immediate repairs."

The shuttle they arrived in was on the starboard side, but docking facilities were available all over the ship and the sounds of combat were rapidly moving to the port-aft sections of the ship. Figuring that he had given the others closer to forty-five seconds, he followed the corridor towards the aft sections, ignoring the now quiet cell block to his left. Further along the corridor, guards fell back out of the cell block, escaped prisoners with improvised and stolen weapons on their heels. As the Blue Suns caught sight of Garrus and his team, they hesitated and were swiftly cut down.

Unlike the fallen guards, the crowd of prisoners showed no such hesitation and rushed down the hallway at them. Garrus signaled the others to cover before he unleashed a long burst from his rifle, scything down the handful of prisoners at the head of the pack. He received a heat notification on his visor and paused to swap clips, saying, "Kaidan, slow them down. Professor, give me a wide-area incineration tank. Whitson, keep an eye on our rear and provide suppressive fire."

Even before he finished his orders, Mordin and Kaidan moved to comply, while Whitson hesitated before opening fire into the crowd. A concentrated mass effect field formed and detonated in the path of the approaching crowd, scattering and staggering many of them. The salarian worked quickly at his omni-tool and Garrus stood as the suppressive fire petered off, carefully firing in bursts placed to kill as efficiently as possible. Mordin launched a small device, almost like a missile, into the throng of prisoners and rather than be tossed away by the explosion, the majority of the crowd was instantly set ablaze. A viscous material clung to their jumpsuits and skin, the primary fuel for the intense flames, but the screams and struggles only lasted a moment as it was swiftly expended. The remainder of the prisoners fled back into the cell block from which they emerged, and Garrus said, "Move up, check for wounded. EDI, lock down the cell block ahead of us. Joker, recall the shuttle for now."

Whitson, obviously shaken by the slaughter, asked, "You plan to help them after what we just did?"

Garrus shook his head, he had no inkling of pity for the prisoners since most of them were vile on levels similar to the late Dr. Saleon. Kaidan, ever the honest and straightforward one, said, "In situations such as these, it's common practice to finish off the wounded thus eliminating any possible threats as we move forward."

Mordin was nodding along to Kaidan's speech and he added, "Practical, too risky to take any chances here."

As he made his way down the hall, Garrus could hear only two sets of steps following him, the Whitson boy wasn't moving. Turning to look at the human, he said, "Purgatory is home to some of the galaxy's most violent and depraved criminals. Rapists, serial killers, mass-murderers – all of them would kill you given the chance. Keep up, pity isn't something they deserve."

-=ME:E=-

As the turian walked off into the smoking mess of bodies, stopping to calmly empty a round into the occasional prisoner, Jonn thought he was going to be sick. The smells of burning flesh, rubber, blood, and others unidentifiable were making him nauseous, his hands shaky. He followed the others as they picked their way through the burned mass, each gunshot caused his esophagus to tighten as if in warning. A groan echoed from the far end of the corridor and Jonn allowed himself a soft whimper. It was just like the fight on Omega, but worse yet he was fully aware, his mind sharp and ready. Before it was fear, adrenaline, and shock as Shepard dragged him along. There in that corridor, he was in control, he volunteered to come, and he was struggling to fully stomach the entire experience.

The toe of his boot bumped into a corpse, his insides turned. A slick of blood caused his feet to stick, a light vacuum pressure adding resistance to his step, and he struggled to contain a heave. Jonn dared a glance down at the few remaining corpses at the end of the smoking corridor and a shaved head caught his eye. He recognized the face though the snarl of fury it wore only a minute ago was replaced with a wide stare, a terror rictus gripping its features. A trio of holes were bored into the orange jumpsuit that garbed the corpse. He could remember the rush of satisfaction he felt when those first shots landed, but it had quickly devolved into the nausea that plagued him as he studied the corpse. A gurgle drew his attention away and he caught movement in the corner of his eye.

One of the convicts which he had felled, one of his victims, was struggling to breathe through the flow of blood that leaked from his wounds. Swallowing the lump in his throat, and avoiding a close inspection of the prisoner's features, he shot the prone figure neatly in the head. He didn't want to remember those pained, terrified expressions.

-=ME:E=-

Unlike his Council counterparts, Jacob was leading his team to intercept Shepard and Subject Zero along a more subtle and circuitous route. Aside from Zaeed, who had materialized a light machine gun as if from nowhere, they were armed with their biotics and pistols only. Hacking into systems vital to their infiltration proved easier than expected, and Jacob figured it had something to do with Vakarian's presence. The fighting continued to move towards the aft sections of the ship, and Jacob followed. He had no illusions about apprehending Shepard, but he still had to try separating Subject Zero from the former Spectre. If that could be managed, then their mission wouldn't have been a waste of time.

If the schematics of the Purgatory provided by the Illusive Man were accurate, and knowing Cerberus's resources – they were, then they were approaching a vital intersection in the ship's layout. Sure enough, after Miranda spent a moment hacking the door, Jacob found himself facing three more doors.

One of the doors led aft, towards engineering, the others to port and starboard, each led to docking facilities and the control center respectively. Jacob had little interest in the control center due to the ease with which they were able to access doors and communications, but the docking facilities did interest him. If Shepard and Subject Zero were to escape from this area of the ship, they would need to pass through these corridors to find a suitable spacecraft. He was all ready to do one of the things he preferred not to do, wait until the two escapees came by, but a tap on his shoulder grabbed his attention.

Zaeed had been agitated and jumpy throughout the entire mission, so Jacob had expected something sooner or later. The mercenary glanced towards the control center and said, "Taylor, listen, when I signed on with Cerberus I got paid, sure, but there was one other term I wanted in my contract, which the Illusive Man granted."

Jacob noticed the way that the bounty hunter's eyes strayed towards the control center and his tense grip on the weapon in his hands. Leaning against a nearby wall, crossing his arms, Jacob said, "I'm guessing this isn't the kind of thing that can wait 'til later, is it?"

Zaeed nodded and continued, "There's a man I want dead, that I've wanted dead for years now, the only problem has been finding the bastard. Until now. It could wait, we could do it after your mission, but there's an opportunity here and I've been patient for too bloody long."

Jacob turned his eyes to the door leading towards the control center, acknowledging Zaeed's focus on the object. To the side, Miranda was obviously listening, but he could observe nothing about her opinion on the matter. He still had questions and reservations himself, so he said, "Who? Why? Do you have reliable intel? I need more information before I can commit to this. We don't know how long it'll be until Shepard and Subject Zero pass through here, and I want to be ready for them, not off chasing ghosts."

If they could even be separated, Jacob thought. What if the convict looked to the former Spectre for protection? What if Shepard had made a deal with Subject Zero?

Zaeed's agitation melted into excitement, perhaps at the prospect that they might make the detour, and he said, "The name's Vido Santiago and I have reliable intel that he's on board. That control center is where he'll be. If you really want to know why, I'll tell you the whole damn story as soon we make it back to the ship."

Miranda finally spoke up, a small trace of disdain showing in her voice, "You heard the Captain, we can't afford a detour right now. Not only that, you expect us to assault a heavily guarded control center in order to take down the head of the Blue Suns?"

"Taylor," Zaeed removed the ridiculous shades from his face and looked Jacob in the eye, "If we do this, here – now, I'll owe you more than your Illusive Man paid me to join up."

Miranda stepped forward, obviously agitated, "What you're proposing is suicide, we don't have the manpower or the equipment with us."

Jacob returned the bounty hunter's intense stare and assessed the man. He could see in the rigid set of Zaeed's posture and face that this was something he needed. Off to the side Miranda seemed petulant and wavering. To her, capturing Subject Zero with the chance of "rescuing" Shepard was something she wanted. Perhaps a balm to soothe the burn on her ego. Unwilling to indulge Miranda's fetish for perfection, he said, "Is it any more a suicide mission than taking on Shepard, who beat us back alone, along with another powerful biotic?"

Jacob pushed off of his spot on the wall, a new thought occurring to him, "What if we can't peel her off of him, Miranda? What if he's taken her on as one of his 'projects'? You know him better than I do. How do you explain Garrus Vakarian, Urdnot Wrex, and Tali'Zorah? Those aliens had no place on an Alliance vessel, yet he took them along anyways. Chances are it's already too late for Subject Zero. We can still get something done while we're here, and we're going to do it."

Miranda's jaw clenched, the muscle gradually bulging more as he talked, until eventually she stepped away her arms crossing defiantly. Frostily, she said, "Fine, whatever you say, Captain."

Jacob expected her response, and knew that he was going to pay for it later like a poorly financed hovercar, but he was glad for her acquiescence. Zaeed nodded to him gratefully as he stepped past both of them and towards the control center.

-=ME:E=-

Jack was far from subtle and far from weak: Shepard hat to push himself to keep up with her reckless rampage through the Purgatory. The entire experience was similar to a high-speed chase where they were the prey, but it was also like sitting behind the gunnery controls of a charging tank. He followed her lead and provided support, killing those that tried to stop them. She carved straight swaths through the cell blocks, stopping only to swat guards out of the way or to pummel a mech into submission. Shepard had kept himself within several paces of her at all times, but sometimes obstacles would get in the way. Like the modular prison cells she occasionally flung at enemies or the large mechanical arm she had wrenched from the ceiling to drop on a duo of heavy mechs. The hole in the ceiling revealed a primary power conduit, and Shepard had taken the time to rip that out of its scaffolding before vaulting over the obstacle Jack produced.

The pace had been breakneck for so long that Shepard never had time to scavenge a weapon or engage foes in close combat, he had been forced to biotics the entire time. The casual use of biotics had his nerves humming with satisfaction, but Shepard was wary of the inevitable headache that would come. As he sent a guard flying with a small pocket of biotic energy, likely snapping the poor sob's neck, Jack sprinted ahead and into an open door. Shepard charged after her and a turian stepped into his path, weapon raised, but he continued onwards until he had toppled the alien. Not stopping to finish the downed guard, he continued into the chamber he had last seen Jack in and forced the door closed. A cry of pain echoed in the dark room, but Shepard found himself slowing to a prowl.

Another cry of pain sounded around the corner, and Shepard cautiously approached, he couldn't discern whether the voice was male or female. A slain human guard lay at the corner, several weapons docked on the corpse's hardsuit, and Shepard bent to retrieve a machine pistol. He was relieved to find no biometric protection on it. This time, when the groan came, Shepard could identify it as male, and Jack's angrily muttered invectives eased the tension that had been building.

He stepped around the cover to find Jack grinding her booted foot into the knee of a downed guard; the leg was horribly mangled, the damage visible through the cracked hardsuit. In this act of sadism, her glee was apparent, but at the same time Shepard could see a deeply held hatred twisting her grin. He couldn't let her continue any longer, so he proceeded towards her immediately. As he strode in her direction, Jack lifted her leg long enough to stomp down on the other knee with a flare of dark energy. A sickening pop and crunch sounded, a scream of pain, and Jack laughed, "How do you like me now, Tokesson? Not so easy now, am I bitch?"

The guard, Tokesson apparently, shifted his hands to the belt of his armor and hissed, "Fuck you, Jack. As soon as you're back in custody I'm asking Kurill for some 'alone time'."

Jack raised her foot again in rage, oblivious to the sly movements of the downed guard's hands, but Shepard grabbed her arm and jerked her away. Before she could even curse or shout in rage, he raised his pistol and executed the mercenary. She wrenched away from him and with a scream of rage caved the hardsuit chestplate inwards with her boot. Jack whirled towards him instantly, but Shepard caught her by the wrist and she growled at him, "What the hell, Shepard! That motherfucker deserved to suffer!"

"Revenge solves nothing, Jack. You would still be angry and you would still hate him," He pushed her away and indicated the corpse, continuing, "Whatever he did to you, it's in the past, but if you had gone on any longer, it would have become your present."

Shepard showed no hesitance and maintained a firm tone as he spoke to her; types like Jack had to be handled with a steady strength. Push too hard and you're asking for a fight, too little and you were a doormat. She still appeared angry, but she slit her eyes as she glanced at the corpse, eventually nudging one of the limp hands with the toe of her boot. A small cylindrical device rolled out of the blue fist, a pair of electrodes gleaming menacingly in the dim red of the emergency lighting. Shepard bent to retrieve the weapon, examining it for a moment, before he directed the shining end towards the corpse. With the press of a button an arc of electricity jumped from the device and struck the corpse, disappearing in an instant. The mangled body convulsed violently for that brief second before settling again and Shepard tossed the device at the corpse before looking to Jack. She stared at the corpse for a moment before looking to him with, he wanted to call it respect, but it seemed far too guarded to fully qualify.

Shepard tossed the machine pistol to Jack before stooping to search nearby corpses. He found an assault rifle, the latest Avenger model it seemed, and a heavy pistol he couldn't identify. He straightened to find Jack hefting a large shotgun that dwarfed her arms and he wanted to laugh. The convict had a wicked look on her face as she eyed the weapon, but Shepard immediately knew that the weapon would dislocate her shoulder or worse break an arm if she tried to fire it. Reaching over, he firmly yanked it from her grasp and thrust the assault rifle at her, saying, "I think your eyes are a little big for your hands there, Jack."

Jack narrowed her eyes at him, hissing, "Are you calling me weak? I'm warning you, nobody fucks with me and gets away with it."

Shepard wanted to roll his eyes, that way of thinking, again.

Raising a placating hand, he said, "Relax, Jack. I've felt your biotics, you're undisciplined as hell, but you've got considerable power.," He paused to indicate her skinny form, "Cryo hasn't been kind to your body. You've got stamina, I'll give you that, but whatever strength you had is gone."

"For now," She muttered bitterly, hefting the assault rifle to rest on her shoulder.

Going over the corpses for thermal clips and checking his weapons, Shepard couldn't help but notice that Jack didn't do the same. Finding spots at his waist that he could stuff the weapons and heat sinks into, he said, "Check your weapons for thermal clips and grab a few from these bodies, never know when you'll need 'em."

She stared at him blankly for a moment before gruffly, as if to cover embarrassment, she said, "Right, on it."

Shepard nabbed a few extra clips before handing them off to Jack and, with concern, he asked, "Jack, how long have you been in cryo?"

She continued to search the corpses, her hoarse voice softening, "Couple years maybe, been on Purgatory longer than that. Don't see how any of it is your fuckin' business. As soon as we're out of here and someplace safe, I'm gone."

"Right," Shepard wasn't so sure he wanted to let a dangerous criminal loose anywhere, but he wasn't so sure he wanted to drag her around everywhere, either. Time would tell. He took the rifle from Jack's hands and held it sideways so she could see the heat sink that was currently loaded into it. Sure he had her attention, Shepard thought back to a few articles he had read and with a small grin, said, "Traditionally, most modern weapons used permanently-installed heat sinks in their weapons, which in turn limited how rapidly they could fire as built up heat had to be dispersed before the gun could fire again.

After conflicts with the Geth two years ago their weapons were examined and from them we took a new heat-distribution system. The Geth used disposable, modular..."

Shepard trailed off as Jack gave an exaggerated yawn and said, "Not interested, just show me how to use them."

As he demonstrated how to replace the thermal clip rapidly, Jack asked, "Nice lecture, how the fuck do you know all this shit anyways?"

Shepard shrugged and passed the rifle off to Jack, saying, "I liked to keep up to date on new tech developments, kinda like a hobby, read an article about thermal clip technology a couple years ago. Since they're in use now, I'm assuming the information in the article was accurate."

Jack let the rifle fold itself before she stuffed it into the excess jumpsuit gathered at her waist and drew the machine pistol, saying, "So, these clips, they work on any gun? You know, universal or something like that?"

Shepard continued further into the room, towards a door with a large 'one' painted above it, and said, "No, weapons like heavy pistols, shotguns, and sniper rifles each have different bore sizes, which would make compatibility between guns difficult. The larger the bore, the larger the ammunition which means that heat-management requirements will vary. I suspect that pistol you're using can use clips compatible with the rifle, though."

Behind him, Jack mumbled, "Good, I like things simple. Complicated things are just... Complicated."

He snorted, "Eloquent."

Jack growled at him, "Fuck off, you don't need to be 'eloquent' to kill. That's what I do."

Shepard was pretty sure that for a criminal like Jack, kill was almost, but not quite the word to describe what she did. Murdered. Destroyed. It seemed she met any threat with ruthless, overwhelming force, and he didn't find himself shying from that ferocity. They would need it to escape.

-=ME:E=-

Please, if you find something that bothers you, or just any spelling or grammar mistakes, let me know in a review.