A/N: You tell me who/what the title is a reference to, I tell you a secret. Catch the appalling number of references layered and hidden and you get another secret, plus a nothing.
R&R like good kids.
The Hawkeye Clause
There was a lot of fire and explosions and while those things were normally things Shepard liked, he didn't like it when they were happening to his ship. That was just wrong in every way. Add to that, the distress beacon was being bitchy and Joker wouldn't leave the goddamn ship alone and Shepard had his angry armored hands full. Worst yet, he'd gotten up that very morning to discover the second worst thing he'd ever seen – his liquor stash was empty. The first worst thing he'd ever seen involved the genetic memory of the Protheans that he'd inherited from the asari Shiala (and by proxy the Thorian) which included, unfortunately, detailed accounts of Prothean mating rituals. It almost made him want to go on a diet of grapes and waste away to nothing.
And now, after forcing Joker's Vrolik's ass into an escape shuttle and accidentally pressing the release button before he could get in, Commander John Shepard was floating through space amongst the debris of his beloved ship.
He grunted and pouted for a bit. This wasn't the kind of death he'd envisioned.
The Commander going down with his ship, though? It was almost poetic. Except for the fact that his suit's air mask had ruptured and he was now losing oxygen fast. He thought of that Walt Whitman poem Ash had once recited for him; he was going to miss her. He assumed she made it into one of the escape pods. He had to assume. No more breath. The last thought he had, as he suffocated to death was: Damn, I could really use a drink right about now.
Commander John Shepard, N7 marine, first human Spectre, proud fiend of slavers, casual drinker, grudging savior of the galaxy, professional armed lunatic and notorious bamf, was dead.
At least that's what he'd gathered after the very last memory he had was of floating through space to his cold death, surrounded by the wreckage of his precious ship, losing oxygen due to a suit rupture, and slowly and painfully suffocating to death.
As for the being dead itself part, Shepard would have to say it felt sort of like a nap. A painful nap without any pleasant sexy dreams, but still, a nondescript nap. He had about fifty of those per day.
The next thing he became aware of was a blurry brunette looking at him and cradling his head, shrieking something about sedatives in an Australian accent. He couldn't feel his own body, so he had the funny experience of feeling like a detached head for a brief amount of time. A few jokes came to mind but he couldn't feel his face and didn't know if he had a mouth, so he kept them to himself. There was also another less blurry bald man standing over a computer, and then everything became more blurry and Shepard became tired. Sedatives was right.
After that, it was more death. Or nap time. He couldn't distinguish between the two anymore.
Then there was an explosion—he awoke with a bit of a start, and a massive headache. His face was also pure agony, so it wasn't surprising that his only verbal reaction was like this:
"Augh, fuck, my face! What happened to my fucking face? Did I get mauled by a motherfucking grizzly bear? Did someone take a fucking cheese grater to my face? Teddy Roosevelt's left nut, my faaace!"
"Commander Shepard!" A strangely familiar accented voice crackled over an intercom overhead.
Shepard took in his surroundings as he slowly sat up, cradling his searing head and glaring at every object he could see. It looked like he was in some kind of laboratory and he had been laying on a metal slab of some kind in it. There were monitors of all kinds strewn about the room but he wasn't hooked up to any of them, nor did he have any tubes inside his arms, and was therefore not in immediate danger. He assumed that whatever had happened to him was something either completely inexplicable or something he completely didn't give a shit about.
"Commander Shepard, it's good that you're awake, you have to get up and out of that bed," the voice continued with relief. It was female, and it was rather bossy sounding. Shepard looked up at the speaker, clutching his head and his painful face and glared at it.
He tried to stand up and was pleased to find he could feel his legs and they worked, which wouldn't have happened if he was dead. So, that meant he was alive. That was good, right?
An explosion suddenly rocked the ground and he stumbled about, clutching the metal gurney he'd woken up on. "Yes," he muttered darkly, "this is the kind of thing I love waking up to."
"Commander Shepard," the voice from the intercom crackled, "I'm Miranda Lawson. It's imperative that you listen to me: this facility is currently under attack."
Another explosion rocked the facility. "No, those were friendly explosions!"
"Sarcasm is useful to no one in this situation, Commander. There's a pistol and armor in the locker over there in the corner – suit up and I'll guide you from the suit's radio if I can, or the intercom. We need to get you out of here. Someone hacked security and is trying to kill you!"
He spied the locker that Miranda (apparently) spoke of and stumbled over there with his searing migraine to suit up. He was grudgingly happy that the armor was N7, but also suspicious – not because actual N7 armor was never seen out of the Alliance's N7 program, but because it fit him snugly. Too snugly. Someone had taken extensive measurements when he was comatose. He just prayed it was the Aussie – he couldn't stand it if it turned out it was that one blurry bald guy he vaguely remembered. He turned on the radio on his omni-tool and heard Miranda's crackling voice and then grabbed the only weapon in the locker. The pistol, he discovered, wasn't his beloved HMWP X which made it automatically inferior, and—"This pistol doesn't have a thermal clip," he stated bluntly. "Who stores a weapon and doesn't put a thermal clip in? That's madness."
"This is a medical facility," the Aussie deadpanned, "so I'm sorry if we're lacking in arsenal."
"Every good doctor carries a firearm," Shepard told her firmly. "To assume otherwise is blasphemy."
Miranda paused, and then sighed over the radio. "I couldn't even begin to tell you how anticlimactic this is for me. Just because we're in a medical facility in the future and in space does not mean that doctors now have to carry personal weapons. Only salarian doctors do that, and that's only due to the fact that all salarian doctors are members of the STG by force of contract!"
Shepard rubbed his forehead in pain. The things he would do for some painkillers, or a stiff drink right now... "Lady, I don't know what kind of doctors you know, but every single one I've ever known has an arsenal beneath their desk somewhere, with more thermal clips than you could shake a hanar at."
"That one Russkie doctor on the Citadel doesn't count," he defended quickly, "but hell, Chakwas had a vintage Aratech hidden in her office, right next to the champagne and the Serrice Ice Brandy."
"In a med-bay? That's absurd!" Miranda's Lawson's voice spluttered.
"It's called the Hawkeye clause. Look it up."
"It doesn't matter. At all. I can't even believe we're having this conversation, or that this conversation happened. The point you distracted me from is there should be some thermal clips in the next room or something since a nondescript staff member died out there and probably thoughtfully dropped some thermal clips on the ground amidst his agonizing death throes. You should—shit!" She cried suddenly.
"You're in the bathroom?" Shepard wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You talk to people on the phone when you're in the bathroom? That's just weird."
"No! Bah!" Miranda snapped eloquently. "There's a couple of canisters that are about to explode near the door. Get behind something, quick!"
"In a med-bay," Shepard mocked in a false falsetto and yet got behind some conveniently placed plexi-glass. Sure enough, by the one door out of the med bay, several random canisters exploded. After the smoke cleared Shepard made a break for the door and sure enough, found a thermal clip for his pistol in the next room lying next to a faceless dead body.
"First corpse of the day," Shepard said absently, snapping in the thermal clip. "I could use a drink."
"Before you ask," Miranda suddenly cut in, "no, there is no alcohol in this facility."
This was an outrage, to say the least! "Damn it all, what kind of doctors are you?" Shepard raged, and gave a dry sob. "I miss my ship."
He went into the next room where he discovered several more dead bodies and absently came up with a new drinking game while he was at it. He'd seen many the abandoned, attacked, or brutally-went-wrong-everyone-died-the-rogue-VI-killed-us scientific facility in his day, and as a Spectre he'd caused most of them. It was a good run. He figured for every dead body that he spied that he hadn't killed, drink. Hell, for everyone he killed there'd be a drink too. Why not?
The next room was dark and mysterious and Miranda had something nosy to add: "Bloody—Commander, there's several mechs on your way! Aim for the heads, and get behind those crates!"
"Was that an order?" He growled under his breath but nonetheless expertly clambered behind some convenient crates. He absently wondered why a medical facility had crates lying around. Really, there wasn't any logical reason. Sometimes, he swore the universe just went out of its way to make no goddamn sense.
Three LOKI mechs, nothing special. They fired, Shepard fired back. He had the better aim.
He found himself some stairs up and sprinted up them, eager to make his way out of the strange facility he'd woken up in and get some answers from 'Miranda Lawson' in person. But just his luck, her radio began to crap out by the time he got up the steps.
"Shepard, you're doing gr—(crackle crackle)—mechs descending in. Make your way t—(crackle crackle)—get to the shuttles! I'll see if I can—(crackle crackle)—"
Shepard got sick of the radio and turned it off, somewhat happy to be rid of Miranda's overbearing presence. He poked his head into a nearby office and found a bunch of personal logs, in addition to a wall safe (which he happily discovered was full of credits, which he merrily robbed) and more thermal clips. He still couldn't comprehend why the med bay he'd been in didn't have any, considered the rest of the station was loaded, no pun intended.
He found from the logs that Miranda was in charge of Project Lazarus, which was the program that had brought him to life. Shepard had no idea why he was brought back to life, where he was, or for what purpose, but he did found out that a bald someone named Wilson didn't like Miranda – but more importantly, this Wilson was obviously an experienced medical practitioner as he had some scotch hidden in his desk, which the Commander happily plundered. (It helped with the insufferable migraine he had.)
He left Wilson's office pleasantly buzzed and less miserable than he had entered, and made his leisurely way out the only door he could exit from.
Suddenly there was a battle – a bare walkway with little to no cover and a black man in a skintight suit randomly shooting at several LOKI mechs across the way. Shepard stared at the strange little man for a bit before rushing over to help, sliding over as soon as there was a break in fire and crouching to lean against the thigh-high plexi-glass.
Because he was now clinically drunk, Shepard was unable to come up with a decent introduction, and so grinned manically and greeted, "Boo."
The black man's eyes widened in recognition. "Shepard? What the hell-?" He shook his head in disbelief. "If Miranda's got you up and running, things are worse than I thought."
Shepard nodded sagely. "Ah, you're with Miranda." Suddenly sensing an opportunity to do something badass, the commander stood up and shot one of the enemy mech's heads off. This mech was, unfortunately, replaced with another. He cursed loudly and crouched back down to the black guy's level, who just stared at him.
"Let's take care of these guys and then we can play Q&A," the man told him, "since I imagine you have some questions."
And so they did.
Or rather, the black guy (whose name was, unfortunately, Jacob Taylor) happened to be a biotic so he gave gravity the finger and yanked the mechs into the air with a mass effect field while Shepard shot at them with drunken precision.
"Right," Jacob huffed when they were all finished, "so somebody hacked all the mechs here and is attacking for no reason. It's a damn nightmare. Five minutes I was going to get some shut-eye and them BAM, bunch of explosions! I'm thinkin' we should get down to the shuttles, because—"
"Cut the shit," Shepard said abruptly. "You seem nice and all those things but the last thing I remember is dying and then waking up in a non-alcoholic med-bay. Talk about a goddamn nightmare."
Jacob sighed plaintively. "Yeah, Cerb—I mean, uh, this place is like that. They got all these bullshit regulations about alcohol and pants. It sucks."
"What happened to my ship?" Shepard inquired. "And my crew? Why are you wearing spandex? Why the hell am I not dead? That's kind of the big one here. God help you if you say magic or zombies."
Jacob inhaled and exhaled briefly and then took a deep breath: "Your ship was totaled after it was attacked by another vessel, by which I mean it exploded, your crew are fine and almost all survived except for some lower crewman and Navigator Pressly, I wear this jumpsuit because it's regulation and Miranda Lawson loves her some fine regulation, and you're not dead because we at the Lazarus Project don't like death and, under the direction of Miranda Lawson used every billions and trillions of dollars to acquire single scrap of modern science and pseudo-science to bring beat the hell out of death and bring you back, exactly the way you were before you died."
Shepard processed this in his slow, buzzed mind. "So am I a clone? Cybernetics? A Cylon? Is my back going to start blinking red lights every time I get it on?"
Jacob shook his head. "Nope. You're you, through and through. Uh, although maybe there was some cybernetics, I don't really know. Not the one to ask," he admitted with a sheepish shrug. "First time I saw you, you was all meat and tubes, so who knows. Miranda would probably know."
"Nah," Shepard scoffed, "she's probably dead. I was just talking to her on the radio before I ran into you and she cut off, saying something about mechs and shuttles and how great I was. I wasn't really paying attention. I got drunk somewhere along the way."
"WHAT?" Jacob cried, infuriated for all the wrong reasons. "Those cracker bastards told me this facility was non-alcoholic!"
"I kept saying that too but the scotch I found said differently. Or it did, after I downed the whole bottle."
"Aw, come on!"
"What was that you said about shuttles?" Shepard reminded politely.
Jacob grumbled about regulations and stomped off in the general direction of where the shuttles probably were and John Shepard followed, humming a jaunty tune to himself.
The two continued on through the strange and foreign facility up some stairs and through more nondescript, gray, utilitarian rooms full of dead bodies and random mech corpses. At some point or another (Shepard had stopped paying attention, figuring none of it was important anyway) a man suddenly came in on the radio.
"Come in, anyone, come in!" The radio crackled as a crackly voice known as Wilson issued out. "This is, uh, engineer Wilson, is anyone alive? Anyone? Come on, the mechs aren't that good at their jobs! Someone has to be alive! Anyone at all?"
Shepard and Jacob exchanged long glances. "Should we answer?" Jacob wondered aloud.
"I just want to know how it's coming in on my radio," Shepard bitterly spat, "because it's been off for a while now."
Taylor activated his orange holographic omni-tool and pushed several meaningless holo-buttons. "This is Jacob, Wilson," he said into the radio. Shepard grumbled in the corner about uppity Australians and the lack of good alcohol and decent doctors. "Where are you?"
"Jacob, right," Wilson sighed in relief. "I'm in Server Room B. Hurry! There's mechs closing in on my position!"
"What the hell's a Server Room?" Shepard wondered. "Is that really a separate room you asses keep your servers in, or is that just a fancy term for Slave Quarters?"
"We're coming!" Jacob vowed, still not listening or just oblivious. "Remember your penis, man – don't do anything lame!"
"Seriously, what is it? Is it just a glorified janitor's closet?"
Shepard took charge and the two men made their way through the endless hallways of the nameless prelude facility before stumbling upon a red-lit room helpfully labeled Server Room B. Wilson was sprawled across the floor with a pistol in his hand and his leg was bleeding profusely. There were several dead fellow "engineers" in the same uniform Wilson was in, but there were no signs of mechs, at least on Wilson's side of the room.
"AGH!" The bald doctor-man-engineer-guy replied. "I'm a-comin', Elizabeth!"
"You shut the hell up," Commander Shepard ordered and snatched a hunk of medi-gel from a first-aid kit conveniently located on the wall. He slapped it on Wilson's head in an effort to get Wilson to shut about his wounds, since after just discovering he'd been brought back to life by a bunch of (probably) cultists, he wasn't exactly in the mood to deal with people whining about life-threatening wounds.
Wilson was up and running' in no time due to medi-gel's magical effects, and thanked the Commander profusely for the Spectre's minimal and misguided efforts. "How'd you get shot?" Shepard had to ask.
"Th-the mechs, of course," Wilson said too quickly.
Shepard was too drunk to really notice the quickness of that statement so he just shrugged it off. "Fine with me. Let's get to the shuttles alr—"
Oh, Fate, ever the fickle mistress! Fate has this thing, where it interrupted people at the worst of times. And so, at that time, several mechs entered through the opposite door and started firing at everyone and everything randomly. The three men hid behind some random debris while the mechs fired endlessly at everything that looked suspicious, which unfortunately for them included more explosive canisters. Which, of course exploded them to bits.
"Huh," Jacob stated.
"Problem solved, I guess," Wilson added with a shrug.
Shepard glared at the mech corpses. He didn't like interruptions. "As I was saying before that rude interruption, we should make our way to the shuttles."
"Wait," Jacob interrupted, and Shepard glared at him ineffectually, "this shit is getting tight."
"What?" John Shepard blinked scratched his buzz-cut. "No it isn't. Were you even there for that last bit where the mechs blew themselves up?"
Jacob went on, totally ignoring the commander: "I think Shepard oughta know who we're working for now. At least have a name to blame, right?"
"Really?" Wilson snorted sarcastically. "We're doing this now? With rampant, murdering mechs on the loose? Whatever, Jacob, it's your ass that gets kicked when you piss off the boss, not mine."
Jacob Taylor turned to Commander Shepard and proceeded with a lengthy pause which would have been dramatic, had anyone else been involved in that pause. "The people we work for," Jacob said, "the organization behind Project Lazarus, the project that resurrected you under Miranda's direction … is Cerberus."
There was another lengthy pause that was less dramatic. "Yeah," said Shepard slowly, "I know."
"I gathered that from the Cerberus logo on your spandex lapel," Shepard replied and pointed to the ominous yellow logo that Jacob, apparently, had forgotten about. "Also the giant Cerberus logos every fifty feet. Plus the Cerberus logo on this gun. And on the ass of my armor," he also helpfully pointed out, much to the chagrin of Wilson and Jacob. "You people aren't exactly subtle."
Wilson began muttering about something or other in angry undertones and Jacob scratched his shaved black head. "So… that's it? You're not curious? You don't have any questions?"
"You assume I care, Jacob," Shepard stated bluntly, having a miraculous epiphany in his inebriant mind. "You said something earlier about being a security officer, or if you didn't than I made that up, but I assume that you don't know or are too stupid to know any of the things I want answers to. Like, what Cerberus, the genocidal terrorist organization, wants with me – since I haven't technically been a terrorist since I left Earth, not that there's any record of that and furthermore I don't know what you're talking about – why is Cerberus involved in bringing me back to life, of all people, and why they're suddenly philanthropists when I've known only murder and treachery and death and Thresher Maws and incompetent villainy at their hands. I wiped out plenty of Cerberus projects back in my day and I know enough about you all to realize you're not big on forgive-and-forget, so obviously there are many questions I have, but based off of the time I've known ya, short time though that may be," he added quickly, "I can gather that you're definitely a helper, but not the kind of helper I need. Mainly … you're dumb and underpaid, I suppose is my big point here," the commander finally concluded.
"True dat," Jacob grinned. "That shit's way above my pay grade. I guess people change? Tell ya what, we can take you to the Illusive Man after we're done with this station and he can answer all your questions, Shepard."
The commander laughed uproariously, if he had found some kind of great, inexplicable, drunken joke in all of that. "Please," Shepard laughed, "call me Shepard."
Jacob eyed the man warily with some confusion. "Uh, okay."
John Shepard clutched his head and shook it violently, feeling a bit of the ole headache coming on. "There's a chance I might be a little … way drunk right now."
"Wha—how?" Wilson stuttered. "Didn't you wake up just ten minutes ago? Didn't he wake up ten minutes ago?" He asked Jacob. He turned back to the undead commander. "How are you drunk?! You weren't even conscious!"
"Eh, I found some scotch in one of the offices."
"BULLSHIT!" Jacob roared, stamping his booted, spandex-clad feet. "DAMN REGULATIONS!"
Wilson then realized what scotch and which office Shepard was referring to, much to his dismay. "My booze!" He crowed mournfully. "My precious booze!"
"That was your scotch? Right, so what was that about shuttles and finding Miranda?"
Jacob snapped his fingers. "Right! Miranda! What happened to her, anyway?"
Shepard shrugged. "She said something about shuttles and being overwhelmed by mechs before being cut off. Didn't I tell you?"
"No!" Jacob gasped, bringing his hands to his face in sudden despair. "She's in trouble! We have to help her!"
"Could've sworn I told you," Shepard mused.
"She's fine," Wilson said wryly, "she was only supposed to be in D-wing, the place with the majority of the mechs, right? And even if she isn't fine, she's not here with us right now, so there's a chance that she's behind this attack."
"Please," Shepard laughed, whacking Wilson in the back of the head absently, sending the bald man stumbling due to Shepard's enhanced soldier-strength. "I'm drunk, not stupid. Miranda's a woman, she can't be behind this. Women are too incompetent."
Jacob whistled at that. "Dayum, boy, she better not hear you say that!"
"What could she possibly do? Whine at me? Take me shoe-shopping? She's a woman," Shepard rolled his eyes. "Either way, she woke me up and ordered me around this facility like a dog before her radio copped out, and she wouldn't do all that if she had hacked the mechs and was trying to kill me. Sort of the opposite of that, really."
Wilson shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably, leaning against the wall in an attempt to be nonchalant. "Okay, so, maybe she isn't behind this," he grudgingly consented, "but either way, we're here, and she's not. And if she's anywhere it'll be at the shuttles."
"Right," Jacob nodded. "I mean, I'm worried, but Miranda can take care of herself. A small army of mechs ain't gonna drop her. Let's get to the shuttles."
"Finally," the zombie commander muttered.
The way to the shuttles was mech-full and perilous but the two men and the tipsy ex-Spectre managed to make it to there mostly without incident. There was a minor problem involving a map-malfunction, wherein Mr. Taylor got so criminally lost that he ruptured a hole in the space-time continuum and duplicated himself infinitely, but that – like most problems – was solved easily by a shot to the head.
"What an adventure," Wilson sighed wistfully.
Shepard nodded in agreement. "Couldn't have said it better myself."
"I just wish I remembered any of it," Jacob frowned. "Damn time paradoxes and their fugue amnesia!"
"Then it's too bad for you we'll never speak of it again," said the commander.
"I suppose so," Jacob said mournfully.
"Meanwhile, this station is going to blow right the hell up," Wilson reminded them. "Let's get on a shuttle and cheese it, pronto-like."
Shepard had pretty much entirely sobered up by the point they finally managed to get their asses to the shuttles, which he is why he didn't giggle and snort with surprise when the door to the shuttle bay opened on its own and a femme fatale in white shot Wilson in the chest without pretense.
Jacob gasped. "Willie! What the hell are you doing!"
"Shooting Wilson, obviously," the woman reported blandly and shot the bald man several times. She put her gun away eventually and turned to the distraught Jacob. "Wilson betrayed us all and is a Cerberus scapegoat by regulation 1156 subsection-B, detailing the labeling of scapegoats. He hacked the mechs and is responsible for the deaths of everyone in this situation, including himself."
"How do you know that?" Jacob demanded, nostrils flaring in suspicion.
"Because," the Aussie spat icily, hands on hips, "I didn't do it, you're too incompetent, and Shepard was comatose, and that covers all the people that are still alive or matter remotely."
Shepard, on instinct, had whipped out his own gun and pointed it at the woman's pretty head. He blinked, recognizing her as the brunette Australian that he'd seen when he woke up for the first time and who had jammed him full of sedatives. This was Miranda Lawson, the woman that had led him through the facility. She'd proven to essentially be an ally, so he lowered his weapon, but didn't put it away. Miranda rolled her lavender eyes at him.
"Really, Commander?" She said rhetorically.
He thought of a one-liner for this situation but refrained. "How long were you standing behind that door anyway?"
Ms. Lawson shrugged. "A few minutes. I wanted to catch Wilson by surprise. Getting to the point, we should leave. One, this facility is about to explode, and two, my boss wants to see you."
"You mean the Illusive Man?" Shepard asked dryly. Miranda frowned at this. "Yeah, I know you're Cerberus."
Miranda shook her head and turned to Jacob, a sad smile on her face. "Ahh, Jacob," she mused, "conscience getting the better of you?"
"Yeah," Jacob grinned. "Actually, no, because the Commander already knew. But I still figured lyin' to a brother isn't the best way to get him to join our cause."
Miranda looked at the recently deceased Commander in surprise. "Is Jacob making up stories again or is he telling the truth?"
"The latter," Shepard admitted. "Cat's out of the bag, as they say. Oh, wait, are you telling me this was supposed to be a secret?"
"It's the logos," Jacob told his fellow Cerberus operative. "He totally caught on. I told you we should've taken them off but nooooo—"
"They're regulation!" Miranda cried. "Furthermore, shut up. Well, since you already seem to know everything, commander," she turned back to the commander dripping with sarcasm, "is there anything else you want to know?"
"I assume you're the director of this project," Shepard said politely.
"Yes, I am, or rather was, in charge of the Lazarus Project," Miranda Lawson informed. "The entire purpose of the Project was to bring you back to life using whatever means our extensive bank accounts could afford, which included some advanced cybernetics, bio-engineering, humanistic pseudo-science, and a lot of praying. The usual. You were the only subject. I devoted two years of my life into this research, into you. "
"Fair enough," Shepard shrugged. "What do you want with me?"
"I'm not the one to ask. That would be the Illusive Man, my boss. He poured virtually unlimited resources and funds into this project, in order to bring you back to life exactly as you were before."
Shepard shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably, and then finally put away his pistol. He wasn't so certain he wanted the answer to this last question but he had to know. "Just one final question and then we can blow this joint: were you the one who took my measurements for this armor?"
"Of course," Miranda breezed. "Who did you think it was? Wilson? Please. I know everything about you, Commander. I did rebuild you, after all."
He eyed her warily. "Everything?" Miranda nodded and folded her arms across her rather large chest, which Shepard was amazingly just beginning to notice. Add to that, her black and white cat-suit was just perfect in all the right places, including the ass-place. Was this … Cerberus regulation? Did all the women dress up like this? Or was this just Miranda Lawson's personal taste? Either way, Shepard decided he could live with it. He kicked Wilson's corpse good-naturedly and clapped his hands. "Sounds good. Where's the shuttle? I've had enough of this place to last a lifetime."
"Or two, in your case," Miranda chuckled merrily, or it would've been merrily if Miranda Lawson did things like chuckle merrily. As it turned out, she did not, and it came out as kind of comedic deadpan observation that confused the two men around her because of the total lack of comedy.
Shepard glared at her vehemently. "Dammit, I didn't just come back from beyond the grave to hear bad jokes from the kind of sick bastards that have med-bays without alcohol or guns."
"Damn regulations," Jacob muttered under his breath.
"That's absurd and you know it, and I refuse to discuss this with you of the grounds of absurdity," Miranda said firmly, stamping her heeled foot.
John Shepard shook his head in disgust. "I knew that Cerberus was full of monsters, but by God, you people take the cake. You take that evil cake you eat it whole."
Commander John Shepard, N7 marine, first human Spectre, proud fiend of slavers, casual drinker, grudging savior of the galaxy, professional armed lunatic and notorious bamf, was having a surprisingly friendly discussion with the Illusive Man, the self-proclaimed Most Illusive Terrorist in the Galaxy, the subject of heated intergalactic debate since humanity's induction into the galactic community, the nameless face behind Cerberus, self-promoting zillionaire, and notorious virtual skeeball champion. The Illusive Man was, of course, also notorious and very villainous on the side, but that goes without saying.
The Illusive Man was currently enjoying a smoke and was rubbing it in Commander Shepard's face. John Shepard didn't actually mind because they were having a virtual communication and Shepard couldn't actually smell the smoke, but he envied the Illusive Man nonetheless. What he wouldn't give for a smoke right now. He was, however, absolutely furious at the whiskey in the Illusive Man's left hand, which the head of Cerberus was sipping at idly why he and the ex-Spectre had their delightful conversation. That drink was just pushing it. Goddamn it what Shepard wouldn't give for a damn drink right then.
"So, how was the trip?" The Illusive Man politely asked.
"Well enough," Shepard replied. "Miranda kept pestering me with questions about my past. I thought it strange because women usually spend more time asking me about my feelings and less about the shit I actually do on a regular basis. I had enough by the time she asked about Akuze, which incidentally I blame you guys for. No offense."
"None taken." The Illusive Man shrugged. "I'd say that it's in the past and we should move forward but honestly, I don't blame you. I can also say that mistakes were made, but you wouldn't buy that, would you?"
"Then we're on the same page. But we're going to move past it nonetheless because right now is more important. Also we just resurrected you and that makes-us-even-no-backsies-ha-ha-I-win!"
"Ah-ah," the tyrant billionaire shook his finger back and forth, "I said no backsies! While this has been a delightful chat," the Illusive Man said politely, sipping at his whiskey while Shepard inwardly fumed at the sight, "we should probably get down to business. I hope your new body is treating you well—"
"Yeah, I noticed a few upgrades on it," Shepard remarked, scratching at his neck. "Hope you didn't replace anything really important."
"Of course not," the Illusive Man said too quickly. "Except for a few pesky things you didn't need. Like your morality, for instance."
"Meh," Shepard shrugged, oozing nonchalance, "I wasn't using it anyway."
"So you mean to tell me you didn't save the galaxy because you considered it the right thing to do?"
"What kind of hero do you take me for? I was the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance go-to guy. Galaxy-saving is all I get paid to do. I had to do something. Plus, Saren was trying to kill me, so I had to kill him first. Fair is fair." Shepard paused. "I guess you could say I was doing the moral thing when I saved the Council too but to be frank, I only did that to shut Liara up."
"And when you saved the Rachni Queen, you—"
"That asari knows how to nag a man."
The Illusive Man considered this information, mulled it over, and smoked quietly on his cigarette. "Well, since you weren't using your morality in the first place, I doubt you'll miss it. It's a better option than what Ms. Lawson suggested. If you're curious, take it up with her. Now, as I was saying, I hope your new body is treating you well because you're going to need it in tip-top shape soon. Down to the matter at hand, we've got a situation, and you're the only one in the galaxy who can help us."
"Heard that story before," Shepard snorted. "They come to me, they all do – how do you guys find me?"
"Wasn't hard," the Illusive Man admitted. "Follow the smell of vodka and guns and we're there. Commander, a lot has happened while you've been 'asleep.' Entire human colonies have gone missing in the span of months. Worst yet, the Council is doing everything between jack and shit about it."
Shepard considered this information, mulled it over, and quietly stroked his five o'clock shadow, wishing that he had a cigarette or a drink on hand. "Entire human colonies? How do they go missing?"
"We suspect abduction," said the Illusive Man. "But there's no evidence. No bodies, no signs of struggle, no survivors. Everyone is simply gone. Whatever is really happening, the Reapers are behind it."
"Reapers, eh? Those ole' space squids. What have they been up to in the past two years?"
"Celebrating your death," the Illusive Man said dryly. "They sent an invite to the Turian Hierarchy to the 'Shepard's Dead Party,' but the turians declined on the grounds that the death-cake wasn't dextro-amino-acid friendly."
Shepard grunted. "I never liked those filthy bastards anyway. Except for Garrus, I mean."
"That was called a joke, Shepard."
"No, no, I wasn't joking."
"That's not … yes, that's fine. The point you've been distracting us from is that entire human colonies are being abducted due to some nefarious Reaper plan."
"And why are you involved?" the commander accused, tapping his armored foot ominously. "This isn't Cerberus' usual. From what I understand of your organization, you're a bunch of pro-human terrorists bent on—ohh, I see your point," he cut himself off and winked. "Pro-human. Human colonists going missing. Gotcha."
"It's more than that," the Illusive Man said darkly and finished off his whiskey. "Call Cerberus what you will, but we do what we have to do to get the job done, and we do it with what we've got. You're the best humanity has, Shepard. You stood for humanity at a key point in time – you stood for the galaxy. You're more than a soldier, you're a symbol, something that even the Council races can get behind. The Reapers are bent on harvesting all life in the galaxy, and that includes humanity for some reason. And for some reason, possibly a vendetta because you destroyed Sovereign, they're now targeting humanity. Cerberus is the last and the first line of defense humanity has, and it just so happens that what's in humanity's best interest is now in the best interest of everyone else we hate in the galaxy. We have to grin and bear it. It's been a tough call, but we've come through and decided to pitch in. Hence, your life."
Shepard rolled his eyes. "Nice sermon. I'm suddenly so sympathetic. Yes, yes, it's been a trying time for terrorists."
"You have no idea," the most Illusive man in the galaxy sighed sadly, "fortunately, we have a plan."
"I don't do well with plans," Shepard warned. "For the record, that thing on Ilos was totally spur of the moment."
"Impressive, but irrelevant. Now is the time for plans … nefarious, illusive plans," the billionaire cackled.
"Enough cackling and chicanery, cut to the chase."
"But of course. You see, we, or rather I, need you to go the colony Freedom's Progress. It's the most recent colony to go silent. I want you to search around and find some answers."
"Why haven't you done this before?"
"I was drinking. I wasn't in the mood. I was banging an asari matriarch. I was busy. I was committing a crime against nature. Take your pick."
Shepard thought about this. "Well, I pick the first one, because I like drinking, but that didn't answer my question. You could've raised an entire army with the money you used to raise me. Also, Cerberus has done nothing but ruin my life, up until the point that you saved my life. That's not exactly any form of karmic balance whatsoever. What's to stop me from rebelling, taking my new body, and mobilizing the Alliance?"
The Illusive Man smirked back a cackle and put out his cigarette on the arm of his chair. "The Alliance was devastated by what you pulled off on the Citadel, remarkable though it may have been. Cerberus was under different management before then – the Illusive Man is hardly immortal, and I had a maniacal predecessor. Not to suggest that I'm any less maniacal or power-crazed, I'm just taking our insanity in a different direction – i.e. focusing it into a beam of pure hatred in the form of you, and pointing that beam straight at the Reapers in an effort to survive galactic extinction. Furthermore, you owe us big time, buddy."
"Still didn't answer the question," Shepard reminded pointedly.
"That was more than one question, that was several questions, and I don't have all the answers Shepard. The whole point here is that you need to go to Freedom's Progress with Operative Lawson and Operative Taylor to investigate and I will say almost anything to get you to do just that. All I can say is that you're a one-man army, and you should be all that humanity needs. The Reapers may or may not know fear, but you destroyed one of them – that had to have got their attention. You're the only one that truly knows the threat that they bring."
"Not true," Shepard pointed out. "Liara knows too. We shared minds a few times during the hunt for Saren. She's more capable than I am of analyzing the Reaper threat because she's an asari."
"You're the only human that knows the threat they bring," the Illusive Man corrected.
"Yes, that's definitely more like the Cerberus I know." Shepard sighed, finally realizing what this was all coming to. "Tell you what, throw in a mini-bar and I'm in."
"But of course." With a tap of a holographic button, the virtual communication between the zombie-commander and the Monopoly-man tyrant ended. The Illusive Man was left alone in his "office" with nothing but the shimmering view of the star outside that he owned to comfort him. The artificial filters on the sun began to shift and change colors like a mood ring. He got out of his chair and lit another cigarette, inhaling and exhaling as the calm washed over him. Hundreds of years of knowledge and research of the harmful effects of drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances, and yet that didn't stop their production or their sales to every species in the galaxy except for quarians and volus. It was enough to make a man proud of his species.
"Eeeexcellent," the Illusive Man smirked and tapped his fingers together as he began to channel Monty Burns. "I think this calls for a drink."