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Artful Deception

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Miranda sat bolt upright as the siren ripped her from a deep sleep. Instinctively her biotic shield activated before her eyes had even had a chance to focus.

"Director Lawson, we have a security breach," came the voice through her room's intercom.

"What?" she said aloud, sleep still clouding her thoughts. Who could be attacking the facility? There was only a handful of people who weren't on the station that even knew the project existed, and only one of those knew where the space station was located. She grabbed her black and gold catsuit as she rushed past the chair to the intercom. "Activate all security mechs, and I want details of our attackers immediately," she commanded through the intercom while pulling on her clothes.

"The mechs are the attackers Ma'am," the voice replied sounding increasingly panicked.

"What?" The mechs were on a closed operating system to ensure it was impossible to hack them from the outside. That could only mean one thing, this was an inside job. "Where's Taylor?" she snapped over the com.

"Unknown Ma'am, there's communications interference all over the station, it took me five minutes just to get a connection to you. However I have managed to restore around half the station's video surveillance, but I haven't got eyes on Lieutenant Taylor yet."

Damn it, Jacob, you better not have got yourself killed already. "Good work. Deploy any security personnel you can get in contact with to the main lab. The subject's survival is the top priority, and I need those live video feeds routed to my Omni-tool immediately, I'm going to make my way there."

"Yes Ma'am, although there are two heavy mechs outside...I-I'm not sure how long this door is going to hold," the shaky voice replied.

"Operative, it is imperative that you get me a comm line to the lab before that door fails. Do you understand me?" Miranda said with a steely tone.

"Yes Director, I assure you it will be done." The operative's reply came through loud and clear, fear replaced by determination, the sign of a true Cerberus operative. "Surveillance feeds should be rerouted to your Omni-tool…now. Good luck Ma'am."

-o-

"Raaahhh." Miranda roared as she slammed the final two mechs to the ground with a satisfying double explosion. This was taking too long, she was never going to make it to the main lab in time. The operative had indeed succeeded to get her a comm line to the lab, but by then all security in that wing were already dead and Miranda had just watched the last lab technician fall defending the subject. She was out of options, the subject had to be woken.

Moving to the terminal beside her, she started up the mirroring software, giving her direct control of the life support system in the lab, which thankfully the lab technician had transferred minutes earlier. In an ideal situation, the waking up process would have been performed over a much longer period of time, giving the body time to naturally recover from the long-term sedation, but this situation was anything but ideal.

The Director slammed her hand on the desk. Damn it, Wilson, what the hell were you thinking? It didn't make any sense, he'd worked on this project as long as she had, why destroy it now? Even when she had seen it was his code used to hack the mechs, she'd assumed someone had stolen his access. Sure, Wilson was an arrogant arsehole, and insanely jealous that she was project lead and not him, but he'd put some of his best work into the Lazarus Project, she'd never have imagined that even he would be so stupid. But then she found the video footage proving her wrong.

Two years, two bloody years of work and four billion credits cannot go down the drain now. The subject is strong enough, she has to be. Opening her eyes she placed her fingers on the screen and slowly dialled down the propofol dose in the first tube until an alert flashed on the screen: [Sedation Discontinued]

Miranda pulled up the dial for the second tube. Pausing, she switched on her Omni-tool again. Sweeping through the camera feed once more she sighed. There was still an army of mechs and heavy mechs between her and the lab. It wasn't that Miranda doubted her own survival, but even she couldn't get through them all before the nearest ones got into the lab.

Placing her hands on the screen, the Director spun the dial to 100% and pressed the Accept button, the new alert read: [Adrenaline Administered]

Swiping her hand across her Omni-tool, she waited until the green light shone to indicate the comm line was open. "Wake up Commander." Zooming the camera in on the subject she stared intently for any signs of movement. Come on, wake up. "Shepard, do you hear me? Get out of that bed now, this facility is under attack."

-o-

As she approached the doorway, the gunshots grew louder and she could make out at least two male voices. Activating her cloak, Shepard opened the door to the next room and peered around the door frame just as a human caucasian male flew across the walkway, his head landing facing her, his eyes empty, lifeless.

"No, Marcus," a deep voice yelled desperately and a tall man slid into Shepard's line of sight, blocking her view of the body. As she studied the scene before her, a blue glow began to resonate from his hands, "You motherfuckers," he roared, his words dripping with anguish. He flew to his feet encasing his entire body in the glowing blue hue of a barrier and launched an orb at one of the mechs that stood on the balcony opposite.

It was pulled into the air and the biotic proceeded to unload an entire clip into its chest. With only seconds until her cloak wore off, Shepard took a step into the room and put two bullets directly into one of the remaining mech's head and ran to the biotic, dragging him to the walkway's glass barrier, ensuring to pin his hands to avoid being his next target.

His look of confusion turned to shock as her cloak dissipated. "Shepard?"

"You have me at a disadvantage."

"Jacob, Jacob Taylor Ma'am." The biotic had to shout to be heard over a new round of gunshots blasting from the remaining mechs.

"Let's get these finished off." She nodded her head in the direction of the balcony.

"I'm with you. I'll pull the one on the far right," Jacob said as his dark brown skin took on a blue hue again.

Shepard activated her cloak and stood, taking a breath and steadily exhaling, she took down the other two mechs, placing her shots with perfect precision. When the last mech was down Jacob slid down the glass barrier and stared at the body across the walkway, grief etched on his face.

Shepard placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry for your loss."

Jacob nodded and met her eyes. "Thank you, Commander," he said shaking his head, "Thing's must be worse than I thought if Miranda's got you running around."

Shepard frowned. "I don't suppose you can explain exactly where I'm running around and why?"

"Right, sorry about that. What's the last thing you remember, before waking up?"

Shepard thought for a moment. "The Normandy, we were under attack by an unknown assailant." Closing her eyes the memories came flooding back to her. "I was thrown by the blast towards the planet, my suit had a rupture." Shepard flinched when she felt Jacob's hand on her shoulder, opening her eyes as she met his sympathetic gaze. "How did I survive?"

Jacob hesitated for a moment. "You didn't Shepard, you died that day."

-o-

"Shepard," Jacob said and she turned to look at him, "before we go any further, I think I should tell you who we work for."

"Not really the time or place for that Jacob," the pasty-skinned, bald scientist, Wilson, said shoving his way past them.

"If we're going to get out of this alive, we need to trust each other and have each other's backs. That can't happen if she is kept in the dark." Jacob turned back to face Shepard. "This project is run by Cerberus."

What? Shepard thought and took an involuntary step back. That's not possible, I'd know the Cerberus logo anywhere. "Cerberus?" Jacob nodded confirmation, and before she knew it, her weapon was in her hand, pointing at him. "Are you telling me I'm that fucking terrorist group's sick experiment?" She swallowed thickly, barely able to keep the contents of her stomach from making an exit.

"No, it's not like that." Jacob held his palms up to placate her. "They've poured billions of credits solely into bringing you back from the dead, the real you, as I said before, you're no clone, you're the real Commander Shepard." Despite having a gun pointing at his head, he didn't once break eye contact with her. "Listen, I know they've been involved with some shady shit in the past, and I'm not saying they're angels even now, but this, bringing you back, this is why I am here, if the galaxy was going to stand a chance against the Reapers, we needed Commander Shepard back."

Shepard shook her head in disbelief. "Shady shit? You clearly don't have any idea what an understatement that is. I uncovered secret research bases run by Cerberus that were experimenting on, torturing and ultimately murdering Alliance soldiers." She felt her eyes burn and gritted her teeth to fight back the grief that came with her next words. "And my brother...was killed after his N7 squadron was lured into a trap set by Cerberus." She was glad when Jacob's expression changed to a mix of shock and dismay. For some reason, she hoped he was simply misguided and easily deceived rather than a part of the web-spinning.

"I...shit Shepard, I'm so sorry, I had no idea. They…" Jacob rubbed his face with his hands and began to pace, seemingly forgetting about the weapon she was still pointing at him. "No one else was doing anything, the Alliance, the Council, they just discredited you and in the process the rumours of the Reapers. Cerberus was actually taking action, actually standing up and facing the threat instead of ignoring it and hoping it would never come to fruition." He stopped pacing and looked at her again. "Fuck."

Shepard lowered her gun, this wasn't a company man in front of her. This was an honourable man who was driven to serve and protect, being told to ignore the biggest danger the galaxy was facing. She knew how that felt, she'd faced it non-stop since her first dealings with the Council. Hell, she'd died on a pointless assignment hunting out geth, when she knew geth weren't the ones they needed to be worried about.

She took a deep breath. "I get it, Jacob, I was stonewalled enough times by the Brass and the Council. But Cerberus...some of the shit they've done, it's inhumane and inexcusable." She caught movement to her left and remembered Wilson. What about him? Was he a company man? Somehow she didn't feel he was, although she also didn't trust him.

"Are the two of you staying here or are we going to get to the shuttles?" he said but averted his gaze when he saw her studying him.

They ploughed their way through a small army of mechs occupying the next room and up a ramp. "The shuttlebay is just through that door," Jacob said pointing at a door at the far end of the walkway they were on.

"Hang on, I just want to finish this." Shepard unpaused the final video log and the Australian voice began speaking:

"Our orders were clear: make Commander Shepard who she was before the explosion - the same mind, the same morals, the same personality. If we somehow alter her identity in any way, if she's somehow not the woman she used to be, the Lazarus Project will have failed. I refuse to let that happen."

"Well, that's a little reassuring I guess," Shepard muttered and walked out of the small office. "Ok, let's get the hell out of this place."

-o-

Miranda closed the camera feed on her Omni-tool and drew her weapon. She was going to get answers from Wilson one way or another.

The look of shock on the scientist's face when the door between them slid open, was exactly what the Director had been hoping for.

"Miranda, but you were…" Wilson's words were cut short by the appearance of her gun pointing at his face.

"Dead?" Miranda tilted her head studying the scientist.

"What the hell's going on Miranda?" She heard Jacob question.

"He's the traitor." The Commander stated matter of factly.

"Why Wilson? I don't understand why? You've given two years of your best work to this project, why sabotage it now?"

Wilson shook his head. "Well, of course, you wouldn't understand, you're in too deep to see the truth. Which is a shame, because, much as I hate to say it, you are brilliant and this project probably wouldn't have succeeded without you at the helm."

For a moment Miranda was speechless, although she hadn't been able to imagine what he would say, she certainly hadn't expected him to say anything like that. "What the hell are you talking about Wilson? What truth?"

Wilson gave a humourless laugh. "The truth behind the puppe-"

Miranda jumped as Wilson's chest exploded and blood splattered across her uniform as his body crumpled to the floor. Looking up, Miranda saw the Commander place three shots in the culprit's head and the mech dropped where it stood on the walkway.

Miranda turned her attention back to the body at her feet and knelt to feel for a pulse. "He's dead." The Director said flatly. Feeling a growing frustration, she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, but it didn't help. Damn it, she yelled internally and stood. This was unacceptable, she needed bloody answers, instead, she got gibberish.

"Miranda…" Jacob's voice cut through her racing thoughts and she slid the cold, calm mask in place.

She turned to Jacob and the Commander. "The station is still crawling with those things, we need to leave, now."

"If you think I'm leaving with you, you can think again. I'll take one shuttle you two can take the other." The Commander locked eyes with Miranda and it was clear she already knew who they worked for.

Sighing, Miranda looked at Jacob. "Ahh Jacob, I should've known your conscience would get the better of you." She met the other woman's eyes. "I'm sorry Commander, but there is only one functional shuttle, I checked before you arrived and one has been sabotaged."

Miranda was not someone who was easily intimidated, in fact, intimidation was something she herself was somewhat of an expert at. But maintaining eye contact with someone whose every molecule radiated disgust and rage, was proving quite the test, even for her.

She knew from Cerberus' own reports that the Commander had unearthed some decidedly unethical projects that had originally been funded by Cerberus, which had unfairly earned them a 'terrorist group' label. Miranda had read their records and due to the extremism of the project leaders, Cerberus had abandoned those projects long before the Commander discovered them. The Director had researched everything she possibly could about the Commander and had read about her strong moral compass, but what Miranda saw in those chestnut brown eyes right now, was nothing short of hate. This was more than morals, somehow, this was personal for the Commander. What else have you missed, Lawson?

"Right now we are your only option. Come and speak to our boss, listen to what he has to say, and then if you still don't feel that working with Cerberus is what it will take to save the galaxy, then so be it."

"Fine," the Commander shot back, "I'll speak with him, but only because, short of killing you both, it's the only way I'm getting off the hell hole. And unlike Cerberus, I avoid unnecessary deaths whenever possible."

Miranda bite back a retort. Now was not the time, and this was most definitely not the person to be goading. Instead, she nodded once and strode past the Commander to the last remaining shuttle, the one she hadn't sabotaged.