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Empire of Dirt

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Miranda chewed on her bottom lip.  The blank patch on the wall glared back.  No, that was absurd.   Of course it was absurd.  The presence of it ate at her.

It was precisely the size and shape of the Cerberus crest that had hung there for years.  Miranda knew; she had both hung and removed it.

The doors whooshed open to emit one lean, bemarked nuisance.  Jack deposited herself in the chair across Miranda’s desk.  Her heels dropped on the desktop.  Miranda sneered.  “Done playing guard dog, are we?”

“Tali’s there.”  Jack shrugged.  “Figure she won’t let you poke and prod too much.”

“Right.  The ‘poking and proding’ that’s saved her life.”

“Cerberus,” said Jack, with a smack of gum.


Tipping the chair back, Jack craned her neck to look at the damned spot on the wall.  She popped her gum.  

Miranda flipped shut the report she’d been neglecting.  “These insecurities of yours are getting old.”

Jack’s eyes  narrowed, her fingers twitching to form fists.  Every muscle in Miranda’s body began to tense, but all Jack did was sneer.  “If you even think about experimenting—”

“I have no intention of doing anything other than heal.  As I have told you.  As I told Tali.  And Vega.  And everyone else who has no right to—”

“Yeah, you’re just so misunderstood.  Spare me.”

Miranda sat back and crossed her arms under her breasts.  “Is there some reason you felt the need to harass me, or are you just bored?  There is plenty to do around here, you know.”

“Yeah.  Like I’d ever take orders from you.”  The faintest hint of a smile twitched at Jack’s lips, as though that were somehow funny.

Rolling her eyes, Miranda stood and went to the door.  She tapped the icon once, then stood there looking at Jack.  Popping another gum bubble, Jack fished a small disk out of her jacket pocket.  

Returning, Miranda snatched the disk from Jack’s fingers and went to the vid-screen behind her desk.  There she paused, turning the disk over in hand a few times.  

Communications were hard pressed since the Change.  The last wave had decimated most interstellar methods.  The grand majority of Earth’s satellites had long since been lost.  The few that were yet operational were so backed up as to be nigh unusable.  Even after the Alliance had seized control and put up restrictions, messages could take days to get through.

One utterly brilliant idea had been to restrict everything to message correspondence, rather than hoping you managed to catch the person you needed in the tiny window available to you.  Brilliant...and completely annoying when you were trying to have a conversation.

There were two people the message could be from.  One was likely, the other welcome.   It lacked a label, meaning Jack had likely intercepted the message herself.  That certainly tipped the odds.

Refusing to look at the woman behind her, Miranda slipped the disk into the vid-screen.  A moment of static later, Admiral Hackett stood before her.  She crossed her arms and raised her chin; he couldn’t see her, but Jack could.  She would not give her the satisfaction.

“Miss Lawson,” the vid began, “I’d like to thank you for your help in the relief efforts of Buenos Aires.  Frankly, I’d rather not know where you managed to scrounge up that supply of medi-gel, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.  The people are very grateful.”

Jack scoffed as Hackett fidgeted on camera.  “That being said, we seem to be at a rather uncomfortable impasse.”

Miranda rolled her eyes and, back to Jack, lip-synched along as the Admiral went over the ever-increasing list so-called felonies—many of which she was certain had been signed into existence just to be thrown at her—she’d accumulated over the past few weeks.  She fought the silly urge to mime a babbling mouth; Shepard’s influence, no doubt.  

“Man, I thought you killed your dad,” Jack laughed.

“I did,” Miranda spat.  Tali really needed to keep her mouth shut.

“I’m not certain you are aware of who you’re helping,” the vid continued.  Miranda swung back around to face it, eyes narrowing.  Hackett took a deep breath.

“Commander Shepard is...accused,” he said slowly, “of brokering the ceasefire with the reapers, rather than destroying them.  Furthermore, the behavioral inconsistencies plaguing many survivors may also be a part of her solution.  We have reason to believe these accusations may bear some truth.”

Behind her, Miranda heard all four legs of Jack’s chair hit the floor.

Sighing, Hackett removed his cap and for a split instant he seemed little more than a weary old man.  “Given Shepard’s history, I have chosen not to make this public—yet.  However, I need to speak with her myself.

“Off the record, Miranda, I cannot blame you for what you’ve done.  Normally, I would neither be in a position to overlook it.”

He put his cap back on and pursed his lips.  “As the acting Commander in Chief, I can grant you and yours complete pardon—again, in your case—so long as you return Commander Shepard to Alliance holding.  This is my final offer.  You have a week.”

The screen went black a moment, then to a waiting screen.  

“He’s out of his fucking mind.”

Miranda sucked in a breath; she hadn’t realized Jack was beside her.  Jack jerked away, glaring at her.  This time her hands were fists, and power surged blue and crackling around them.  “You are
not giving her to them!”

course I'm not.”  Miranda scoffed.  Against her better judgement, she smirked and added, “I’m surprised, Jack.   You want her left with Cerberus?”

She closed her eyes as her chair exploded.  The doors whooshed closed before she opened them again.

“Record.”  A little red dot blipped into life at the corner of the screen.

“As a friend of mine would put it:  fuck you, and the horse you rode in on.  Shepard is ours.  We take care of our own.”

She took the disk from the vid-screen and sealed it into an envelope.  Pausing on her way to the door, Miranda cast another long look at the blank space.  She shook her head, and continued on to communications.