Garrus and I got to talking the other day about this mission and the old days. He’s been working with me all this time, coming with me on every single mission - just like when you used to be here. And after talking to him about the team, I came to a kind of realization…
Shepard quickly saved the letter as Miranda walked in to the comm room.
“So,” Shepard asked, shutting down her omnitool. “Can you get him on the comm?”
“He’s not responding,” Miranda said.
“What do you mean he’s not responding?” Shepard asked, frowning. “You spoke with him just the other day. I know, I saw the comm room records . “
“He’s not a butler, Shepard,” Miranda said. “You can’t ring for him any time you like.”
“A butler?” Shepard blinked at the Cerberus officer. “Who the hell has a butler anymore?” She then realized who she was talking to. “Just get him on the comm.”
“Shepard,” Miranda said, “He says he wants to help…”
“He just doesn’t want to answer any of my questions.”
“I understand you’re upset…” Miranda began.
“Upset?” Shepard whirled on her. “I’ve been trying to reach the Illusive Man for weeks now. Then he gets on the comm with you and all he has to say is that he doesn’t want me to take unnecessary risks? He’s the one sending me on a suicide mission!”
“You offerred yourself up as bait for a killer, Shepard,” Miranda said. “You keep going off on groundside missions by yourself. He’s understandably worried.”
The fact that Garrus had said the same thing the other day did not improve Shepard’s mood any.
“Look,” she said, “It’s my mission, my call. You have to trust that I know what I’m doing.”
“Did we really need to track down a murderer on Omega?” Miranda asked.
“Did we really need to be there when they moved your sister, Miranda?” Shepard replied. Miranda scowled.
“Look,” Shepard said, trying to gentle her tone. “You didn’t see what I saw there, Miranda. Morinth killed a kid – a girl who was so much like me at the age of seventeen that it’s scary.”
“You can’t…” Miranda began.
“What?” Shepard asked. “Build this team? Make sure their loose ends are tied up? You and Cerberus are quick enough to recruit me for your little clean-up operations, aren’t you? I mean, what the hell was that whole geth thing all about?”
“I admit that Project Overlord was…” Miranda broke off, considering how to proceed.
“A mess?” Shepard suggested. “An atrocity? Hell, Miranda,” she said, waving a hand, “how can you work with these people?”
“They’re not all like that,” Miranda hedged.
“They’re not?” Shepard asked, quirking an eyebrow. “You had a lab for biotic research that went totally rogue and made Jack the way she is. You had cells that killed colonists, tortured marines, murdered admirals. You had that Overlord…thing. And after all that you’re still going to defend them?”
For once, Miranda said nothing. She just frowned.
“You told me to give Cerberus another chance,” Shepard went on. “Kelly keeps telling me about your ‘noble goals’. But every time I turn around, I see one more case of crazy. Either your Illusive Man is the most incompetent manager I’ve ever seen to allow this level of insanity throughout his organization, or he’s deliberately hiring nut jobs and allowing them to do whatever they want so that he can get what he wants and yet claim no responsibility.”
“He didn’t know about all those things,” Miranda said, frowning.
“Again,” Shepard said, eyes narrowing. “Is he incompetent or evil? You tell me.”
Miranda just let out a breath and turned her head away.
“Right,” Shepard said, feeling her point had been made. “Well, if that Illusive Prick decides to contact us, you tell him that I want to talk to him.”
“I don’t think he wants to talk to you anymore,” Miranda said, hesitantly. “He doesn’t want you distracted from your mission with the Collectors.”
“Distracted?” Shepard snorted in disgust. “If he didn’t want me distracted, then he shouldn’t have forced me to work with him. Being with Cerberus distracts me enough.”
“That’s not fair, commander,” Miranda said with a frown. “We saved your life.”
“So you keep telling me,” Shepard muttered. She stopped and sighed. “Look, it’s not that I’m not grateful, Miranda.”
“It’s just that you’re not grateful,” Miranda said, frowning.
“No,” Shepard admitted. “I’m not. Not to Cerberus. Not with so many strings attached.” She shook her head, then gave Miranda a slight smile. “But I am grateful to you, Miranda. You’re actually…not so bad.”
“Flattered, I’m sure,” Miranda said, wryly. But she almost smiled back.
Shepard considered the brunette for a moment. “You know, Miranda,” she said. “The first time I met you, I thought you were a…”
“Yes?” Miranda said, raising an eyebrow, daring her to go on.
“A bitch,” Shepard finished.
“I thought the same about you,” Miranda replied.
Shepard laughed. “Yeah, only you look like a prom queen. I look like the girl who sets fire to things in shop class.”
“Prom?” Miranda repeated. “I never went to the prom. I was on the run from my father at that time.”
“I didn’t go to prom either,” Shepard admitted. “I think I had a therapy appointment that night.”
The two women looked at each other for a moment. Then Shepard chuckled and shook her head. “Takes all kinds, I guess,” she said.
“I guess,” Miranda repeated. She shook her head, then frowned a little. “What’s taking Jacob so long?” She fired up her omnitool to check the time.
“He and Garrus are rounding up everyone else,” Shepard told her. “Should be here any minute now.”
“Everyone else?” Miranda asked, closing the ‘tool. “What do you mean ‘everyone else’?”
“You know, Miranda,” Shepard said, turning to face her and folding her arms over her chest, “You’re good at mission reports and can fight in high heels. That’s impressive. You’ve also done a great job with keeping the crew in line. But your antipathy to the squad shows.”
Miranda frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s my fault,” Shepard said, raising an hand, “I should have said something long ago. I really didn’t see it until we’d recruited ourselves a full team. But now we need to make some changes with how we deal with that team.”
“How…?” Miranda broke off as the doors to the comm room opened.
“Sorry we’re late,” Garrus said, striding in. “Jack gave us a little trouble.”
“Shepard, what the hell is this?” Jack snapped at her, stomping into the room. Behind her were Jacob, Mordin, Samara and Tali. The rest of the ground team followed after. They filed in to the room, surrounding all sides of the table. Miranda stared at the crowd, then turned to Shepard and whispered: “What’s going on?”
“We’re having a meeting,” Shepard replied.
“But…” Miranda sputtered. “There’s not enough room in here.”
“There was room on the old Normandy,” Shepard told her. “You should have built a bigger comm room. And added some chairs.”
Shepard ignored Miranda’s look of frustration and glanced around the room at the twelve recruits before her. She took in every face, mentally tallying up the strengths and weaknesses of each. Zaeed: good with guns, impulsive. Pair him with Garrus - he respects the turian. Grunt: defensive. Oddly has taken to Mordin, keep the two of them together.
They were a motley bunch, she thought as she worked her way around the room. And yet, in that moment, Shepard felt a strange tug of fondness for them. They were all warriors in their own way. And whatever else they had done in their lives, they had all agreed to follow her on this insane mission. The thought brought her a small pang of regret. Her conversation with Garrus in the shuttle the other day had reminded her that this team wasn’t going to build itself. She’d spent so much time angry over the team she’d lost that she’d neglected to appreciate the team she now had. True, they were all half-crazy, but still, they were her people. And she’d been neglecting them.
Well , she thought, It’s time to stop being shell-shocked and time to start acting like a commander.
Shepard squared her shoulders and stepped up to the table.
“Alright,” she said, “gather ‘round everyone.”
“Is this really necessary?” Jack scowled, folding her arms over her chest.
“Yes,” Garrus said, walking to the front of the room to stand at Shepard’s side. “It is.”
Shepard ignored the interruption. “I presume everyone knows everyone by now, right? We don’t need to do introductions, do we?”
“I’ve already made the rounds,” Kasumi said brightly.
“Probably nabbed a few things from our bags in the process,” Zaeed observed grimly. Kasumi just grinned.
“I don’t believe I’ve met the woman with the tattoos,” Thane Krios’s gutteral voice said.
“And you don’t need to, snake-face,” Jack replied.
“Enough,” Shepard snapped at Jack. “Jack this is Thane Krios; Krios, this is Jack.”
“A pleasure,” Thane said, bowing slightly.
“Aw,” Jack made a face, “Don’t tell me this is some dinner-party shit.”
“I wouldn’t have thought you knew what a dinner party was, Jack,” Miranda observed.
“Hey, don’t start with me, cheerleader,” Jack snapped.
“First prom queen, then cheerleader,” Miranda said, half to herself. “Damn it, I didn’t even go to school. I had tutors.”
“Enough, people,” Shepard said.
“Too much talk,” Grunt grumbled. “This is pointless.”
“I agree,” Jack said. “Fuck it. I’m leaving.”
“Back to the table, Jack,” Shepard said. “We’re not done here.”
“I am,” Jack said.
“The commander gave you an order,” Garrus growled at her.
“Your point is?”
“Don’t make me put you in Stasis,” Jacob warned.
“Stasis?” Jack scoffed. “That’s a pussy’s trick.”
“Obviously you’ve never been trapped in one,” Miranda replied, coolly.
“Have you?” Jack asked, raising an eyebrow. “What was that? Some kind of kinky foreplay?”
“Hey!” Jacob snapped.
” Enough ,” Shepard said.
She barely raised her voice, but the sound cut through the room. Silence fell instantly.
*Huh, what do you know? * Shepard thought to herself. It still works.
Years ago, Shepard had modeled her do-not-question-me-I’m-the-commander voice after the one her mother sometimes used. Given that her mother had raised two boys and three girls on the backwater end of nowhere, Shepard knew that tone had an almost physical presence to it. She could never match her mother, but she’d gotten the voice down pretty well. Apparently, two years dead hadn’t dimmed it’s effectiveness.
“You all agreed to join this mission for your own reasons,” Shepard told them. “But when you signed on with me, you also signed on with each other.”
She gave them a moment to consider that. Several heads turned and many eyes glanced about the room. Clearly, everyone was taking a moment to size each other up.
“I realize a lot of you are used to working alone, but you’re part of a team now. The person standing beside you – the person you may not like very much right now – that person may end up saving your life before the month is out. Or you may save theirs. This is no time to be screwing around.”
She glared at everyone, most especially Jack.
“We are now officially in Council space,” Shepard told them. “We’re going to make a quick stop by Tunchanka for a few errands,” she nodded at Mordin and Grunt in turn. The two were at opposite ends of the room and nodded back at her, then glanced at each other. “Then we’re stopping by the Citadel.”
“And Bekenstein,” Kasumi added.
“I hadn’t forgotten,” Shepard told her. “Now, our visit to the Citadel is our last stop in any place civilized before we head back into the traverse. If you need something, now’s the time to say so. Unless you already have,” she added, nodding to Garrus and Thane. “Once we leave the Citadel, our mission begins and we won’t me making any more stops for a while.”
“Or we might not come back at all,” Miranda added softly.
“That’s not going to happen,” Shepard said firmly.
Several people shifted uncomfortably and looked at the floor.
“That’s not going to happen,” Shepard said again, infusing her voice with the commander tone. She looked around the room, willing it rather than knowing it to be true. Everyone looked at her. If they didn’t believe her, they were doing a good job of hiding it.
“This needs to be done,” Shepard said. “The Collectors need to be stopped. But I, for one, have things I want to return to. I don’t plan to do die at the Collector’s hands again. I’m sure you all feel the same.”
Every head nodded.
“Alright then,” Shepard said. She clasped her hands behind her back. “EDI, bring up that Cerberus intel.”
A holographic image appeared over the table. It looked vaguely like a bug. Everyone in the room turned to look at it. Mordin nodded, his eyes narrowing, while Grunt cocked his head. Neither Thane or Garrus moved a muscle. Miranda lifted her chin.
“This is the dead Reaper that we’re going to visit as soon as we leave Council space,” Shepard told them. “Cerberus has been trying to extract some kind of IFF device from it. They should have it in hand by the time we get there.”
“What’s an IFF?” Grunt wanted to know.
“Identify friend-foe program,” Mordin explained. “Tells mass relay computers that we are ally, not enemy.”
“It’s a gate-pass,” Tali explained to him. “It will let us through the Omega 4 relay without tearing the ship apart.”
“Ah,” Grunt nodded. He twitched and scratched at his neck. He’d been doing that a lot lately, Shepard thought. She really did need to get him to Tunchanka to see what was wrong with him before he tore the ship apart.
“Now on the other side of that relay, we might find anything,” Shepard said. “So we need to be ready for anything. From here on out, we’re going to have debriefing meetings each morning at 0900 hours here in the comm room.”
“Surely only Jacob and I need to be here for that,” Miranda frowned.
“You’re all my squad, so you’re all coming,” Shepard replied. “Even if it’s just to stop by with coffee in hand and get your assignments for the morning. I want everyone to learn how to run the mission critical stations, just in case the crew needs help. We’ll assign stations tomorrow morning. Joker and Kelly can listen in from their posts and Kelly can update the crew as to what we’re doing. And most of all, I want everyone in physical training every day. That means every damn day you’re doing target practice, workouts, and biotic training where applicable. Double time if you’re not with me on groundside missions”
Samara nodded her head sagely. Thane and Garrus also nodded. Grunt pounded his fists together and Jack just swore.
“Aw,” Kasumi pouted. “I was having fun just reading all day.”
“Bring your books on the treadmill,” Shepard told her. “But we need to stick with a routine. Some of you have just been hanging around doing nothing. That ends today.”
“This is all bullshit,” Jack grumbled.
“No,” Garrus told her. “This is how the Alliance runs their crews.”
“I didn’t sign on with the fucking Alliance,” Jack snapped at him.
“You signed on with me,” Shepard told her. “This is how I run my ship. Or it’s how I should have been running it,” she added, a little more softly. She lifted her head and raised her voice.
“Everyone be sure to log your training hours and I’ll see you in the morning. Miranda, make sure this gets done and get me a list of all mission critical systems and which crew members would be best suited to learn them. Garrus, Mordin, Grunt, come with me. Everyone else, dismissed.”
“This is stupid,” Jack scowled.
“There’s a new biotic training program in the cargo bay,” Shepard told Jack, raising an eyebrow. “Think you can beat Miranda’s score?”
“You trying to bait me, Shepard?” Jack asked, eyes narrowing.
“Is it working?” Shepard replied. Jack snorted. Shepard just smiled. “Good luck, Jack,” she said.
“Hmpf,” Jack sniffed, turning to leave the room.
“Commander,” Miranda said. “No one has ever beaten my score.”
“I did just yesterday,” Shepard told her. “Looks like you’ll have to try harder to reset your record.” Shepard smiled and waved as she left the room. “Have fun training, Miranda.”
“Heh,” Garrus said as he followed Shepard down the hall. “That played out well.”
“Yeah,” Shepard said. She turned her head to smile at him. “Thanks Garrus.”
“What for?” he asked.
“For what you said on the shuttle back from the Estivanco. It reminded me that this was what I needed to be doing. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Garrus said, his mandibles flaring a little.
Shepard nodded down the corridor.
“Alright, enough talk, men. Or…whatever. We have a planetful of krogans waiting down there.”
“Battlemaster,” the krogan scout bowed his head before the seat of power. “An off-world ship has requested permission to send a shuttle to the camp.”
Wrex looked up, his red eyes narrowing.
“Who is it? Mercenaries come to re-join the clans?”
“It’s humans,” the scout answered. “They are from a clan called Cerberus.”
“Cerberus,” Wrex repeated. The name sounded familiar, though it took him a moment to place the name. It was a clan he’d battled a few years ago. He’d been serving under another battlemaster, then.
“They say they wish to speak with you,” the scout went on. “There is one named Shepard who claims to know you.”
“Hah!” Wrex said, laughing aloud. “Shepard.”
So Shepard had conquered the Cerberus clan and taken control of them. That was fitting, Wrex thought. He had sometimes wondered why she hadn’t contacted him in two years. Then again, he had been too busy to contact anyone himself. But if she’d been waging a battle like that, that explained things a little.
Wrex nodded to the scout. “Let them come,” he said.
“Humans?” The krogan beside Wrex scowled, his small green eyes alight with distaste. “What right have humans to trespass on Tuchanka? The very air will kill them. Weak creatures, all of them.”
“Not Shepard,” Wrex said, turning to the other. “She’ll surprise you.”
“You welcome a female among warriors?” The krogan frowned at him.
“This female is a warrior,” Wrex told him. “Like Shiagur of old.” He grinned.
“Just you wait, Gatatog Uvenk. Things are never dull with Shepard around.”