A dark shadow fell across the ground. Jack glanced up to see a small, dim gray cloud blot out the sun in a purple sky. Pushed along by the wind, it quickly passed, returning the meadow to sunlight. Her two companions didn't take notice. The first, Normandy's Kodiak shuttle, sat idly on its landing gear waiting patiently for the rest of the landing party to return. It was just slightly more fun to have around than her second companion, an adolescent krogan in the midst of recounting, again, his fight with a thresher maw days earlier.
"Shepard didn't even flinch," Grunt's eyes sparkled in the sunlight and smacked a cannonball-sized fist into his other hand, "even as two thousand tons of flesh fell at his feet. It was glorious!"
Jack couldn't take any more of it. "Look, suitcase. How about you give it a rest for five minutes, huh? Nobody gives a shit about your little bat mitzvah or whatever you wanna call it."
Grunt was unfazed. "You don't understand. I'm starting to get it. Size doesn't matter."
"What the fuck are you babbling about?"
"When you broke out at Purgatory, I didn't think you'd make it ten seconds. I mean, look at you. Small, frail... Hell I could break your spine in two with one hand." Jack's teeth clenched but Grunt continued before she could say anything. "But you tore through them like a phalanx. Your biotics kept them from even getting close."
That's more like it, Jack thought, leaning back against the shuttle. "They got their uses."
"I bet they've brought you victory many times in battle."
"Obviously not enough. The bastards caught me, didn't they?"
"Yeah," Grunt said, discouraged. "I guess they did." He regarded her with a strange look. At least it looked strange to Jack, and she was no expert on krogan body language. It made her uncomfortable but she couldn't figure out why. "We're a lot a like, you know?" Grunt said.
Oh here it comes, Jack thought and sighed. Why does everyone want to try and bond with me?
"We're both experiments," Grunt continued. "We don't have families. Everybody's afraid of us... Except Shepard. And we're the most powerful warriors in his clan."
Jack's expression was neutral. "Is that right? Then why are we standing around here watching the grass grow?"
"The battlemaster picks his team based on who will fight the best in the given situation."
Jack pursed her lips. She knew a weak spot when she saw one. "So why did he leave you behind, then? Being a genetically engineered super warrior and all."
Grunt shrugged. "Some missions require 'tact'. That's not my specialty."
"Bullshit. Shepard has his favorites and you know it." Jack snorted and hacked a wad of mucous to the ground. The pollen on the planet was unbelievable. "You're just not one of 'em."
Grunt's jaw tightened. "Shepard doesn't play favorites. If he needed me, he'd take me."
"It's OK," Jack wore a sympathetic expression. "It's just because he thinks you'll go berserk and wipe out his entire crew."
"He knows I will follow him," Grunt said. "I don't always understand his reasoning, but he always ends up victorious. He finds the strengths of those who fight with him. He's a worthy leader."
"Bullshit. We're just bullet stoppers to him. You think he gives a shit about you?"
"He is my krantt and my battlemaster. I am his clan. He's done more for me than any krogan and asks only for my loyalty in return. He has it!"
Jack crossed her arms and pressed her head back against the shuttle's hull. It was still cool in spite of the glaring sun. "Aww, that's too bad. I thought you were the only other person on the ship who wasn't full of shit."
"You're still right," Grunt said. His combat shotgun was inches away from his hands. Ordinarily, he would have seized the opportunity to end the conversation. But he knew that's not what Shepard would have wanted. It surprised him that it mattered to him, but it did. He would try to use words, as the Commander always did. "So what about you?" he asked.
"What about me?"
"Powers like yours, and you're on guard duty. Why didn't he take you with him?"
"I'm just a tool to him," Jack said. "Something else we have in common."
"Maybe he's afraid you'd go berserk and wipe out his entire crew." Grunt said. "Like I said, you and I are a lot alike, Jack."
Having her own words parroted back to her made Jack scowl. "You think you're like me?
Grunt grinned, his white teeth glinting in the sunlight. "Yeah. We were both created to destroy."
Jack was suddenly very tired of the krogan child. It was always the same, people thinking they knew something about her. "Oh, you were force fed a mutagenic metal too? You killed kids your own age as part of your tests? I bet you liked some sleazebag crawling into your bed every night and fucking you in every hole. Did they raise your pain threshold to boost your power, make you better at killing? For thirteen years? Wow, what a coincidence. We're like fuckin' twins."
Grunt stared at Jack, thinking about his Claymore again. He might be able to get a shot off before she turned sparkly blue, but again, that's not what Shepard expected of him. "Not exactly. My life only started a few weeks ago, true. I don't know what you went through to get where you are today. But the power is there, I can see it."
Jack shook her head rapidly from side to side. "Dude, you are seriously fucked in the skull."
Grunt cocked his head. "It's not the same, though."
"What's not the same?"
Grunt stepped beside Jack next to the shuttle. It was cooler in the shade, but she didn't like having him that close. She took several steps into the meadow with her arms crossed, giving him an irritated look over her shoulder. "Your power," Grunt said, staying in the shade. "I saw you knock out a pair of YMIR's with one blast. Haven't seen those kind of fireworks since."
Jack looked back up at the sky. The little cloud was long gone and no more were in sight. No one knew it, but she was just as surprised as her rescuers at her increase in power back on Purgatory. It was only temporary, though. While she was still a formidable biotic in her own right, she was no longer godlike and it pissed her off to have a taste of it only to have it taken away. Worse, everybody seemed to notice she wasn't as strong as before. "Yeah well, they had me on ice for a long time. Guess my batteries had an extra charge on them."
Grunt nodded. That Jack could admit her shortcoming was the first sign he'd seen that she could change. "Your power is still impressive. I like how you can rupture organs without even touching them."
"You're sweet," Jack sneered. "You know your problem, though? You don't get I don't want to be friends. So how about that rest we talked about you giving me?"
Grunt frowned again at the refusal of his second attempt to reconcile. How Shepard managed to do this day after day mystified him. Glad to be done talking, he scanned the hills in the distance where the landing party had disappeared. A line of battle crawlers crested the ridge, their main guns firing in a ripple salvo. They were flanked on both sides by turian mounted cavalry, riding on the backs of mammoth war beasts thundering down the the hillside. Shepard was nowhere to be seen. It was up to him, Grunt knew. He would charge them all, Jack following behind, eviscerating them with her lightning. The battle would not last long.
Jack heard a soft grumble behind her and turned to see Grunt staring absently into the distance. She looked at the empty hills and tried to picture what the krogan imagined he saw, but then she decided she didn't care. "Fuckin' typical," she muttered. "Shepard left me with someone crazier than I am."
The mention of the Commander's name brought Grunt out of his daydream. "You're free because of him."
"I didn't ask him to do it."
"He deemed you worthy," Grunt pointed a claw at Jack. "He could have just left you. You owe him your life."
"I don't owe anybody anything. What the fuck do you know about me?"
"I know you want to fight. It's what you were made for. Shepard is giving you the chance."
"That again? Holy shit, you actually believe this crap," Jack said with a laugh.
Grunt nodded. "Of course. I was created to be a weapon. Hell, it's all I want to be. But I want to be the best weapon I can, pointed in the right direction. Without direction, we're just bombs. Bombs have no honor. Shepard can give you direction. But you won't let him. You don't want it."
Jack wasn't usually caught off guard, but all she could do was turn silently back to the hills. Grunt knew who he was and what he was. He embraced being a dumb brute. She had known dozens like him from all species and looked down on them all because she wasn't like them. It was one thing to charge blindly into a fight, but she always kept her head, made her own decisions. She wasn't an animal, even though on occasion she acted like one. But it was out of necessity, not a choice.
Or was it, she thought? The question nagged at her every time she ended a life. It bothered her Grunt referred to her as a bomb. She didn't start out that way. Cerberus turned her into one. That's what you tell yourself, she thought, but that's what everyone sees. A ticking time bomb. That's why you're on guard duty instead of running off with the hero. It's why everything you touch, everyone you know, turns to shit. What the hell does the lizard know? Or Shepard for that matter? If either of them lived ten percent of your life, they'd give their sidearms a blowjob and suck down the cum.
Then there was Grunt. Born to be a weapon, born to destroy, but choosing to be something more. She faced that choice many times after escaping from Cerberus, but every time, she wound up exactly where she started... fighting everyone, and everything. It was like acid burning away at her soul. She only knew one way of making it stop. "Fuck it. You know what? I'm done with this."
Grunt cocked his head. "Fine. I'm tired of all this talk."
"Not what I meant, dumbass." Jack walked to the shuttle door and retrieved her pack from the interior.
Grunt stood up from the hull. "Where are you going?"
"What the fuck do you care?"
"Shepard gave us an order to stand watch." Grunt said.
Jack slung her pack over her shoulder and stalked back out to stand face-to-chest with Grunt. His teeth were very white and sharp, and she tilted her head back so they were only inches away from her nose. "I'm not your boyfriend's bitch. That's your place, isn't it?"
"I thought you were smart, Jack," Grunt glowered down at her. "You're disappointing me."
"Funny coming from a science project who calls himself Grunt," Jack sneered and walked back to the meadow. "He's using you. You're just too dumb to see it."
Grunt called after her. "I was wrong. You're not stupid, you're weak."
Jack stopped cold. "What did you say?"
"You're weak," Grunt enunciated clearly. "You've got all that power, but you haven't learned to truly harness it. And it's not because you can't."
Jack paced back and forth, energy crackling up and down her arms. "You want to find out how strong I am?"
Grunt walked slowly around Jack, his icy blue eyes aglow. The look he gave her now was nothing like before. She rotated to keep him in front of her but he now blocked her path to the mountains. She could easily walk around him in any other direction, but he obviously intended to stop her.
Waste his ass, Jack thought. But if she did, then what? When Shepard came back, she'd have to deal with him unless she ran away. And he'd definitely come after her. Stealing the shuttle was out, what with that pain in the ass AI able to take control. That left apologizing, and damn if she was going to kiss and make up with an overgrown tadpole trying to teach her life's lessons.
On the other hand, If she just knocked Grunt out and split, Shepard might cut his losses and let her go. The rest of them would be happy to see her gone, she knew.
It was decided. Jack slammed the ground in front of her. The earth split before her, sliced by a biotic blade, sending rocks and plants flying in its wake. The underground blast ripped towards Grunt, launching him backwards off his feet. He plowed a short trench with his impact and ground to a halt, his armor charred and exposed skin smoldering in the wind.
Jack smirked at the fallen krogan. "That was half strength 'cause we're so alike and all."
Her smile was short lived as Grunt leapt to his feet faster than something of his bulk should have and charged with a roar. He halved the distance to her before she slammed down and the ground erupted with another explosion from her clenched fists.
Grunt flew back once more, knocked again into the dirt. With an even louder roar was on his feet faster than the first time, charging towards her.
Jack screamed and let loose with another bolt, this time aimed square at Grunt's chest. Thunder echoed through the hills. Grunt got almost to arm's length this time before the blast sent him back five meters. He rolled twice and landed on his knees. Blood oozed from a gash in his crest and the front of his armor was now scorched black from neck to waist. He coughed and spat thick, bloody ichor from his mouth.
Jack was astonished that Grunt was still conscious, let alone alive. Her attack would have shredded a human's innards to the point an autopsy would have been pointless. Even a krogan should have been at least out cold by now. The world started to spin around her. She was almost spent, and needed to put an end to this. "Be a shame to waste all that effort busting me out," she said, breathing heavily. "I'm useless to Shepard dead."
"You're useless to him alive," Grunt growled. As he rose to his feet brought his Claymore shotgun to bear on the tiny human. He pumped shell after shell into Jack's torso and head, advancing and reloading with each shot. Jack's upper body pulsed with bright blue as the white hot shot sparked and ricocheted in all directions. It was her turn to be knocked back.
He closed the distance as Jack convulsed and staggered on her fee from the repeated gunshots. The blue glow dancing over her body began to fade. All she could do was focus on repelling the point blank assault, her strength sapped from the show she put on before. All along he'd been goading her to make her waste energy, and it worked. She could barely see the huge form towering over her through the blinding light of her aura and the muzzle blast of the shotgun.
Grunt swung his firing hand free of the Claymore and reared back with a shoulder as thick as Jack's torso. Had her biotic shield not been up, his punch would have shattered her ribcage and ruptured every organ. Instead it knocked her into the hull of the shuttle. She bounced and tried to steady herself against it. Grunt was on her before she could fall. His claws enveloped her neck and lifted her high into the air, a rag doll in the hands of an angry child. He slammed her into the hull of the shuttle, each impact wracking her body with pain. Slowly the bright blue shimmer over Jack's skin began to fade. Grunt's strength, however, did not. He would break her magic shell eventually.
Jack's world spun about her. The bright sun, the spiraling horizon, the repeated impact on the hull scrambled her senses. Suddenly she was ten years old again, pushed up against her cell's cold wall, her nightgown pushed up around her waist, her nightly assailant breathing against her neck... powerless to stop him. That little girl screamed inside her head, but outside she didn't make a sound.
Grunt flung Jack face down against the ground and stomped her head with his massive armored boot, smashing her face deep into the soft earth. Her biotics might protect her from the crushing weight on her skull, but could not allow her to breathe dirt. Her lungs began burned as Grunt ground her head into the soil with a snarl. The blue glow surrounding Jack was almost gone. Jack would soon follow.
Images of the warden drifted through Jack's consciousness. Even though she had been drugged, beaten and terrified every day of her life in that hellhole, she never went down without a fight. Especially that one time when she puked out her meds without them seeing, and she was only pretending to be in a daze. It was the last handjob that man ever got, and it blew his mind. Reflexively, Jack's right hand reached up to push against the force diving her face into the soil. It found Grunt's ankle, where she focused all of her remaining energy through her clenched fingers.
A brilliant spark erupted around Grunt's calf with a deafening crack. Flesh sizzled inside armor and filled the air with its charred stench and Grunt howled with pain. His entire body convulsed as the charge coursed through his body, but he did not relent. He pushed Jack's face further into the dirt, screaming at the top of his lungs. After several agonizing seconds, the sparks arcing around his leg died, and the glow around Jack's body dissolved to nothing. Her grip around his leg weakened, then released. Her arm fell to the ground.
Grunt lifted his foot from Jack's immobile body and inspected the damage. The armor was intact, but the tissue beneath was charred to the bone. It would take some time to heal. He tested his injured leg against the ground and found it almost useless to support his weight, so he shifted it all to the healthy side, when a cough from the ground made him look down over the barrel of his Claymore.
Jack stirred slightly on ground and weakly tried to push up from the dirt. Her body was still in the fight even if her mind was not.
Grunt lowered his shotgun. "Impressive," he told her, even though her brain was in no condition to process the compliment. Would she live? She was badly injured and humans were pitifully frail. He picked up her limp form and walked back to the shuttle. Shepard wasn't due back for hours. Normandy's computer might know what to do.
"Maybe you're not as weak as I thought," Grunt said as he lowered Jack to the deck. He activated the shuttle's transmitters. "Shepard? Normandy? Is anybody out there? Got a little problem, here..."