Chapter Three:



Her father always paced when deep in thought, but in an unusual fashion. He would select a nearby object and, imagining a distant and invisible perimeter around it, begin marching back and forth along that unseen circumference like a planet caught in queer vacillations around its mother sun. Miranda had the preposterous memory that when she was very tiny, not yet even a foetus, he had stalked around her little incubator in this fashion, ponderously and pendulously, watching her grow.

Miranda was pacing now as he had paced, and she pondered, and she vacillated. She paused and glanced at the incubation chamber. It was much larger than her own had been, but full of the same rose-red amnion which she dimly remembered from the later days of her gestation. A monster's womb, and inside... She paced again. She glanced now at the readouts on the monitor, then compared them with her Omnitool's own calculations. She tried desperately hard not to look at the growing man as he slept. Or perhaps drifted in some narcotic pantomime of sleep: his brain had already been awake for months.

"How close?" she said. She could read the data clear enough but she needed to hear a sound other than her own footsteps, and the monastic hum of the station's ventilation, and the chirp of Shepard's dreaming heartbeat.

"An hour," said Wilson. "And a half, maybe."

"It's taking too long."

"It's taking as long as it should."

"These callosal exchanges, here and here-"

"There's nothing wrong with his CC. There's nothing wrong at all."

Wilson looked somewhat amused. He leaned back in his chair and tapped his lower lip with his stylus. Sharpe and Tiller listened unobtrusively from their respective corners of the lab. They kept to their tasks, but Miranda's anxiety was growing in them as well, and they slowed, checking their data with a new and discomfited scrutiny.

Miranda had watched the man in the incubator for countless days and truly uncountable hours. When they first brought the macabre salvage of his carcass to this chamber and interred it in the first solution it had seemed a ghoul of ancient folklore, raw and seeping and hideous. You could see how it had been human; it had a head and four limbs, and the wasteland of its midriff held some suggestion of spine and rib and viscera. But only with determination could you dream of how it might be made so again.

This Miranda had done, and with the unending months of labour she had felt the rising of an unnameable power within herself. Her father must have felt something much like this. A strength, not like God's, but in the proper service of God. For if we are truly in his image then are we not also the creators of men? Dad's own words.

Through all that time it had been easy enough to imagine that the tests, the protocols and rigid strictures that had so comfortably defined the manner of Shepard's creation, would also serve in the management of his reawakened humanity. He was only human. He would have frailties and pressures. He could be guided to his purpose. But now when Miranda looked at Shepard she saw how he no longer floated in the huddled ellipsis of an unborn child, vulnerable and needing their protection. Now he was upright, upraised as if ascending heavenward, and his eyes beneath their lids were ever-stirring.

He was long and lean and devoid of his prior lifetime's scars. He wasn't particularly muscular, but even in the atrophy of disuse his body spoke utility, easy motion, even grace. His hair was growing slowly - there was little on his head and none elsewhere so that his chest, his arms, his manhood all seemed those of an adolescent - but he was no child. Some wouldn't even call him human. Miranda knew his past too well to read innocence in his flesh, or a benediction in his quiet smile.

"He's close."

"How close now?"

"We could d-synch right away if you like."

"No. Bring him in slowly."

Wilson nodded. He brought up the relevant screen and entered the passcode and the desired recalibration levels. Then he breathed in long and deep. He looked at Miranda, and at Tiller and Sharpe. He breathed out again and thumbed an icon in the corner of the monitor.

Shepard's movement began with a steady arching back, and the languid sideward rolling of his head. He raised his arms casually forward, a bent-elbowed, almost balletic gesture, and when he felt the surrounding glass he pressed all ten of his fingertips against it. Then he raised his knees and likewise pressed his toes against the glass. He rested there. Or perhaps he was poised, ready to thrust against the ceramic and shatter his way free. The glass was incredibly strong but he seemed so peacefully confident that Miranda suddenly felt very, very uncomfortable.

"Can he hear us?" she asked Tiller.

"He should. Try and see." Tiller's expression said she wasn't enthusiastic to find out.

"Commander Shepard." There was stillness, for ten brutalising seconds. Shepard opened his eyes. "You won't be able to speak but if you can understand me, nod your head."

He didn't nod his head. Instead he brought his gaze in a long leftward sweep, scanning the wide room, then again to the right. He looked at each of them in turn. His eyes settled on Tiller.

"Language centres normal," said Sharpe. "He understands what you're saying."

Miranda made another attempt. "Commander Shepard. If you can understand me, nod your head."

He tilted his head ever so slightly to the right, almost birdlike. He blinked.

There was an eruption of light from one of the terminals as it tore free and wailed and sparked with horrible speed across the floor. It pinned Tiller to the wall by her legs and she screamed and vomited and kept on screaming. Wilson jumped to his feet and went for the door. Sharpe reached for his service pistol as the chair of his own desk flew upward and collided with his jaw in a spray of blood. He fell to the floor.

"Don't bloody move!" Miranda cried. Wilson stopped. "Sharpe and Tiller were armed. He'll think you're going for help and take you out as well." She turned back to Shepard. He was perfectly still.


"Fuck. What?"

"How's Tiller?"

"Unconscious now. Legs are pretty bad."


"Likewise. Unconscious, I mean. Shame about the face."

Miranda steeled herself. The creature adrift before her seemed so terribly calm. "Commander. We are trying to heal you, not harm you. I think we can agree that right now you're more of a danger to us than the reverse."

Shepard nodded at last. He closed his eyes, pushed off gently with hands and feet and slowly receded into the carmine dark of his chamber.


The space shuttle was very small, with curving cream-coloured interior walls and no windows. The ceiling was a holoscreen. On it were images of strange black roses stretching and twining their thorny stems around the cribs of crying babies, or of towers swallowed whole by cockroaches, and other outlandish things. The images were never repeated as they paraded from one end of the screen to the other. There was no cycle, and seemingly no reason.

There were only four seats and all were occupied. Jonathan sat behind and to the right. Beside him was a thin woman with drawn features and pockmarked skin. She was conversing quietly with the broad, bald man in front of him; the back of the man's skull was tattooed with a single eye, but the eye was blinking and sometimes twitched this way or that, so that it seemed he belonged on the holoscreen, among that cavalcade of reasonless wonders.

The fourth passenger was a very dark-skinned young man. His hair hung in long curls, and he wore a patternless white scullcap. Every once in a while he'd glance over his shoulder at Jonathan and smile. It was an honest and friendly smile, something Jonathan wasn't used to yet.


Those images.

He doesn't focus on them often. There's very poor retention on peripheral imagery.

Just get me what you can.

Will you want I.D on the passengers?

No need. I know them. They're all dead.


In Miranda's dream her sister came into her bed. She was covered in blood and cradled Father's severed head in her arms. Miranda cried. "Why have you done this? Now I can't finish you! I can't save you." Oriana stroked Father's grizzled hair. "I never wanted to be born. None of us should have been born. Don't you see that?" She wasn't talking to Miranda. She was talking to the dead man, whose eyes were pale and unresponsive.

Miranda woke in the dark. Her chest was burning, and heaving, but a large and comforting hand enfolded her own. She had wrestled free of the bedsheets in her fitful sleep. The wan silver of simulated moonlight was reflected in her nakedness, and in the suggestion of the other shape, Jacob's shape, resting assuredly beside her. He gazed at her with eyes both black and bright.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Don't be. Every soldier knows bad dreams."

"I'll let you get back to sleep." She got out of bed and went into the bathroom. She didn't turn on the light. The shower was cool, the hiss of water meditative. She leaned her head back and let the water run into her mouth.

Tomorrow they would drain the chamber and Shepard would breath and speak for the first time. They had spent an entire month ensuring that his fully conscious mind had survived the effects of prolonged semi-consciousness. His first interactions had not been amicable and might have reflected some trauma or psychosis, worse still if it had indicated an even earlier, neurological deformity. But it had not. It had only been an act of calculated malice. She wondered if that was worse.

After fifteen minutes the shower turned off of its own accord. She had fallen asleep while standing, or had lost track of time. She dried herself and exited, and on her way out she paused before the mirror. In the uncertain shadow she could well imagine that the face staring back at her was not her own.


It was a big triangular room, perhaps fifty feet to a side. The door opened in one corner so that you entered staring at a wall - an expansive holographic starscape - and the old woman's desk was in the leftward corner. She watched patiently as Jonathan was led inside and the soldier shut the door behind him. She gestured for him to sit down. She looked benign. How are you feeling? Well, thank you. Your headaches have gone away. Yes Miss. Moira. Yes Moira.

The moving image of a humanoid rose out of the table surface. It was slender and sinewy and clawed, and its body was covered in soft shiny plates. It started walking, crouching and jumping. It would break into a run and turn quickly on the spot. You know this one. Turian. Age. Late adolescent. Markings? Early hegemony, pax pattern. Indicate vulnerabilities, both classic and idiosyncratic. He paused the image and highlighted several points on the humanoid's body. Good. What are the thirteen most efficient ways to neutralise this target?



Moira Dumitrescu. I'd thought she was already dead by then.

And now?

Now I've got no idea.

She's training him. For black-ops? At fifteen?

They started the training long before that.

On Earth?

On Earth.

I don't follow.

Of course you don't.


Shepard wasn't strong enough to walk. Gentle plastic arms lifted him from the now fluidless pod, dressed him in a medical gown and lowered him into the soft mobile chair. He was then wheeled into an adjoining room where the lights were low and the air was warm. There was a single chair, and a small mahogany table with a pair of tall china cups and a jug of some faintly sweet sky-blue liquid. There was also the faintest sound of breaking waves, or the now-forgotten song of rumbling automobiles.

Miranda sat opposite Shepard and he squinted at her with the same dispassionate regard that had been his sole expression since he'd first awoken. She was understandably wary of this. He hadn't been violent in any way since the first incident, but that attack hadn't been presaged by any behavioural signatures. Any further aggression would be just as unpredictable. And now she was alone with him.

"You know my name by now. Would you please tell me yours."

"Jonathan Fawkes Shepard." His voice was quiet, but very clear.

"And would you please state my name."

"Officer Miranda Lawson."

"Good. Do you remember how you got into this room?

"I was conveyed by an assistant."

"Please describe the assistant."

"Female, five foot four, brown eyes, sclera reddened by sleep-deprivation, heavy mascara, cosmetic bindi jewel on forehead, light-olive complexion, manicured burgundy nails, minor ventilation-spore scarring beneath left ear-" He paused. His eyes hadn't wavered. Perhaps there was a trace of amusement at their corners. "Shall I go on?"

"No, that was fine, thank you. Do you remember how you arrived in the previous room?"

"That would be impossible. Prior my awakening I had been dead."

"How do you know that?"

"I bled out in deep space. I drowned in my blood. I died."

Miranda nodded. His eyes were piercing. Without stirring, without the subtlest saccade, they seemed to scrutinise her, to take in the whole of her. It reminded her of a dissection.

"Do you want to know what it was like?"


He raised his brow. "Do you want to know what it was like to die."

Miranda stared blankly.

"It's surprising," he said, before she could decide whether he was in fact threatening to kill her. "Dying is surprising." He leant forward now, with visible awkwardness given his physical frailty, but also with an obvious enthusiasm. "I'd lived my entire - no, that's not fair - almost my entire life with the constant threat of death and yet..."

He glanced at her throat. He considered it. "Do your records tell you how many people I have killed?" It sounded like a genuine question.



"No specific figure, but it's in the hundreds."

"Hundreds?" He looked mildly surprised, though not, it appeared, at the size of the number. She'd somehow answered an entirely different question, one she hadn't realised he was asking. He reclined again. "As I said. I've lived with the constant threat of death... but with no actual sense of my own mortality."

"I understand."

"So it was surprising." His eyes flickered upward, once more confronting her own.

They were quiet for a little while. Miranda's mind raced in search of a stratagem whereby she might secure some new leverage, but before long Shepard spoke again. "The two assistants. The injured ones."

"Liam Sharpe and Coraline Tiller."

"Sharpe and Tiller, yes."

"Sharpe sustained a minor concussion and a fractured jaw, and his tongue was partially severed." Then she added, in a conciliatory gesture which she couldn't possibly justify: "Nothing a little surgery didn't put right."


"As for Tiller-"

"I hope she doesn't harbour any resentment." He sounded perfectly sincere. He blinked.

"She's walking. But recovery is slow."

"Recovering aboard this vessel?"

"Officer Tiller is a crucial member of Operation Lazarus. Without her we'd never have succeeded in reviving you."

"Oh dear," Shepard said. He squeezed his chin between thumb and forefinger. "I've been less than appreciative." Something like a genuine smile was playing across his colourless lips. Miranda decided it was an olive branch.

"She fought hard to get on incubation duty. You were - still are - a hero to many of us."

"That gives me plenty to think about."

"I suppose it does."

"Perhaps I might do so in my personal quarters?" He looked at the door expectantly, seemingly having lost interest in Miranda. Defeated, she summoned Itkila with a keystroke and rose to her feet when the young woman entered.

As Shepard was wheeled out of the room he placed a gentle hand upon Itkila's, motioning her to stop. "Lazarus," he said, not looking back. "That was the name of the revivification project?"

"That's right," Miranda replied.

"Right. Then I suppose that would make you the Nazarene?" If that last remark was meant to be a joke, Miranda certainly didn't get it.

Shepard withdrew his hand from Itkila's in a soft caress; the woman stiffened momentarily. They rolled out of the room and the door whirred shut behind them.


On the holoscreen they marched the man onto the stage, beneath the looming Alliance flag, and tethered him to the chair. He struggled and kicked and probably screamed mama! and help me god! but there weren't any words and Jonathan could only guess. There were rows and rows of seated men and women in all sorts of official dress. A woman came and stood beside the struggling man and spoke for a while, first to the crowd and then to the man. He was slowly calming. His chest shrank and bloomed as though a creature interred within was testing the limits of his flesh. At last the woman stopped. A light beside the man's head flashed for two seconds and he stopped moving. Then the chair unfolded, the back of it lowering as its front raised, and it became a gurney. They wheeled the man away.

The holoscreen powered down and the door behind it opened. Reece walked in, broad and bald and looming, and behind him two soldiers carried the unconscious man Jon had just seen on the screen. They shackled him to a ceiling fixture and left him to dangle while Reece came over and put the knife in Jon's hand. One of the soldiers slapped the man awake. Morning, sunshine. The man's eyes opened sluggishly. No. No no no no no. Reece smiled open-mouthed. He had a fat, dark tongue like a cobra's head. Yes. No, you already killed me. I'm dead. They killed you, August, but we haven't yet had the pleasure. I think we're more deserving, don't you? Reece looked expectantly at Jon. No ceremony, Shepard. Just make it count.



You don't know the half of it.

I mean- we've all seen the footage. Every student of politics, of history, every Alliance serviceperson...

The death of August Molina.

It's beyond bizarre.

No. It makes perfect sense.

Glad someone understands it.

To the Alliance Molina was a monster. He represented... well, we all know what he represented.

But to Covenant he was something else?

Yes. Or at least to Meschia. Don't bother asking what. I've got no idea.


Sleep is a great speaker of human truth, for in its there is no possibility of concealment, of measured gestures, of restraint. The sleeping self is another self and often traitor to one's waking cause.

In her life Miranda had only watched three men sleep. She'd watched her father, so often slumped over a terminal, or even standing, even dozing in mid-step with his chin upon his chest and a drizzle of spit pooled in the tangle of his black beard. Even in sleep he schemed. He muttered. He spluttered code and self-posed questions. Often when he woke it was with the answer to the very puzzle that had tired him beyond exhaustion. His sleep was... efficient.

In later nights, on this night, she watched Jacob Taylor. He dreamed deeply. His sleep was his stillness and in his embrace she could feel sure that she would always wake enfolded as before. He often smiled, sometimes he murmured quietly. Twice she saw him weep as if at some inward tragedy. Tonight he was peaceful. She didn't want to trouble him with her own fiftul rest, which she felt sure would wake him, so she waited until he was comfortably settled and slipped out of the bed.

She went to the toilet, put on her uniform, brushed her hair and drank some water. Then she exited his quarters and made the long walk to the observation room.

There were only thirty-four personnel in the research facility, though it had room and resources for at least two-hundred. Its hallways, painted in creams and gentle pastels, arced in delicate concentric curves, and in lieu of conventional stairways there were many broadly spiralling ramps and domed elevators whose holographic walls depicted gardens and other fertile places. It wasn't a very human sort of station. It was modelled after the asari, who better understand the calm and peace which inquisitiveness requires. No-one was in the hallways. The facility had no official day and night, nor any permissible means of modulating ambient light levels in the common areas, so they were as bright and warm as ever, but the staff had decided by some unspoken consensus that the present hour would be an hour of quiet.

Wilson was at his familiar spot by the primary monitor where the data from Shepard's regulatory nanite relay was displayed. His eyes were wide and alert. His posture, as always, was slackened and unenthused, and he didn't straighten at all when she entered. When they'd first met she would have called him insubordinate.

He gestured toward the secondary monitor where the sleeping Commander was visible in his complete and naked glory. "The machine is still offline."

Shepard slept like the dead, in the truest sense of the word. He never covered himself with his sheets (or, for that matter, with clothes) and he always slept on his back with his arms at his sides. His breathing was so slow, so long, that you only noticed it if you were deliberately watching. Miranda's own morbid sensibility had compared him to a corpse. Wilson, a great lover of electronics and artificial intelligences, preferred to think of him as hardware.

"I only just started, you know," Wilson said.

"I'm just checking in," Miranda replied. She looked at his coffee mug. "More of that?" Wilson nodded.

She walked over to the pot. It was fresh and almost full and its smelled delicious. She remembered that she was supposed to be sleeping but she poured a cup anyway so that she wouldn't look like an idiot.

"Anything unusual?" she asked.

"I'd have told you, rightaway." Wilson's tone suggested otherwise.

"The last summary said he experienced an EFE spike in the early hypnopompic. Did we follow it up?"

"Of course. Wasn't anything. Dream. Nightmare maybe."

"Did the module catch it?"

"If it was recall, yeah."

"You didn't check to make sure?"

"That's not my job."

Miranda began an acerbic reply, then stopped and revised it in her head. "Management of all input-output is your responsibility. We have to-"

"Nanite relay, and our own sensors, are my responsibility. Xenotech isn't." He pointed at the tertiary monitor. "That isn't. I don't understand half that shit."

Brusque and confrontational as he was, Wilson was right. His training and assignment made no provision for memory retrieval. He hadn't known the technology was possible until the Illusive Man decided to introduce it during late gestation phase. He turned away again.

Miranda sat down at the tertiary console and cursed under her breath. There were six new recall clusters, almost four full petabytes of data since the previous summary.

"How much sleep has he had?"

"Half an hour."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course." Wilson scowled at her.

She called up her Omnitool console and initiated the offship data transfer. "General brain activity?"

"Pretty... general."

She glared. "Don't fuck around."

"Seriously Miranda there's nothing unusual in his brain activity. He's asleep, he isn't dreaming, he-"

"The module's been taking something significant. Watch the monitor and don't leave this room." She grabbed her cup and swallowed its contents. In seconds she was out the door and Wilson was alone again.

He waited two full minutes then stood up and walked over to the tertiary console. He brought up his own Tool's bypass interface, keyed in the password, then the override, and selected: PURGE. He walked back to the primary console, cancelled the current screen and activated another.

The facility only contained thirty-four of its possible two hundred researchers. Its contingent of five hundred LOKI mechs was at full strength. The screen contained the words CURRENTLY OFFLINE. He confirmed his selection then sagged into his comfortable seat again and sipped his cooling coffee.


All around them was the whistle and snap and caustic splash of pistol fire. Jonathan followed Reece up the stairs, keeping close to the wall as he was instructed. Reece leaned around the corner, fired two shots, nodded at Jon. They moved into the next hallway where two women were slumped unceremoniously against the far wall with neat little holes between their eyes. Next one's yours, John. I can hear them already. Reece disappeared into a side room.

Jon fell against a wall and clutched his side and scrunched up his face in a grimace of pain. Three soldiers came through the far door. Good God, cadet, you been shot? He nodded, didn't speak, waited for them to draw closer. When the closest one was five yards away Jon sent a jolt of force into his gut and flung him back into the others. He walked up to each of them and shot them once between the eyes and twice in the chest before they could regain their senses. Reece came out of the sideroom and kept moving forward. Shepard followed.


-file missing-


His body was far from fully recovered but he had of course planned for this. He slipped or slithered from his bed into the deepest shadow of the room. There was an ever-loudening chorus of footsteps in the hallway outside. Synthetic-soled. Even strides. Mechs. Of course. It's been far too long, Jon thought. Far, far too long.


It isn't the sound of gunfire that stirs a sleeping soldier from his reverie, but the wails of the maimed, and sometimes even their muted, bewildered grunts as the plasma gnaws away their throat or lungs. The ordnance itself is eerily quiet, often no more than a hiss, so that in the midst of battle fully joined it is the pain and the protest that one hears, not the meagre mutterings of machine-guns.

Jacob had been woken by the noise of conflict many times. Once, while he dreamed a conversation in the gardens of the Presidium with a woman whose name and face he can't remember, he found her voice transfigured to the shrieking of a child. Waking then, he discovered that it was his comrade who was screaming for his body had been half blown away, but the beam that had all but bisected him had hardly made a sound.

This time he was not sure that he had fallen asleep at all. Miranda had thought him sleeping when he was only resting, and he had heard all of her movements in his quarters and then her surreptitious exit, but how much time had passed between her disappearance and the first shout? He pulled on his pants, retrieved his pistol from the bedside compartment and moved to the door. He listened. There was a quiet, struggling movement on the other side. A gurgle, perhaps, and the familiar chirp of a service pistol, then silence.

The faint red light of the door's security pad flashed green and the door opened. A LOKI stepped briskly inside: short-statured, slender and shining in the sudden light. Jacob levelled the pistol, shot it in the head, leaned out, shot two more, then ducked back. Two left. There was chirping again, distant this time, and the clatter of two more falling metal bodies.

"Taylor." Miranda's restrained voice.

Jacob breathed in relief. "Lawson."

"It's clear."

"Same here."

Miranda stepped into the doorway, only glancing at Jacob to note that he was still half-dressed, and turned to cover the hallway. "Get your kit." He did so.

"Hell's going on?"

"The whole SE's been compromised. The LOKIs are massacring the personnel."

"How'd we get hacked?" He secured the final brace of his Omnitool and was ready.

"Carlon fucking Wilson." She spat the name.

"Wilson. Why the hell would he-"

"He's a piece of shit, that's why." In truth she had no idea why Wilson might have turned traitor. He had the know-how, but she couldn't imagine a motive. Other than he's a piece of shit. Jacob simply nodded.

"Who else is up and able?"

"Saw Crozier and three others in F Sector but I was cut off. They'll be heading for the pods, but they're useless now."

"Right. The shuttle then."

"Not yet."

Jacob swore. He'd completely forgotten about Shepard. Of course, he'd never so much as glimpsed the man since the Lazarus Project was underway. "Where is he?"

"You needn't worry about Shepard." A cool, almost sardonic voice.

"Commander, is that you?" Miranda diverted the audio from her Tool to her comm and Jacob synched frequencies.

Shepard ignored the question. "Why are you stationary?"


"We're moving now Shepard," Jacob interrupted.

They moved.


Lawson was a spectacular shot, but she wasn't a soldier. There was too much reflex in her motion. Taylor kept a few paces ahead of her, sometimes leaving an open sight and sometimes providing cover with his own body. Jonathan decided that they were lovers. He guided them by radio down side corridors and winding, counterintuitive paths. They crept past a patrol of thirty active LOKIs that fired at Itkila as she ran along a distant intersection. They grimaced as she screamed for a long time even though the LOKIs kept on shooting and shooting. I can't fly the shuttle on my own. Don't martyr yourself on anyone's account.

They trod over great wastelands of hallway, where sundered mechs twitched from wall to wall and raised malicious hemispherical eyes from useless bodies to glare at them as they passed. Shepard, did you clear a path for us? I cleared a path for me. You're just following after. Most of the resistance was in the corridors immediately preceding the shuttle bay. There were a dozen inert LOKIs but many more were marching or waiting near the doors. Take a vac helmet from the wall. Retreat to hallway E6 and wait for the signal. What's the signal? Jonathan laughed.


The charges detonated in a violent violet spark that filled the passageway with heat and turned the sentries into a billowing cloud of glass and plastic and steel. It was very quiet now.

"Commander?" said Miranda

"Get inside."

They moved quickly through the slowly settling cloud with the sound of more approaching mechs behind them. There were two shuttles in the small bay and it was obvious that one of them, its navigational array exposed and half excised, wasn't going anywhere. The other shuttle's accessway was open and they entered it as the bay's airlock groaned shut behind them.

Shepard and Wilson were both seated there. Wilson was wheezing, red-faced, with a patch of blood spreading on his belly. Miranda stepped back and raised her pistol. "What's he doing here?"

Shepard frowned at her. "Don't be hasty. Taylor, take the controls."

Jacob moved past them to the cockpit and buckled himself in. Coordinates were already displayed onscreen, but he didn't recognise them.

"Ignore those. Set whatever course you like." Shepard motioned for Miranda to sit, then gave Wilson a significant look. "Are you going to answer her question?" Instead of responding, Wilson doubled over and spat a gobbet of blood onto the floor. Shepard shrugged. He shoved Wilson off the seat with visible effort and the dying man fell to his knees, facing the still-open accessway.

Shepard extended his upturned palm towards Miranda. "Pistol, please."

She knew immediately what he intended. She holstered her pistol. "He isn't going anywhere."

"No. He's not." Shepard kept his cold and brilliant eyes fixed on hers. His hand was still extended. She glared back.

At last he sighed, turned to Wilson one last time with an expression of deep consideration, and inhaled sharply. Wilson's whole body contorted in numerous obscene directions, then rolled through the accessway and tumbled out of sight. The door hissed shut.

"As soon as you're ready, Officer Taylor."


It's been a long time.


A little, I'll admit.

It's good to see you, Jon.

I'm not going back.

Of course. You and I both know there's nothing to go back to.

But Covenant isn't dead.

To hell with Covenant. I didn't bring you back so I could jerk your strings like those xenos sons of bitches.

You must have had a damned good reason all the same.

I always do, Jon.