“Flight Lieutenant Jeff Moreau?”
Joker looked up from the bottle-strewn table before him. It took him a moment to focus on the woman standing there, outlined in the dim lights of the club. His eyebrows raised in surprise and he let out a low whistle.
“May I have a seat?” the woman asked in an Earth-Aussie accent. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Hell,” Joker said, looking her over. “I’m flattered, but I’m positive I can’t afford you. I spent all my creds on drinks already.”
The woman’s piercing blue eyes narrowed.
“Just send me your link and I’ll look you up on the extranet later.” Joker scrubbed a hand over his face and reached for the only half-full bottle on the table.
“I’m not a hooker,” the woman said sharply. Joker eyed her doubtfully.
“Dressed like that?” He took a swig of beer. “Whatever you say, lady.”
“I’m here to talk to you about some business, but if you’re too drunk to hear it…”
“Hey, I’m not nearly drunk enough.”
“My name is Miranda,” the woman said, brushing her hair aside and sitting down opposite the half-drunk helmsman. She lowered her voice and added, “I work for Cerberus.”
“Shit!” Joker spat his drink out on the table. “What? You’re here to take me out then? Look, I know I was part of the team that took a lot of your projects down, but…”
“I’m not here about that,” she said, waving a hand. “I know very little about what those other projects were doing. What I do know is that you saved my employer a lot of clean-up. No, I’m actually here to offer you a job.”
“A job?” Joker asked. “Doing what? Injecting babies with some alien toxin you picked up in a lab? Killing Alliance officers and leaving their corpses on the floor to be eaten by giant bugs? Hate to break it to you, woman, but I’m not up for that kind of a work.”
“I want you to fly a ship for us.”
“Fly?” Joker’s eyes snapped to her face. Miranda noted with pleasure that he seemed to sober instantly.
“The best frigate ever made,” she added.
“Ah, that would be the one I lost,” Joker said, his eyes narrowing. “Save your bullshit for some other pilot.”
“What if I told you there was a way to get it all back?” she asked. “Better than new even?”
Joker frowned at her. “I may be drunk, but I’m not stupid. What do you mean ‘get it back’? What do you know about me?”
“Cards on the table?” she asked.
“On the table,” he repeated. “Spread ‘em.” He broke off as she gave him a disgusted look. “I didn’t meant it like that… Geez.” He shook his head. “Just level with me.”
“As I said, I represent Cerberus,” she told him. “And we have a problem.”
“What’s the matter?” Joker asked innocently, “Not enough helpless colonists to do experiments on?”
“Actually,” Miranda replied, “this is about missing colonists. You must have heard the rumors of colonies disappearing. After all, you were searching for the reason all those years ago…”
“Yeah,” Joker said, suddenly remembering back to the last days of the Normandy. “We started out hunting geth and ended up finding a ghost town way out in the traverse.”
“Well, it’s been months and the Alliance still hasn’t found anything,” Miranda told him. “Instead, even more colonies have gone missing - dozens, in fact. The Council and Alliance are mired down in politics. But while they waste time, Cerberus is assembling a team to stop those abductions. We need you to helm the ship we are building.”
“That doesn’t sound diabolically evil,” Joker said, suspiciously. “What’s the catch?”
“I assure you, Cerberus is not as bad as you think.”
“Pfft,” Joker spat some of his beer at her as he laughed. “Yeah, sure. Who’s the head-case in charge of this so-called rescue operation? You?”
“No,” she replied, raising an eyebrow. “It’s a former teammate of yours.”
“Alenko?” Joker gaped at her.
“Commander Alenko was deemed unlikely to join our team. His connections to the Alliance are strong.”
“Yeah,” Joker frowned and stared into his bottle. “Alliance boy scout got welcomed back into the fold with open arms.”
“Whereas you have been grounded for how long?”
“Too long,” Joker muttered. “Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s the commanding officer of this ship?”
Miranda tapped her omnitool twice. A holograph picture flickered just above her arm. Joker’s jaw dropped.
“No fuckin’ way.”
“It’s true,” Miranda said.
“She died,” he said. “I saw her get spaced.”
“We recovered her. She sustained significant damage, but she is nearly ready to wake up.”
“Wake up?” Joker frowned. “She in a coma or something?”
“Something,” Miranda said vaguely.
“How the hell did you find her?”
“We have our methods.”
“Does Alenko know?”
“Very few people know,” Miranda said. “We had to keep this secret from her enemies. If those who attacked you in the first place knew that she was alive…”
“I get it,” Joker said. He wondered suddenly if he’d perhaps revealed too much. Kaidan and Shepard’s relationship hadn’t exactly been public knowledge. “So we don’t let the Shepard out of the bag until she’s ready to fight again?”
“That’s right,” Miranda nodded. “She’s the only one who can stop the Reapers. We need her.”
“You know about the Reapers?” Joker asked her, his voice low. “How the hell…? Not even the Alliance believes that.”
“Cerberus does,” Miranda assured him. “And you know as well as we that Shepard is our only hope to stop them. Will you work with us? Will you helm Shepard’s ship?”
Joker looked at the Cerberus officer. His head was feeling fuzzy, but within that blur, he had been shocked to a certain kind of clarity. Cerberus was offering him the chance to fly again. Cerberus was asking for his help to save lives, to save the galaxy. But more than that, they were offering him the chance to atone for his worst mistake.
There wasn’t a day that had gone by that Joker hadn’t relived that horrible moment when Shepard had been blown away from the ship. If only he had piloted the Normandy better, he would have been able to save Shepard, save the crew, save the best ship he’d ever known, the best home he’d ever had. If he could have a second chance…
Joker nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “If it’s really Shepard, I’m there.”
“It’s really her,” Miranda said, standing. “Get yourself cleaned up. I’ll send a messenger for you in the morning.”
“Right,” Joker said. “And ah…no hard feelings about the hooker thing?”
Miranda’s eyes narrowed. “Be ready in the morning, Flight Lieutenant Moreau.”