“Sure you don’t need anything, commander?” The man’s lightly accented voice destroyed the silence perforating the air like a warhead. Shepard winced at the commotion it caused to her ears. Her eyes faced away from her watcher who currently stood beyond her cage. It was clear to her that he cared about her but she wasn’t in the mood for coddling.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Shepard stated stiffly. She sensed hesitation from the man. A few moments more of silence allowed the barrier of peace to form over Shepard’s ears once more. She vaguely heard a shuffling sound, most likely the man saluting, footsteps, then nothing. Nothing at all. The particles in the air stood still only the dim overhead light reflecting off the fluttering specks.
Alone at last, Shepard lay back in her cot with a heavy sigh. She wished people weren’t so courteous to her. Especially her guard, Vega something or other. She didn’t deserve it.
The destruction of the Alpha Relay and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of batarians gave the galaxy a precious few more months before the inevitable invasion of the Reaper forces but also landed Shepard in a prison on Earth. The Alliance would have preferred that she remained on the frontlines but the batarians wouldn’t have it. She needed to pay for her crime. Soon she would be transferred to a comfortable loft near the human embassies but, per the request of the Batarian Hegemony, Shepard was spending a month in a cluttered, smelly cell with few luxuries. She liked it this way. It allowed her to atone for not only those lives lost but also a personal mistake on her part. Nothing would be able to wipe away her collective guilt, but this helped to smother it for the time being.
The building her cell resided in was old, ancient even, and was abandoned until the batarians had told the Alliance to find the worst conditions possible for her imprisonment. The room containing Shepard was solid concrete and the floor was wet. The sink was busted, the hole sealed with mortar, and the toilet clogged and filled with a sick, raunchy liquid Shepard wasn’t sure of whether or not it actually came from someone. Her cot had moth holes and smelled like the underside of an intoxicated krogan. The single overused light hanging above the center of the space was subject to periodic blackouts and even shattered once for no apparent reason peppering Shepard with shards of glass and filament. Shepard wasn’t given access to the extranet, news, entertainment, and only enough food to sustain consciousness. Vega claimed he tried to improve living conditions for her but that the rules of the Alliance’s arrangement with the batarian government wouldn’t allow it.
Even in such a piss poor situation, Shepard couldn’t ask for more. In fact, much to Vega’s puzzlement, she had asked for less. The ghosts of her decisions haunted every aspect of her monetary existence. All the things she’d done, all the people she’d hurt; it started taking a toll on her mental state. The batarians must be smiling at her punishment.
Many nights, or days (there was no way to keep track of time in the cell), were spent in a heap in the darkest corner contemplating her many regrets or of ways to reduce the blood cell count in her veins. Early in her incarceration, she had taken one of her sparse eating utensils to carve deep lacerations in her legs with the hopes that one of the slit veins would sign her death warrant. Vega was quick to remove any such tools from her repertoire. Now she merely settled for staring at the breaking ceiling above her. The shudders made from vehicles passing outside made it look like it would give at any moment bringing an end to Commander Shepard and all her terrible decisions; all her regrets buried under hundreds of pounds of concrete. She’d only be so lucky.
She may be Commander Shepard, savior of the Citadel, defeater of Sovereign, the one to do the impossible and end the Collector threat and destroying almost every edge the Reapers would have over the species of the galaxy, but she was still a failure to herself. Thousands had died at her word and had hurt those closest to her. Cerberus used her then tossed her to the dogs. The annihilation of the Bahak System only served as proof of her ability to truly do wrong. She did her best to not think of the future and the mistakes she could possibly make while fighting Reapers on the home front. They would be there and Shepard hoped to die among Earth’s defenders for it would be the closest to redemption she could imagine.
Today, she gazed at the ceiling, tracing the deep tendrils etched in the concrete with her eyes. Each cracked strand split off, many branching from larger ones, all originating from the base of the lamp that lulled in the musty air. Ships were taking off behind her building causing the ceiling to shiver in place and long strands of dust turned to mud in the damp floor. The quaking stopped as soon as it began and, much to Shepard’s dismay, the ceiling was just as in tact as it was prior to the take-off. With any luck, Vega left in one of those.
She’d only been there… weeks? But she’d already formulated an opinion on the lieutenant. His hair was stupid, he was built like a krogan, cocky, rash, and hid his affection for her like a fart in a classroom. While he tried to remain respectful and professional, it was clear that he ached to go beyond those military boundaries. He was likely involved with something rather hefty in the past. Maybe something that made him decide that a mohawk was a good idea but, whatever it was, Shepard didn’t much care for it or him. He was a nuisance and was one of the only things that would make her prefer the embassies to here. Unless he was to follow her there… no, it was merely conjecture. He’d be gone.
“Commander.” Vega’s voice popped a point of Shepard’s brain that made her quiver. She tensed her muscles both mentally and physically preparing for the man’s irritating words to bombard her ears. He stomped down the narrow corridor beyond her prison and stopped outside the bars his hair short and kempt as usual. His casual military uniform and clean face mimicked its sterility. He stood straight, hands at his sides, in a manner that Shepard had grown to familiarize with her own jarring sigh. He opened his mouth to speak but shut it when she rolled her eyes. She launched her head into the back of the cot.
“Tell them to fuck off. I’d thought you would have gotten the pattern by now,” she said callously. Being that she was to be cut off from events past the walls of her cell, Vega only ever came down for three things: to give her the wonderfully undercooked and sullied food which she often ate over a period of hours, to charm her with the most idiotic small talk she could bear, or to inform her of visitors. She was allowed them but only if they were high ranking military officers or politicians and they were always given special rules to follow when visiting. Certain hours were permitted, only certain questions could be asked by them and they could only tell her of a handful of matters. They would usually come for advice or her permission on certain actions. While being incarcerated, she still held a great deal of weight in the political world and she wanted nothing more than to escape it. She assumed it would only get worse once she was transferred to the cell the Alliance had intended for her.
She’d gotten used to declining every meeting though spoke to Anderson whenever he arrived. He was one of the only things that kept her positive through this time. He gave her hope for something new, bright, and brilliant. Though, judging by the face of her watcher, he was not the one visiting today. So she wondered what had his mouth ajar and his arm quivering.
“Well, I think this one’s a special case, ma’am.” Intrigued for the first time since leaving the Normandy, Shepard propped herself up on her elbows and gave Vega a quizzical stare. He looked to his right anxiously before glancing back to her and finally deciding to leave without another word. His footsteps vanished leaving Shepard baffled. She was only left confused for a moment longer when another pair of footsteps, lighter than the clunky military man’s, penetrated the quiet. Shepard was about to question the newcomer when her tongue dried in her mouth. The new guest stood, arms crossed, in the center of the hall.
“Can’t say I expected to find you in this shithole. Since you’re so good at licking the authorities’ assholes, I’d figured to find you in some five star hotel with a large window and bitches feeding you grapes. Guess you really fucked up.” Shepard started standing while absent-mindedly reaching towards her ‘guest.’
“Jack?” The name nearly caught in her throat and was spoke so softly Jack could barely hear it. The woman in question stepped away from the bars so Shepard couldn’t reach her as she pressed against them.
Jack. She was here. Right here. In front of Shepard. Standing. Breathing. Talking. Avoiding. Shepard deserved that one. Being in her presence was a privilege Shepard shouldn’t have been permitted. Not with what she’d done to her. Not in this life time and certainly not in this pitiful state. Suddenly feeling self conscious, she looked down at her rags of clothes. They had originally been a black tank top and military cargos, the nicest clothes she was allowed, but now resembled something only a corpse would wear. They were torn, stained, and stuck to Shepard’s skin clinging to all the wrong places. She tried in vain to pull them from their tightened state but to no avail. She hoped the black poking through the dust and grime of the shirt was enough to adequately hide herself. Jack scoffed at her efforts, her arms still across her chest in the fashion Shepard had grown so accustomed to.
Jack was wearing more than she used to. Well, kinda. Her new jeans bore a gray camo design with buckles near the bottom mimicking her old buckled boots. The new boots were shorter, tight at the ankle, and flared at the top several inches from the heel. Her military-style belt with symmetrical leather straps below either hip was akin to her old folded-down orange jumpsuit. Before unseen skin was now visible through intentional holes beneath the leather straps hanging from her hips. From those holes, Shepard could see what appeared to be a long strip of white bandage stretching up past the belt, over her belly, then wrapped around her back to the front where they covered her breasts in a pseudo-bra that returned to her back and ended in a choker around her neck. It was clearly stretched tight as Jack’s nipples bled through the thin cloth. So much for ‘more than she used to.’
The most surprising additions were her jacket and short hair. The jacket was a mockery of high Earth fashion being a stylized black leather bolero jacket that covered both arms, puffed at the shoulders, and hung stiffly to the sides of her chest. Square buckles that were to never meet adorned the two flaps of leather. The whole thing was studded with what was likely stainless steel and a buckle was wound around both upper arms. Jack’s hair had grown at least three inches on the top and back making a spiky punk sort of crew-cut, though it was apparent that it wasn’t done growing out. All in all, Shepard was standing before a stranger. She hoped that the same person was still buried in there somewhere.
“What are,” she stopped a moment to swallow and bring moisture back to her speech before starting over her voice clearer. “What are you doing here? What’ve you been doing? Why haven’t you-” Jack raised her hand commanding the commander into silence. Shepard did her best to hide her excitement at the return of her… well, old acquaintance.
“I don’t really think I have to tell you anything, Cera.” She had her there. “I just… came here to talk.” Shepard looked around suddenly feeling like a hostess.
“Um, I’d offer you a place to sit but, well, yeah…” Jack walked up to the bars making Shepard instinctively jump back. She watched as Jack observed the bars for a moment then, to Cera’s disbelief, slapped a pair of blue hands onto two bars in front of her and tore the metal spokes from their positions. Had this been a more modern facility, alarms would have erupted. But it wasn’t so the only thing erupting was dust as the useless poles clanged against the ground behind Jack.
Jack casually walked to Shepard’s tattered cot and sat, the material squeaking under the compression. Shepard remained plastered against the wall behind her too afraid to approach the smaller woman.
“So, um, a drink?” Shepard offered. There were no drinks, but hosts often did this sort of thing. Jack glared at Cera making the commander avert her eyes. “Yeah, everything here tastes like piss anyway.”
“Cera.” Jack said it quietly though Shepard heard her name loud and clear. Regardless, she pretended she didn’t and continued to be utterly fascinated by a puddle reflecting the lamp overhead. “Cera!” The audible shout startled Shepard and she finally brought her eyes back to the biotic.
“You said you wanted to talk; I’m listening.”
“You always say that, but you never are.”
“Look, that whole mess was just a misunderstanding-”
“A misunderstanding!?” Jack shouted as she stood. Her eye twitched and she craned her neck. “I think fucking that bitch behind my back is a bit more than a ‘misunderstanding.’” Shepard held out her hands defensively.
“Yeah, ok, that was a poor choice of words. I meant it wasn’t supposed to happen.” Jack wheeled around and sent Shepard’s cot flying into the wall shattering it into hundreds of pieces of metal and shredded cloth. She turned back to the red head with a finger pointed at her.
“You certainly meant it to happen! All those times you went to ‘get resources’ from the Shadow Broker? I’m not stupid, Shepard!” She was honestly getting resources on all those trips and most of them were used bettering Jack’s own capabilities but, granted, she did do more than that on those frequent trips. She’d say the money on fuel was well spent.
“I never thought you were! But you read too much into things sometimes.” Why not try lying out of this one? Jack walked up to Cera and punched her across the jaw bringing the now weakened commander to her knees. Her hands caught and she clenched her chin as she rose.
“If you wanna make this right, you better drop the bullshit.”
“And if you just came to yell, then you came to the wrong place.” Another strike and she was back on the ground. The cold of the water bit into her hands. They were scarred and dirtied from her punching the walls around her in an attempt to fight back this very event. Every time she hit the wall, she was hitting her lies. Now here she was, at that very moment she had dreaded, lying all over again to protect her shriveling pride. What were one’s choices if they weren’t defended?
Shepard stood again facing to the side of Jack. “Alright, alright,” she opened her palms. “Fine. I’ll come clean.” Jack visibly relaxed. Cera took the opening. She lunged at the convict hitting her beneath the ribs with the full force of her shoulders. Jack staggered back into the debris she’d created but recovered quickly as she brought her arms from her sides and forced Shepard back with a swing. Now off her, Shepard took a defensive stance. Before lying again, she figured she’d try literally fighting her opposition. Jack liked fighting, anyway.
Jack assumed her typical aggressive stance with bent legs and fists in front of her. Shepard hoped she wouldn’t cheat and send her flying into the wall with a biotic attack. She lucked out as Jack swung her left fist in a strong hook as she closed the space between her and Shepard. Shepard brought her opposing arm up to deflect the blow and her other hand to catch the fist coming from the other side. Jack surprised Shepard as she brought her forehead down onto Shepard knocking her back into the wall. With no time to recover, Jack raised and thrust a leg deep into Cera’s abdomen. The pressure made her cough blood the crimson liquid spattering Jack’s front. For a second, Shepard thought she saw fear in those eyes, but a fist to her face took the image from her.
“God dammit, Shepard!” Jack yelled as she grabbed Cera just before she fell into the broken sink. She expected another slam only to be clutched to Jack’s chest. Jack had her arms over Shepard’s and had them wrapped around her injured belly. “I fucking hate you.” The words came out distorted and quivering. While she expected a bout to do something, Shepard hadn’t necessarily anticipated this outcome. The two stood unmoving beside a wall for minutes. Shepard could feel Jack situate her head over Cera’s shoulder and something damp touched her skin.
“Just shut up you dirty liar. You hurt me.” Shepard coughed a laugh. Jack loosened her grip but still held the commander close.
“Oh yeah, you’re one to talk.”
“You’re right, I’m not.”
“Hey, you hurt me- wait what?” What? She’d expected another salvo of threats and insults. Too many surprises from one evening.
Jack leaned against the wall taking Shepard with her. She gripped Shepard’s grimy hands and squeezed them. “I haven’t been completely honest either, Shepard.” Cera said nothing, now not even interested in defending her infamous deceit. “You can’t hide what you and Liara did. But I didn’t make it any better.”
“Anything you did wouldn’t have-”
“I fucked Kelly.” Jack sat still after speaking.
Ok, wow, that’s quite the bombshell, Shepard thought to herself. Ms. Chambers had been one of her closest and most cherished friends on the SR-2. She trusted that girl with nearly everything. Though she was a bit flirtatious, she was honest and never faltered in her loyalty to Shepard and the crew. Hell, the two had shared many meals together. While Cera had never pursued anything with her, she still viewed Kelly as closer than a friend. Maybe a pen pal or something. And she thought she could have trusted the yeoman to not sleep with her girlfriend but apparently not. Why had Shepard never heard of this beforehand? She was Commander mother-fucking Shepard. Hero of the Citadel, defeater of Sovereign, savior of the colonies, defender of the galaxy, and if her best friend was being fucked behind her back she should damn well know about it.
“What?” Shepard blurted. The implications were mind-boggling. When did it happen? Did anyone else know? Those damn engineers probably did. Fucking liars hiding this from her. They’d get it for sure.
“I know she was your friend. That’s why I did it.” Shepard still couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Ok, yeah, she was having an affair with Liara, there, but it wasn’t like she and Jack were friends. They pretty much despised each other the minute they met. Granted, Shepard may have been the reason for that, but they still weren’t friends. How could Jack do this?
“Why?” She had so many questions but Cera could only voice the simplest.
“It was right after I found out about you and Liara.” What!? That soon!? Jack tightened her grip on the commander and continued. “I just caught Kelly the next deck down and dragged her to my hole. No one else figured it out.” Okay, now she didn’t have to kill the engineers. She just had to kill Kelly.
“When were you planning on telling me this?”
“When were you gonna tell me about Liara?” Jack accused. Shepard vaulted off of Jack and spun around to face her.
“No, that is not the same.”
“How isn’t it? You fucked her in her hole, I fucked Kelly in mine. Behind each other’s backs. It was revenge.”
“Revenge? Why didn’t you just break my limbs or something? Snapping bones always cheers you up.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you, not like that.”
“Oh, so breaking my heart was so much better?”
“You broke mine!” Shepard reeled at the statement. She truly had betrayed Jack. Her own ego prevented her from seeing reality. Now there was only one way to save the best thing in her life.
Shepard crossed her arms and looked away as the two stood in silence. Thoughts of what she could say swam through her head like a raging torrent. She needed to say something soon lest she lose Jack forever.
“I know now what I did was wrong-”
“No buts!” Jack interjected.
“No buts,” Shepard confirmed. Jack looked at her seemingly surprised. Cera continued before Jack could say more. “What I did was wrong, completely. I was… selfish to think I could have two lives. I can’t hold what you and Kelly did against her or you. It was justified; I see that, I just wish I could’ve seen it earlier.” Shepard needed to say more but her mouth had already dried.
Shepard eyed Jack’s reaction carefully hoping she’d said the right thing. The smaller woman just stood there, her arms at her sides, not blinking and looking through Shepard. Cera fidgeted while she waited for a more verbal response. Images flashed through her mind of Jack finally forgiving her actions, holding her, and telling her everything would be ok. She mentally laughed at that. Another set of images appeared depicting herself in tears as Jack strode from the prison not looking back. A far more likely scenario in her opinion but less favored.
Jack now had her arms over her chest and was scrutinizing Shepard. The tension in the room was finally cut as she spoke.
“I… didn’t think you’d say that. And my intuitions are never wrong. I expected to come here, fight, and leave you to rot. But now…” She turned her head as she stopped midsentence. The two scenarios wrestling in Shepard’s mind were now in conflict. Jack proceeded. “Maybe I misjudged you, Shepard. You hurt me, made me think you were just like every other fucker who let me down, but now I’m feeling like the bitch.” Shepard gulped hard. “We think we have everything under control and then everything gets torn apart by one thing. Me and you got some issues, Shepard. They gotta be fixed before we do anything else.” It was better than a no. Shepard nodded then turned her head to see the burly Vega coming around the corner.
“What the hell happened here?” He asked as he looked at the bars lying on the concrete in front of him. “And where’s-” He turned and saw Jack staring back at him nonchalantly, the room in near shreds and Shepard looking taciturn. “Hey! You’re not supposed to be in there!” shouted gesturing to Jack. She gave a lingering glance to Shepard before walking towards the space she’d created between the bars.
“I was just leaving.” Shepard sighed quietly. “Shepard,” Cera looked up eager for whatever jack had to say. “I won’t come looking for you but you’ll find me again one day. You’re good at that.” Without another word, she walked past the befuddled Vega and disappeared around the corner. Vega looked back at Shepard then to the carnage around her.
“Why did you only show up now?”
“Huh?” Vega seemed genuinely unaware of the events that had taken place here.
“There was a fight, some things were thrown, harsh words were said,” Shepard explained carefully wondering if her watch dog had heard anything that had transpired. He kept the same vacant look as her words rolled over her tongue.
“I was watching a game.” Shepard looked at him disdainfully. He certainly took his job seriously. “I didn’t even know about all this. But I gotta say, I’d be a lot more concerned about all this if you weren’t getting moved today.”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” It’d already been a month? The first thing she’d ask for in her new accommodations would be a calendar. “There’s a room across the wall where you can get cleaned up and put on your new clothes. We’re leaving in a shuttle in ten minutes. So I’ll just let you do that.” He shifted awkwardly. “I’ll meet you outside.” Incredibly lax for a guard. Maybe Anderson chose the wrong guy.
Shepard took the man’s advice and quickly showered then dressed in the casual Alliance fatigues that had mean laid out for her. They were a bit tight but would do until they reached the embassies. Shepard found Vega standing outside by the door with two other personnel beside him. Both were armed. Even though she was Commander Cera Shepard of the Normandy, she was still a prisoner. The two didn’t have their guns raised but she was sure they’d put them to good use if she resisted. She had no need to but a prisoner had the right to dream.
The trip was quiet. Sound dampener’s muffled the roaring outside. Since the exploitation of space travel, hover cars and transport crafts had all but replaced grounded automobiles. They had become far cheaper and easier to produce with the discovery of element zero and were far superior to the average car in more ways than one. But they weren’t silent. The skies of a major city were typically filled with the buzzing of traffic but here, in the military-grade transit shuttle, the outside world was but a whisper. The two men sent to assist in the retrieval of Shepard both sat stoically, face-plates shrouding their identities, watching Shepard intently for any wrong move. She doubted they thought that she would attempt escape but they knew protocol and followed it to the letter. Had they been under her command, they’d be receiving commendations.
Vega, while being a higher rank than them, had clearly been out of the military for some time. He was looking all around the shuttle’s cabin, checking his weapon, and giving to occasional glance to his charge. Cera assumed she’d being seeing much more of him in the following months.
The mass effect drive in the ship hummed down to near silence and the air stilled. When the ship had settled on the ground, the cabin doors parted and the four stepped out. Anderson was standing mere meters from the shuttle.
“Anderson,” Shepard shouted over the shuttles engine as it rose and flew away. “I didn’t expect to see you here.” Her voice leveled out as the sound of the sky cars grew distant. The two soldiers walked behind Shepard with Vega as she proceeded onward towards the embassies’ entrance. Anderson fell in step beside her. He chuckled lightly.
“Are you kidding? I live here.” Shepard smiled at the man. She would never tell anyone, but she wouldn’t be anywhere without him. He recommended her for the mission on Eden Prime, defended her statements about the beacon, helped her fight Saren, and finally fought back against the Council the send her off to Ilos. He stayed a close confidant even after she’d joined Cerberus never once doubting her intentions. He did all this in his belief in her. She truly owed him more than she could ever give.
“I’d imagine those bureaucrats give you hell every day.” The group reached the doors and entered the massive building. The air conditioning blasted Shepard in the face. It cooled her skin and gave her goose bumps. She’d missed it.
“Always are. But it’s nowhere near the hell I endured as councilor back on the Citadel. I’m thankful Udina was so happy to take the job in my place.”
“Wouldn’t a vorcha have been a better candidate,” Shepard jested. Anderson laughed.
“While we don’t necessarily agree on everything, I respect his ability to move things forward for humanity.” The group got to the front desk of the building where a young woman in military fatigues was stooped over a holo-pad. Anderson turned to the side. “I have to return to the delegations. I had to fight just to be able to meet you outside, but it was nice seeing you again, Shepard. We’ll have to pick this up later.” Shepard smiled at him.
“I look forward to it.”
Shepard’s new accommodations were about what she’d expected. A big room with a large view overlooking Vancouver, large bed, padded chairs, carpet, holo-display, even a minibar. Everything was clean perfect. Useless. She missed the concrete.
Vega was the only one who stayed when she entered the room and was now waiting inside the door way as she looked around.
“You have free reign to move almost anywhere across the building with my escort including the cafeteria and gym. My quarters are down the hall and I’ll be near during the duration of your incarceration.” His words flew out the other side of her head heedlessly. He’d done the same routine at the last cell. This one was the same but with a little more freedom. “I’ll be outside in case you need me, ma’am.” With that, he walked into the hall and shut the door behind him. Shepard let out a heavy sight and fell into a chair next to the window. She pulled at her collar until she could breath properly then discarded her dress shoes.
Nice clothes, warm meals, clean room, company, entertainment, limited freedom, and a great view: everything a prisoner could ask for. But she wanted none of it. What she wanted had walked from her sight hours ago. Her thoughts had been confined to the now, her military training keeping her thoughts in check while in the presence of others. But now she wondered when she would see her again.
Hope now rested in her mind where despair once was. No matter what happened here, what those delegations achieved, where the Council was headed, when the Reapers would finally arrive, nothing would keep her from finding Jack and righting her wrongs. She leaned back with a grin on her face.