Chapter One: Prologue One: Subject Zero
I don't own Bioware
"Jack, glad you were able to make it for the game," Richard Lawson gave a hearty hand shake to the tall man in golfing clothes next to him.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy Rick," Jack laughed as he shouldered his bag. "Shall we get started? I understand this course is a tough one."
"Of course," Lawson led the way out onto the pitch. The caddy set up the ball and took a step back as the lanky businessman lined up his shot. "How are things going with your three headed dog?"
Jack Harper watched the white globe fly down the pitch and roll to a stop at the edge of the green, he smiled with faint amusement. "Very nicely. The new market in medi-gel is blooming. Three of the cells are in very good positions to take advantage of that growth."
"Human ingenuity," Lawson commented. "One of my contacts in the parliament says that the Council's offered us a full embassy on the Citadel."
"Scraps thrown to us to keep us sated," Jack hit the ball with extra force, sending it right onto the green. "They don't trust us, and further more than that, they're slightly scared of us. The turians in particular. Those are the ones we have to watch out for, the turians."
"I've heard rumours about your encounters with them," Lawson began walking toward the green, the caddies following behind. "I always assumed..."
"To assume makes an ass out of you and me," Jack chuckled. "Another conflict with the Hierarchy is inevitable. We will face them again someday. And next time, we'll be the ones doing the bombarding."
"Well spoken," reaching his ball, Lawson selected his putter. "Is that why you've built a facility on Pragia? Specially outfitted with biotic damping tech if I'm not mistaken?"
"Now who told you about that?" Jack mused. "My best bet would be Operative Collins. His mother works for you doesn't she?"
"My best research analyst," Lawson agreed, clipping the ball toward the hole. An unseen lump in the surface of the green deflected it to the right. "You shouldn't blame the boy, just don't trust him with information that I might find interesting."
"Agreed," Jack paused as Richard lined up another shot, this one went in. "I assume you want to talk about more than how many sources you have in my infrastructure?"
"You're abnormally interested in the new biotics program Jack," Richard took a step aside. "What do you find so intriguing about them? Conatix completely failed to exploit the potential of that group on Jump Zero. That young boy, Kaidan, I think? He was the only one to even demonstrate some useful abilities. Killed an instructor, but only when his own life was threatened."
"Which is why I authorised the new facility on Pragia," Harper's tone remained reasonable. "I want to jump biotic research forward twenty, may be fifty years forward. We won't repeat BAaT's mistakes. Keep this strictly in house, humans only. There's a lot of children out there with biotic potential. The batarians have taken a lot in slaving raids. We'll buy them back, put them in a learning environment and see what happens."
"You always were a philanthropist," Lawson commented. "What's your endgame?"
"The same endgame I've always had," Jack chipped the golf ball into the cup. "Human dominance. I want the facility to unlock true biotic potential in humans. The facility has room to house a hundred students comfortably, plus the necessary scientific facilities. We've run into a snag though."
"Yes I heard," Richard frowned. "You need a Zero Subject. Someone to embody all of the successes."
"Exactly," they began walking toward the next hole. "None of the candidates we've reviewed have the necessary biotic potential for the experiment. I want someone special for that position. I've ordered that the environment be kept non-lethal, but there might be accidents. I want my Subject Zero to be above all that."
"I might be able to help you there," Richard lowered his tone. "You remember my daughter Miranda?"
"I believe so," Jack nodded absentmindedly. "Number Four isn't she? The one that you were finally satisfied with."
"Unfortunately not," Lawson shook his head. "She's five years old now, eager to please, but I'm afraid there was a mistake along the way. Her biotic potential is less than half of what I had hoped for, at least, at current levels. Her IQ is almost good enough, but not quite satisfactory. And although I'm not yet sure, we think her reproductive system might have been damaged during development. She will be unable to carry a child to term. Completely unacceptable, and for that I blame myself, not her. Fortunately, we have her little sister, 'Orianna' I called her. She is essentially Miranda, but with a selection of improvements that make Miranda obsolete."
"I see," Jack raised an eyebrow. "And what happens to Miranda?"
"I was going to send her to live with her sisters, in isolation up in the Alps," Lawson frowned. "But if she's going to be safe, living in a comfortable environment, then it would be far kinder to give her to you, to be your Subject Zero. While not up to my standards, her biotic ability is impressive, and will only continue to grow. She could be very useful to..."
"Don't say it!"
"Cerberus," the name slipped out. He immediately looked contrite. "I'm sorry Jack, I didn't mean to..."
"No, it's alright," Harper stared about, his alert eyes searching for any indication of spies around the area. "I just need to be extra careful while I'm on Earth. So you'd like me to take your daughter off your hands?"
"If you wouldn't mind. Better to give her a purpose to work towards. Who knows? Maybe she'll be a real asset to Cerberus someday."
"Or maybe she'll die because my techs get something wrong. Can you live with that?"
Lawson shrugged. "All humans die. It's what we leave behind that really matters."
THREE WEEKS LATER
BROKEN HILL, AUSTRALIA
Terraforming technology had come a long way since the humble experimentations in bio-engineered crops in the early twenty first century. What had been barren scrub a hundred years earlier was now good, arable farmland. Richard Lawson owned four thousand acres of that farmland, some of it rented out for farming, most of it for his own personal use, whenever he was able to make it home. This meant that there were almost three thousand acres, entirely uninhabited, available for exploration...and adventure.
This suited Niket Barnes just fine. His family was from this land, his father, grandfather and great grandfather had spent their lives caring for this land. His grandfather had begun working for Francis Lawson, back when the emerging magnate first purchased the whole area. He had formed a hearty friendship with the farmer, and hired him to be the groundskeeper for his estate. Niket's father, Thomas, had eventually taken over the job, and when Richard Lawson inherited his father's empire, he had kept him on, despite the dislike between the two men.
Niket could remember Adrianna Lawson, the sweet tempered wife of his father's boss. She had come across him one day, reading Plato's Republic in her garden. Instead of scolding him, she sat down with him.
"Heavy reading for a seven year old," her laugh was gentle, not mocking. He was defensive.
"I like it. He's talking about a perfect society. An orderly one."
"It's a police state he talks about," she smiled. "One in which personal liberty, argument and opinions are all crushed."
"But it's safe!" He protested. "There isn't any crime."
She stared at him seriously. "Would you be willing to sacrifice your freedom for a lifetime of safety?"
It had begun a year of friendship between them. Niket's mother had died while he was young. In many ways, Adrianna Lawson had filled that role, caring for him like he was her own. They would read for hours in that garden, or go for long rides out along the river, or even play badminton. She always let him at badminton, that was something he never forgot.
It wasn't meant to last. Her pale skin had whitened; she stopped playing games and riding. More men came in and out of the mansion, Mr. Lawson began looking worried. One day, he'd gone to look for her in the garden...and she wasn't there. A genetic defect in her nervous system, present since childbirth, had eventually weakened and destroyed her body's ability to repel harmful bacteria. Her death almost destroyed her husband; he had left Earth, left his house for almost seven years.
And then, in 2160, five years after the Systems Alliance had made contact with the Citadel and the Council, Richard Lawson had returned, holding a small bundle in his arms. Niket had heard whispers from the household staff, rumours about 'adoption' and 'genetic engineering' hadn't much interested the teenager. At his age, he was more concerned about passing the end of year exams.
It was until 2163, when he had snatched a small, dark haired child out of the path of a charging tiger snake and crushed the vicious reptile underneath his boot heel, that Niket Barnes had finally met Miranda Lawson. The three year old had immediately latched onto him. For two years, the pair were inseparable. Wherever Niket went, Miranda tagged along after him. This earned Niket many a wrathful word from her father. Miranda spent more time going riding and camping with Niket than she did studying.
A direct order to stay away from her was briefly obeyed, until Miranda, only four years old at the time, sprung the lock on her room, and sneaked out to the comfortable house where Niket lived with his father, and meekly requested a bedtime story. He was her 'cool big brother'.
She had sobbed when he had jumped on the bus to the airport, dressed in a set of fatigues, newly accepted into the Alliance Marine Corps. Miranda didn't want him to leave. She had even forged a video message from Alliance Command, telling him that unfortunately, he had been turned down. If it hadn't been for her ever so slight lisp, he might have believed it.
And now, two weeks later, Niket found himself walking back down the road towards his house. An afternoon wind had kicked up some dust, coating him head to foot in the red substance.
"I'm sorry son," Gunnery Chief Bonham pulled him out of line. "You're going home. Medical report just came in."
How was it that humanity could cure almost fatal wounds, and defeat diseases that had plagued the planet for millennia, but couldn't come up with a solution for the previously dormant heart condition that had appeared during the opening stages of boot camp? He was unfit to serve humanity, his blood pressure unable to cope with the rigorous physical exercise.
The only thing that might brighten up his day would be Miranda's face when she saw he was back. He expected a bone crushing hug, followed by a display of the new biotic skills she had learnt while he was away.
Yep, it'd be good to see his little 'sister' again.
NUBIAN EXPANSE, DAKKA SYSTEM
THE TELTIN FACILITY
The Batarian Hegemony had rubbed their hands in collective delight when scout ships reported that the fertile soil of Pragia absolutely perfect for mass production of crops. But when the bio-engineered produce began to bloom, it bloomed in a big way. Unchecked, unchallenged, the plants mutated and overran the colonists in a matter of days. In roughly four hundred years, ecologists predicted that the rampant growth would lead to complete soil exhaustion. The planet was used as a textbook example by colonial development professors reminding their students of the necessity of environmental regulations.
It was to this planet that Cerberus came, burning away a massive portion of the jungle, and erecting a massive prefabricated structure. The Illusive Man had provided more than adequate funds for the provision of comfortable living quarters for all occupants. Dr. Colin Piper did not believe all those funds needed to funnelled into something as useless as creature comforts. The children would be housed in the same conditions as the guards, bearable, but not luxurious.
Any combat soldier could have told Piper that what was appropriate for a paid soldier was not necessarily so for a child, particularly the kind of children they would be receiving. They were orphans mostly, scarred, messed up, abused for months in the captivity of batarian slavers. They came in small boxes, barely big enough to sit in. Unpacked by impassive, helmeted guards, sent straight to the cells, given plates of tasteless stew and high protein bars to eat. And eat they did, every one of them was a developing biotic, with the appetite to match.
Seven weeks the facility had been running. There had been a brief outbreak of rats, but that had quickly died down. Piper had been horrified to discover that the more desperate children had killed, cooked and eaten the rodents before they could spread. Security Chief Mason had just grunted. A survivor of the Alliance's Survival, Escape, Reconnaissance and Evasion School, he had eaten worse things than rats in his time.
The Chief was at least attempting to make things bearable for the 'students'. He ensured that his guards weren't appropriating the children's rations for themselves, issued extra blankets, and forced Piper to convert two of main storage areas into exercise yards. Mason wasn't a cruel man, just a tired one. This was supposed to be his twilight assignment. His retirement was coming up in a year. Making sure security was tight for the Teltin Facility, was an easy, albeit unsettling job.
"What do you need all this junk for?" Mason gestured to the crates of equipment.
"Some of it is autopsy equipment for the morgue, the rest of it is for the bio-lab," Piper returned irritably.
"What do you need a morgue for?" the Chief raised his eyebrows. "I thought you said these experiments were non-lethal?"
"I did, and they are," Piper soothed him. "The morgue will mainly be for the animal test subjects. And if there is an occasional accident, well then we'll need to find out the cause of the malfunction, to make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Oh, okay then," he paused long enough for a buzz to come from his earpiece. He clicked it onto 'Receive'. =This is Mason...Yeah, I'm with him now...Alright, I'll tell him=
Turning back to Piper, it struck him just how frail the scientist looked. He was thin, pale, and balding. A weak beard decorated his chin. And he was short. The kind of man who just by looking at, you could he got bullied in school by the jocks, and grew up with a massive inferiority complex. No personal power of his own, just his intellect. Once Mason was gone, this guy would be in charge of all these kids. Mason felt his heart sink.
"Transport says that your special package has arrived and is waiting for you."
"Excellent," Piper scuttled along the catwalk. "Come on Mason, I'm sure you'll find this interesting."
"It's just another kid," Mason looked through the peephole into the room. He had wondered why Piper had ordered his men to set up this section as a bedroom. The two way mirror set up overlooking the exercise yard puzzled him even more. "I've seen plenty of them so far."
The dark haired little girl was crouching in the corner, head moving slightly as she looked around, taking in every inch of the room. Strange, she wasn't crying. All of the others, even the tough ones, had been balling their eyes out when they were brought in. Crying for mommy and daddy. This one was just watching...observing. Saving her strength and resistance for when it would be most useful.
"You are looking at Subject Zero," Piper suddenly had an air of confidence about him. "She is a very special little girl. She is going to be our key to unlocking true biotic potential in humans. The others? They're just small pieces. Subject Zero is our endgame. I should probably give her the whole 'service to humanity' speech that I gave the others, shouldn't I?"
"Why bother?" For the first time, Mason felt sick with himself. His hands slowly balled into fists. "This one won't believe you."
Piper could sense the hostility emanating from the security chief. "In that case I'll see you later."
Mason didn't even acknowledge his departure. Stepping back, he typed his security code into the lock and stepped through the door. He regretted it almost immediately. Piercing, icy blue eyes locked with his tired brown ones.
"Who are you?" Her voice was small, but demanding. She wasn't like the others. This one was accustomed to getting her own way.
"I'm a guard." It seemed the best way to introduce himself. Stay safely neutral.
"I want to see Niket."
"Who is Niket?"
"My big brother." Her own fists were clenched. She was trying not to show fear. Mason was amazed. If she stood up, she would not even reach his waist, yet she spoke with an authority far beyond her years. "He's a Marine. He'll come and fight you if you don't let me go."
"No one can find you here," there was no point in lying. "But if you like, I can make your stay as comfortable as possible. Is there anything you want?"
"I want to see Niket."
He shook his head. "Not going to happen."
"I want to speak to my father. He'll sort this entire thing out."
"Still can't help you on that front," Mason turned toward the door. "Even my comms are limited. If that's all you wanted then..."
"You heard me, I'd like some books please. Something to read," a solitary tear was rolling down her cheek. She didn't want to show weakness in front of a stranger, but no matter how smart she was, she was five years old, alone, cold and terrified. "And something to eat too, if you have any food."
Taking a protein bar out of his pocket, he threw it to her. "Food's not very good here, but we do have some OSD's with some books on them. Would you like a fairy tale?"
"My preference is for classical literature," she lowered her head. "And I would greatly appreciate it if you could arrange an extranet call to Earth."
"I'll see what I can do. Goodbye...Subject Zero."
"Miranda," her head snapped up. "My name is Miranda Lawson."
A wave of self-loathing hit Mason in the gut. "I'm sure it used to be."
"Where's Miranda?" Niket stared Mr. Lawson dead in the eye. To his credit, the billionaire didn't flinch.
"There was an accident, she fell of her horse and was trampled," he spoke softly. "The funeral was a few days ago."
"How come I didn't hear about it?"
"You were in isolation weren't you?" Lawson's voice was mildly contemptuous. "I would be concerned if Alliance Marines busied themselves with the death of my daughter, instead of the protection of humanity."
Niket was astounded by the coldness in the man's voice. "Be that as it may sir, but how could Miri have fallen off? I taught her to ride myself, and Buck's the safest horse on the estate."
"Clearly not as safe as you thought," Richard turned away from him. "Rest assured, I do not blame you Niket. In fact, I believe if you had been here, none of this would have happened."
Unsure of how to respond, Niket kept silent. Lawson continued.
"This sad occurrence comes just as I was about to announce something most joyful," snapping his fingers, he beckoned a matronly woman into the room. Held gently in her arms was a sleeping baby. "You see Mr. Barnes, I didn't want my daughter to grow up as an only child. This is Orianna, Miranda's genetic twin sister."
Orianna was woken by the sound of voices. Yawning widely, she gazed around at the people in the room, chubby hands rubbing sleep from her eyes. Niket took her, holding her gently. "She's beautiful."
"I know," Richard nodded. "I will not allow anything to happen to her Niket. I understand, with your discharge from the Marines, you are looking for a job? I have one for you. I want you to be Orianna's comapion, protector, bodyguard and watchdog. You'll look after her, keep her safe until she's an adult."
"Miranda took to you straight away, I'm hoping that Orianna will do the same." He rested his hand on Niket's shoulder. "It's a lifetime employment option Mr. Barnes. You can name your price, I won't allow negligence to ever again harm my family."
"I'd do it for free if you asked me," Niket held a finger against Orianna's chin. She grabbed it and examined it contemplatively. "I just wish I could have been here to save Miranda."
"I know," Lawson's voice hadn't changed from its businesslike tone since the conversation started. "I'm sure we'll all recover from the loss someday. I'll leave you and Orianna to get acquainted."
Orianna gurgled happily as Niket gently poked her stomach. He smiled bitterly. "Hello Orianna. I'm glad to meet you."
She cocked her head slightly, staring up at his face.
"Would you like to know something?"
She didn't look away. He leaned in closer.
"I'm going to save you Orianna. I'm going to save you from him."
A/N: My buddy in Air Force combat comms was talking with me about ME2 and how it is the greatest game known to mankind. The talk got onto Love Interests, he's a pretty big Jack fan. Naturally, we discussed what might have happened if Miranda's father had offered her forward as a test subject, and The Illusive Man decided to take the little girl with huge biotic potential from Eden Prime under his wing.
Since I'm coming off the success of Predators (Still a little astounded at how popular it was), I figured I'd get onto the idea while it was still fresh in my mind. First few chapters will set out backstory: Jack being taken by Cerberus, Miranda's escape from Pragia, their lives as defined by their personalities. I will be playing around with in game canon a lot, but I'm hoping that I can make it work.