It was strange to look at another human being and be able to recall what their very insides looked like. I could remember the exact color of Shepard’s heart and how it connected into the rest of her body. I knew every bone, including which ones still had pins holding them together. I recognized every skin graft and recalled the lines where they fused together to make a whole. I remembered the day when we first saw brain activity on the monitors. God, my heart had soared that day. The woman sleeping on the table in front of me was a work of art and a downright miracle of science.
It had been a grueling two years, but the last few months had been the hardest. All Shepard’s systems had officially been cleared for functioning without help from machines. She had finally reached what I would call alive, but she was also incredibly vulnerable. If her body started rejecting the synthetic implants, we would have to move quickly or we could completely lose her, as well as over a year’s worth of progress. I had spent numerous nights sleeping at her bedside, never fully able to reach unconsciousness because I worried something would go wrong if I slept. Now, she was stable, and it was almost time to wake her up. Sighing, I traced a finger along her cheekbones before moving to smooth back her hair. I felt a surprising amount of tenderness towards this woman I had never really met, yet knew so much about.
I wanted to trap this moment and keep it close. It could be one of the last peaceful moments I might have with Shepard. I rested my hand on her forehead and let my fingers trail across the still healing scars, thinking about the inevitable once she woke. She would hate me because I was Cerberus, and I knew I would never let her see that it hurt me. I had spent countless hours by her bed imagining what she would look like when she smiled, or when she laughed, before I realized those expressions might never be directed at me. I was the enemy to her, even if we could convince her to work with us. The great Commander Shepard had been cold, even to her friends; how much more so would she be towards me? That I, Miranda Lawson, essentially brought Commander Shepard back from the dead was incredible, but I sighed because I knew even this feat would mean nothing to Shepard when it was wrapped in Cerberus packaging.
Remembering back to when the Illusive Man put Shepard in my protection, I halted. How in the world had he known? No one could have predicted something like this happening. She had seemed so…invincible. I tried not to worry about what would happen on the day we woke her up, but there were so many things that could’ve gone wrong. Will she be the same woman she was before, so confident and stubbornly good? There were already noticeable physical changes that we hadn’t been able to help. Her trademark honey blonde hair had darkened into a red auburn. The gene for her hair color must have mutated during reconstruction to allow the recessive red to be expressed. That was just theorizing on my part though, and I honestly had no idea what happened. However, I think her eyes were the most unsettling. Her bright violet eyes have become a vibrant green, with a ring of molten gold around the irises. I had walked into the lab one morning and raised her eyelids for the routine checks, and they had changed, just like that. Color me surprised. I had called Wilson to look, but he remained as clueless as I am about it now. I found myself twisting my fingers as I thought. Was it another gene mutation? It was possible: there was just so much cutting edge science that we didn’t fully understand yet. Any number of things could have caused the pigment change.
I paced as I tried to imagine the Illusive Man’s reaction. I didn’t think he’d mind the minor physical changes so long as her mind and personality were intact. It was an insignificant change, after all. I did good work in all the ways that mattered. There was no reason at all that Shepard should not stand up from that table as the same woman she was two years ago. I had made sure of that, but I couldn’t help that small nagging doubts that continued to whisper in the back of my head. What happens if she isn’t the same? Could a changed Shepard still save the galaxy? I wasn’t sure I even really cared about the galaxy at that point; Project Lazarus, my project, could not be a failure.
Noises outside the door drew my attention. That’s odd. I tore my eyes away from the sleeping Shepard and rushed down the hallways. I was caught by surprise when mechs started shooting at me, but I disposed of them easily with a biotic field. Who reprogrammed the security mechs? I decided to head to the next wing over, to a security room that I knew would have camera access. I glanced over my shoulder once, worrying about the body that lay trapped in its vulnerable sleep.
“Wake up, Commander”
“Shepard, do you hear me? Get out of that bed now. This facility is under attack.”
I finally see Shepard react to my voice, as well as to her bed jolting under her. From the camera angle, it was difficult to see her, but I watched as her eyelids fluttered and then she reached up to feel her jaw. I saw her mouth something, but I couldn’t make out the word. When her face twisted with pain, I felt a small pang of sorrow; she should have been allowed to heal for another week before being woken up. Every fiber of her body had to be hurting. Shepard looked this way and that, trying to orient herself, but I heard gunfire and saw a group of mechs getting close to the medbay.
“Shepard. Your scars aren’t healed, but I need you to get moving,” I said urgently. “This facility is under attack.”
“There’s a pistol in the locker on the other side of the room. Hurry!”
Shepard rolled off the bed, hissing as she clutched at the pain in her side. Stiffly, she limped to the locker and opened it. Inside was her armor and she managed to quickly put it on, though the familiar movements were strained. The pistol was there too, but I knew the magazine would be empty.
“This pistol doesn’t have a thermal clip,” Shepard grumbled, clearly exasperated.
“It’s a med-bay. We’ll get you a clip from…damn it! Keep your head down, Shepard, and shield yourself from the blast!”
Shepard quickly ducked behind some medical equipment as a canister exploded.
“I suspect someone has hacked security trying to get to you,” I tried to explain. Shepard nodded. There, in front of her, was a dead man and his discarded thermal clip. Shepard picked it up and expertly popped it into the pistol. She smirked with a satisfied twist to her mouth as it slid in with a smooth click. I had to admit, it was weird watching the features I had spent two years rebuilding become fully animated. Shepard’s cheeks were already flushed from the physical activity, something she hadn’t had for over two years. I bit my lip, worried she hadn’t had enough time to heal, but there were no other options. We had to get off the station. Genetic modifications or not, it’s not like I could carry her.
My wrists ached as my fingers flew across the keyboard interface, opening some doors and sealing others. I watched one of the larger YMIR mechs closing in on Shepard’s position and sealed the door to her hallway. Multiple staff members were trapped with the mech too, but I watched unflinchingly as it gunned them down. It was a necessary loss, and now the mech turned toward another hallway, unable to open the sealed door. When I couldn’t seal a group of mechs off, I yelled a warning down to Shepard. She was performing well, her aim was still spot on, and the mechs came down quickly. I was relieved that Shepard hadn’t tried to use her biotics too much; while we had kept her nourished intravenously during her sedation, it was calculated by how many calories her body would need while at rest. With this much activity, Shepard was going to need more food to use her biotics without completely exhausting herself.
Another small squad of mechs came around the corner, and I ate my words as Shepard flared her biotics in preparation for an attack. She propelled her body forward, tearing through the group in one hit, but the effort left her crouched on the ground with fatigue. I saw Shepard wipe away a spot of blood that had dripped from her nose: the first sign of biotic overuse.
“Damn it, Shepard! Your body isn’t ready for that yet. Stay in cover and absolutely no more biotics,” I yelled over the intercom.
Shepard looked annoyed and grimaced when she managed to push herself onto her feet, but I saw her give a small nod before she continued her stiff walk forward. With the next group of mechs still several doors away from Shepard, I took the opportunity to peel my eyes away from her movements and pull up the security footage of the station. Someone on the inside had to be the cause of the attack, so I pulled up the access logs to the security room. Of all the personnel that had entered the room in the last few hours, only one name stood out: Chief Medical Officer Wilson. The doctor had no reason to be in the security room, so I pulled up the video footage timestamped for his moment of entry. The video showed my coworker, Dr. Wilson, hacking the mechs to the station, though I had no idea how he even had clearance for those systems. A few seconds later, the hacked mechs were shooting at him, too. Idiot hadn’t thought about what he would do when the mechs found him, and I watched as he stumbled in the opposite direction of the shuttles; he was likely still on the station.
My eyes flickered back to the monitor that showed Shepard almost at the end of the hallway. She was moving slower after her exhibition with her biotics, but was still making better progress than I had hoped. The level of pain she was in should have caused her more hesitation, but apart from the occasional grimace, Shepard was moving steadily forward.
“You’re doing great, Shepard. Head to the next room and I’ll meet you…” I started, but there was a commotion behind me. Damn it! A whole squad of mechs were about to flood into the security room with me, and there was barely any cover in here. “Shepard? Do you read me? I’ve got mechs closing in on my position! I have to get off the comm, but you can follow the emergency signs to the shuttle...”
The power to the room went down, and I hoped Shepard had heard my message. Damn it, Miranda. Stop worrying and get the hell out of here, I berated myself. I pulled my pistol from my side and slid over to a weapons locker on the other side of the room. All the guns were too big; I was an awful shot will an assault rifle. Finally, I found a submachine gun at the bottom and strapped it to my side. There was at least one heavy, metal desk in here, and I moved to crouch behind it.
The mechs walked in slowly, letting their motion detectors try to find me in the room. I popped up and hit the two of them with an overload, watching with satisfaction as their mechanical limbs twitched. A single shot through each head unit dropped them to the ground. I dispatched the next two in a similar fashion and waited for the next group. I listened to the walk. There were one…two…four…at least five of them together coming towards me. I could hit two at most with the overload, and only hit multiple targets with my biotics if I was lucky. I was powerful, but I didn’t have the skill that most asari developed. My best option seemed to be to hit with everything I had and run for it. If they were staggered for even a second, I would be able to get past them; my shields would hold against a couple stray shots, but not a full onslaught.
I stood from behind the desk. Two were hit with the overload, and one with a warp. Two mechs were still standing to shoot at me, so I pulled out the submachine gun and released the whole clip into a mech on my right. One enemy still stood in front of the door, but I ripped it apart with my biotics and shut the door, just as the other three mechs had recovered and were turning to shoot at me. I leaned back against it for a moment, letting my breathing go back to normal. It had been a while since I had been cornered in a fight with no support.
I pushed off from the door and set off at a run. I needed to get to Shepard. She should be headed to the shuttle bay, but I hadn’t been able to guide her all the way there. I decided I would head in that direction and see if she had managed to make it there by herself. If not, the wing she was last in was only a floor up from there and I could go find her. Within a few moments, I was at the door to the shuttle bay and opened it only to find a cavern of silence, punctuated by the sounds of gunfire upstairs.
“Shepard?” I ventured, unsuccessfully. I ran for the elevator, hoping the gunfire I heard wasn’t directed at her. I would usually have had plenty of faith in her combat abilities, if she had not been woken prematurely. I knew her combat skills had been formidable before she died, but she should have had more time to completely heal. I didn’t even get to run tests to make sure everything was functioning properly during sustained activity. I would not let some mechanical bastards ruin what had been my life for two years. The elevator door pinged open and I saw Wilson standing in front of me. I suppose it would have been to much to ask for the mechs to have taken care of him. My mouth curled into a sneer as I raised my gun, and shot a single round through his head. Shepard raised her gun at the sound and was now looking at me in horror.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jacob yelled at me. It would seem the scrupulous soldier had managed to survive after all. I wasn’t surprised; Jacob had a certain knack for getting out of sticky situations, even if he wasn’t always the brightest bulb in the box.
“My job. Wilson betrayed us all,” I answered in a cold voice. I watched as Shepard slowly lowered her gun.
“I had a feeling Wilson was just looking for a chance to shoot me in the back,” Shepard said to me. Her arm was relaxed at her side, but I noticed she hadn’t taken her finger off the trigger of her gun.
I found myself smiling at her when I answered, “Good instincts. Some people are far too trusting to ever see that coming.”
“Well, I didn’t stay alive this long by trusting everyone who claimed to be there to help me,” Shepard said, almost pointedly. My eyebrows twitched as I mulled over her words. Alive. But only recently.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s grab this shuttle and get out of here. My boss wants to speak to you.”
“You mean the Illusive Man? I know you work for Cerberus,” Shepard sneered. Her eyes blazed with fire at the name, and her finger twitched on the trigger of her gun that she had raised slightly in my direction.
My lips pressed themselves together in a thin line of irritation. “Ah, Jacob, I should’ve known your conscience would get the better of you.” You idiot, I added silently.
“Lying to the commander isn’t the way to get her to join our cause,” Jacob said. He was always trying to be so noble.
“Well, since we’re getting everything out into the open, is there anything else you want to ask before we go?” I asked, deciding to try and diffuse the heat I see building behind Shepard’s carefully controlled face.
Shepard laughed, a sharp sound that sounded anything but cheery. Her face had twisted into a dark mask of anger as she drew closer to me. My instincts told me to back away, but my pride held me in place. God, to see her move was incredible. Monitors telling you that someone is alive is one thing, but this…this was a whole different league. This woman who had been peaceful in sleep now radiated power and darkness. And it was beautiful.
“Miranda Lawson, who are you to play God? I was not afraid of death, and if you think bringing me to life will give you leverage over me, think again. Cerberus lost any chance for my help the minute they released a fucking thresher maw nightmare on fifty-one marines. Or have you forgotten? So take me to the Illusive Man, but don’t expect me to play nice,” Shepard growled and stalked towards the shuttles.