I don't own BioWare
Chapter One: The Best Laid Plans
SOMEWHERE ON THE COAST OF FRANCE
The sun felt good on his back, that much Jacob could appreciate. Lying on a beach next to the Mediterranean wasn't the most exciting of tasks, but damn it was relaxing. It felt so good to just do nothing, let everything wash over him, take himself and his actions out of the equation for a while. Not a care in the world.
Of course, the boredom was getting to him...but not terribly so. Hell, he'd just appreciate the action that much more when the call went out for soldiers to stand to arms. The nightmarish figures of colonists disintegrating...taking a bullet to the gut as the team rallied around him...even his father's face...all were fading from his memory.
They'd had the trial last week, the real one, not just the indictment. Found guilty on every charge of crimes against humanity. He'd watched the calm, resigned look on his father's face as he was sentenced to the penal colony on Mykroft V. Good riddance, the fucker deserved everything he got.
It was funny how fast things had changed after the Collector Base. He'd been so sure everything, sure of the righteousness of his cause. Turned out, he'd just been another dupe...for everyone.
"I'm so sorry Jacob...you're a good man...you don't deserve this..."
Yeah...Miranda was right on that count. Got off on Illium, left him behind without so much as a half-hearted promise to return. He'd never expected they'd get a happily ever after...he didn't even know if she felt anything more than lust for him...but he'd loved her, for whatever that was worth. The brief re-ignition of their romance had been a futile spark that had flared for a few seconds, then died away.
What was it that he couldn't grasp about her? He'd wanted to be in her life, to stand by her against Cerberus, against the Reapers. And he thought...hoped that she felt the same. Had he read her wrong? Was she just that complicated?
It bothered him. Bothered him more than he would have admitted. The thought that it was possible to do everything right and still lose...that was something he didn't want to contemplate.
Idly watching a crab stroll past him on the sand, Jacob Taylor finally took his mind off things, silently drifting off to sleep in the lazy afternoon sun.
The great part about finding yourself a little shack in the middle of nowhere was the lack of tourists. Asari, turians, salarians...elcor, they'd swarm over the hotspots. But finding yourself a little backspot without any heavy traffic? That was a prize worth searching for. Deserted, hard to find...reasonably safe from Cerberus.
So when a booted foot nudged Jacob in the side, waking him from his slumber, his survival instincts kicked. The pistol he had hidden under his towel was already in his hand as he rolled backward, searching for a target as his head whipped back and forth. Being constantly ready for combat was unhealthy, but necessary when you could no longer pretend to be a civilian.
His fears proved to be unfounded. There was no heavily armed assault team or black clad assassin standing over him. Just a woman clad in grey overalls. She stumbled back as Jacob's weapon came up, fear in her eyes.
If there was one skill Jacob had found invaluable over the years, it was the ability to read people. From a metre away it was patently obvious that the woman posed no threat. Still, Miranda probably hadn't looked like a threat to her targets either. Jacob lowered the hand cannon, but didn't take his finger off the trigger. "Ma'am, didn't anyone ever tell you not to sneak up on people?"
"I'm sorry." The woman managed a half smile, the newly risen moon briefly illuminating her features. "I...I was told you might be a bit jumpy."
"Told by who?"
"A mutual friend. Miranda Lawson. She says that she despises you and asked that you remember to beware salarians bearing gifts."
The last of the tension disappeared from Jacob's brow. The simple recognition code was one that he and Miri had set up years ago. She was sending her regards and letting him know that he could trust whoever was repeating the last phrase. "How is she?"
"Leading the Illusive Man's agents on a chase through a dozen systems, leaving a trail of irritated law enforcement officials with a handful of dead bodies to account for." The woman extended a hand to help him up. "My name is Doctor Brynn Cole. I work for Cerberus...I think."
"You think?" Jacob couldn't resist a smirk. "Better be certain, Doc. Illusive Man doesn't like uncertainty."
"Yes...well, that may be the case." Dr Cole frowned. "I'm still a member of Cerberus, and the full head of a cell...but things are starting to feel..."
"Fucked up, twisted and evil?" Jacob suggested politely. "Yeah. I started rethinking things when I found out about the death camps for biotic kids."
Cole blanched. "I have nothing to do with those actions. I'm a physics expert, I work with mass accelerator tech. We've been responsible for dozens of improvements in the make up of..."
"Save it, Doc." Jacob began to walk toward his beach shack. "I've heard all the excuses before. I've made them myself. I'm not losing another night's sleep over Cerberus. Get in your skycar and..."
"Mr. Taylor, wait...please!"
There was something in her voice, something about her pleading...Jacob couldn't bring himself to walk away. He wheeled around. "What? What do you want from me?"
Cole swallowed, considering her words carefully. "I went to Miranda because I trust her judgement. And she told me that in a world of thieves and liars, you're the last good man...the last pure soul. She said you could be trusted to hold your ground to the last bullet. Hear me out...that's all I'm asking."
Jacob's head told him it was a bad idea, his gut told him he was going to regret it, but this strange woman had appealed to something that beat his head and gut. She'd challenged his sense of honour...and he couldn't ignore that.
"You look tired." He had noted her dishevelled appearance earlier, but now he could frankly observe that she looked like death warmed up. It was going to be a cold night too...ah, what the hell. "Look, I'll hear you out, but if I don't like what I hear then you leave in the morning. I'll even cook dinner."
"Deal." Dr Cole said almost immediately, then blushed as Jacob suppressed his smile. "I mean...that sounds like a fair proposition."
Jacob turned back to the shack. "Now, I hope you know how to throw together a good mint sauce, because these steaks taste pretty bland without a..."
His voice trailed off as he heard it. Not quite a buzz, not quite a hiss...but he knew that sound better than he knew his morning workout. He'd operated...and been on the receiving end, of more than one Angler Unmanned Strike Vehicle. Half the size of a Trident strike fighter, but capable of carrying two mass accelerator cannon and a dozen heavy missiles, it could take out an entire company of infantry if it got the element of surprise.
Could Cole have led them to him? A look at the confusion on her face confirmed her innocence. He could see her skycar parked further up the beach. They'd tracked her. Tracked her to him, and decided to take them both out.
The Illusive Man observed the explosion with clinical interest, noting the obliteration of both the shack and the skycar at the same instant. The Angler did its job efficiently, the operator sitting at a booth in Tokyo probably didn't even know the names of his targets, just that his superiors had marked them for death.
"Sir." Kai Leng spoke from behind him. "The operator is reporting no visuals on the targets. The missiles probably tore them to shreds. Shall I order him to stand down?"
Extinguishing his cigarette, the Illusive Man took a thoughtful sip of his whiskey. "As strange as it may seem, Leng, Doctor Cole was not the primary target in this instance. Certainly, preventing a leak of intelligence is an important task, but when Mr. Taylor's departure from Cerberus had repercussions. His misguided conscience caused far too many others to find idealism of their own. He's a symbol of 'purity'. And that symbol, Mr. Leng, like any indelible mark, must be cleansed. Tell the operator to continue firing...turn that beach into a smoking crater."
Nodding respectfully, the assassin turned away, raising his hand to his mouthpiece. The Illusive Man raised the glass in his hand as he stared at the display. "Cerberus thanks you for your service."
Brynn spluttered for air as Jacob hauled her out of the water. Dragging her further up the beach, Jacob finally got her on her feet and hustled her into the treeline. "Stay down and stay quiet," he hissed as he hurriedly dug at a loose patch of earth.
"What the hell...was that thing?" Brynn spat out salt water as she cleared her matted hair away from her eyes.
"UAV." Jacob replied tersely. "Probably using Micro-Javelin torpedoes. Controlled explosion, but still enough firepower to wipe us out."
"How did we survive then?" Cole could still hear the explosions. "Why aren't we dead?"
"I scouted out evac routes for this location when I came here," Jacob explained tersely. "I also reinforced the underside of the jetty with basic armour plating. Protected us from the first detonations, gave me enough time to choose an escape option."
Brynn was breathing faster. "He...he tried to kill me. The bastard tried to kill me!"
"The Illusive Man?" Jacob finished digging up the small tub he'd hidden a few weeks earlier. "I thought you were a cell head? Last I checked, you guys have a lot of leeway in how you run your outfits."
"I did...I had..." Brynn was starting to tremble. "He must have suspected...had me followed...saw me meeting you..."
"That's a no-brainer." Popping open the tub, Jacob reached inside. Two wetsuits, a pair of overalls, rebreathers, one gun, and Alliance ration packs. Grabbing one of the jumpsuits, he passed it to the doctor, along with a towel and a wetsuit. "Ditch your clothes, get dry and put those on. Wetsuit on the outside. Can you swim?"
"I passed basic survival, I'll make it." Still shaking, Brynn looked around. "Is there somewhere to change?"
Jacob raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, exactly where you're standing."
Turning his back to her, Jacob rapidly stripped off his shorts, donned the synthetic jumpsuit, then slipped the wetsuit on over the top. Muttering 'savage' under her breath, Dr Cole did the same. When her modesty was once more protected, Jacob passed her a rebreather. "These will last us for twenty minutes. I've got a boat, credit chits and blank passports about two miles away. You need to understand that we're now fugitives. The Illusive Man thinks we're dead, so we need to continue that illusion. Follow my lead wherever we go and we'll get out of this alive. Do you understand me?"
Cole nodded, managing to get herself back under control. "Can we...can we make it?"
"I've got friends off world, there are places we can hide. Our first priority now is to stay alive. You read me?"
"Yeah..." Cole reached for her rebreather. "I read you."
Jacob slapped her on the shoulder. "Hey, you're doing fine. Most civvies would have choked up by this."
"I'm saving my choking for later." The woman joked lamely as Jacob led the way to the water.
It had been a long night. Struggling along blindly underwater, shivering on the floor of a hover-skiff, a sleepless stay in a cheap motel. But Brynn Cole knew that she was still alive, and for that she was grateful. She may not be in the most comfortable of situations, but she was still breathing, despite the best efforts of the Illusive Man. It was something.
Jacob's hand rested on her shoulder as she sat hunched over her coffee, the aromatic smell and the strength of his touch doing little to alleviate her tension. Marseilles had become a thriving tourist centre in the last thirty years, the beautiful landscape of the Mediterranean coast, combined with the magnificent structures of the old French aristocracy making it an ideal location for aliens looking for a quaint, relaxing experience.
With an increase in orbital traffic came a resulting slackness in security. For a man like Jacob, it was child's play to find a way out.
"I've booked us passage on a freighter lifting off in two hours." Jacob took a hungry bite out of his bagel. "The skipper's an old buddy of mine, I saved his life on a Corsair mission. He's even offered us his stateroom for the trip."
Brynn raised an eyebrow. "We're sharing a stateroom?"
Jacob chuckled. "No, I'm going to be holed up down near the drive core. Good place to sleep, makes my implant tingle, helps me relax. The ship's got extranet access, so you should have time to get in touch with your contacts, get some idea as to why the Illusive Man is..."
"I already know..." the woman rested her hands on the table. "I had my doubts at first...I'd heard the rumours. Your contacts in Cerberus should be able to confirm it. Cerberus cells are disappearing. They...we have been working with tech recovered from the ruins of the Collector Base. Marvellous technology, decades ahead of our own. We've made breakthroughs that have put Cerberus ships at the very pinnacle of interstellar technology, even beyond the asari. But as each project was completed...they went dark."
"Dark?" Jacob's appetite suddenly disappeared. "I don't think you're naive enough not to know what that means. They're dead. The Illusive Man is taking out his own people?"
"Methodically. After each one has outlived their usefulness, they..." Brynn took a deep breath. "They must cease to live."
Jacob closed his eyes. He didn't want to get drawn in. Not now. He just wanted a break, a rest, find some meaning and purpose in a universe spinning chaotically out of control. He wasn't a general or mercenary leader with an army to attack Cerberus. He was one soldier.
But...sometimes that was all it took. One soldier.
"Then we've got work to do." Jacob stood up briskly. "Go back to the hotel. I'll try and get onto a friend, she should be able to get me some information. If I'm not back in forty five minutes, then get to the spaceport and get to Illium."
"What are you going to do?" Brynn looked at him anxiously.
"What I always do." Jacob buttoned up his jacket. "Play it by ear until I get pointed in the right direction."
The woman on screen folded her arms. "Lieutenant Taylor, been a while."
"It's Commander Williams now." Ashley didn't look impressed by the appearance of the former officer. "You've come a long way since Eden Prime. Turning your back on the Alliance, then Cerberus. Have to say I'm impressed. You can't find any cause to stay loyal to, nothing that fits your scruples."
"Oh, and you can talk about loyalty?" Taylor challenged her. "Your old commander asked for your help..."
"He asked me to turn my back on the Alliance. If I'd accepted his offer, they'd have court martialled and shot me for treason. And there's a warrant still on the backburner for your arrest. If I were you, I'd keep low."
"What do you think I'm doing?" Jacob growled. "I'm on the run from Cerberus. They tried to kill me last night, almost blew me into ribbons."
The Alliance officer looked thoughtful. "Yeah...I heard reports about that...so I take it you're looking for a favour?"
"Am I owed one?"
"After what happened on Eden Prime? Zorya? Yeah, a big one." The woman relaxed slightly. "What do you need?"
"I want to speak to Shepard."
Jacob blinked. "What?"
"I can get you an Alliance dreadnaught to ferry you to the best brothel on Illium." Ashley stated matter of factly. "But I can't get you access to him. He's in lockdown, tucked in so deep that you have to be a guard or an Admiral to even see his face."
"I don't need long." Jacob tried a different tone. "Give me five minutes."
The professional mask fell away from Ashley's face briefly. Jacob saw the strain and exhaustion on her face. "Jacob...they won't even let me speak to him I've got questions...apologies...but they won't let me see him. I'm sorry. And the reports coming in from our pickets on the other side of Hegemony space say that we might have another war on our hands in a few weeks. I've been assigned to a taskforce heading to the border. Hell, I barely have an hour before I ship out."
Jacob knew he was trapped. He needed Shepard's advice...he needed direction of any kind. He didn't know how to handle this. Doctor Cole...all the Cerberus cells...the people at risk. "What do I do?"
Ashley's face darkened. "You were the one who wanted to dance with the..."
"I know, I know." Jacob held up his hands in surrender. "But anything you can give me, just a direction to go in..."
The Alliance officer regarded him with a contemplative frown. "You just have too much conscience, Jacob. If you can't find a cause that you can stick with, then maybe you should start looking at yourself to find out what you really want to fight for."
Her eyes moved to the left. "There's a lockbox on Illium that I can give you. Weapons, armour, credits. It's an old one, off the grid. There's also some squawking about an old Cerberus lab out past New Canton. If you can get there, maybe you'll find something to work with."
"Yeah. If you get caught, then you and I never knew each other."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Jacob paused. "Yes ma'am?"
"I've been getting rumours that Miss Lawson has surfaced somewhere in Citadel space. Alliance Intelligence is trying to bring her in to brief them on Cerberus. If I talk to her...would you like me to say anything?"
Jacob's eye was caught by a scene across the road. A group of kids running down the street, laughing uproariously, furiously pursued by a grinning man that he could only presume was their father, while their mother stood laughing in the doorway of a bus. A family on a field trip. Mom, Dad, and a whole mess of kids. Common to every society in the galaxy. It was a good thing, a beautiful thing. It was the representation of every ideal he had ever fought to protect. Would he ever have one of his own?
"No. Don't tell her anything. I'll drop a message in the old Two-Twelve Spacebook page if I find anything. Taylor out."
The lucky bastard that came up with the design specs for the Kowloon-class freighter had done so because his boss was breathing down his neck, his wife was divorcing him and his kids refused to talk with him. And at first glance, that man's depression was evident is the unappealing lines, the giant empty interior, and the powerful, noisy engines that seemed to block out thought.
The boss had taken one look at the designs and thrown them out. They were, after all, meant to be for a luxury tourist ship. But then, presumably after a long introspective look, the boss had taken another look, then sympathetically agreed to give the designer a seventy five percent cut of all profits made from the designs.
The volus had taken one look at the plans, seen the sturdy, reinforced hull, the massive spaces for storage, and the engine cores that could run on fumes. After that look, they began building millions of the things. The designer had become a millionaire overnight and had retired to a tropical planet with his family, self respect and dignity.
Becoming the mainstay of every merchant fleet in the galaxy, the Kowloon could be seen anywhere, carrying anything to any destination. Crews were usually motley, but experienced, of every species, creed and allegiance. So when a young couple boarded the SSV Alexandria, a Kowloon heading for the edge of the Terminus systems, no one paid any attention. And a few days later, when men in suits turned up and started asking questions, no one could remember anything.
A/N: Well, having completed one of my longest absences from the site in a while, I can honestly say that it's good to be back. Having completed Mass Effect 3 and having my hopes and dreams utterly shattered (well, not really), I was not in the mood for writing for a while. And after the Officer Selection Board turned down my application for a commission in the Reserves, (they recommended me for basic training, but said I 'lacked the sufficient maturity for a commission and suffered from an over-cautious nature that would hamper your performance as a leader'), I was quite depressed for a few weeks.
Fortunately, nothing stimulates my writing juices more than ire, and the badmouthing of one of my favourite fictional characters has prompted a story to the front of my mind. Currently I'm planning around five to ten chapters covering the Jacob/Brynn romance story and ending just after the 'Cerberus Scientists' mission in ME3.