Vasquez tugged uncomfortably at the side of her dress. She wasn't quite sure how she had been talked into wearing it, and she felt ridiculous as she moved down the aisle. But the goofy grin on Jason's face when he saw the flowing white garment was more than worth it. When he had proposed it had been many years since she had thought about marriage. And it was not since she was little that she had ever considered such a traditional wedding, and yet, here she was. It had been a long road, but it was time to settle down. Time to live in peace. Above, in the sky, was the massive transparent dome that covered Lowell City, shielding it from dust storms and radiation. Not the most hospitable planet, even after so many years colonized. But Mars was home. And it was good to be back.
When she reached Jason she turned to look at her father, giving his hand a squeeze before he stepped back behind her. He was a short, kind-looking man with brown hair and a comb-over that did little to conceal his balding head. Her mother was sitting on the front row of the benches arranged in the park. She looked younger than she should, but Vasquez dwelled little on it. A stern-looking woman with long black hair tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing her work clothes. A lab coat. But she was smiling for once. It was nice to see. Markus was next to her, in his Alliance dress uniform. She was glad he had been able to make it. The rest of the guests were a blur. It was not really important anyway.
She turned her gaze to Jason. He looked stunning in his suit, and when she met his gaze she could not help but mirror his grin. The Officiant started speaking, but she was hardly paying attention. Her focus was entirely on Jason. His uncle was standing behind him, rather than his mother. Things moved along as if in an instant, and suddenly she found herself smiling widely, looking down she placed the ring on Jason's finger, and he did the same. His touch was soft and warm. She flinched as she felt a cold gust of wind, and rain splashing against her face. As she looked up the dome was obscured by dark gray clouds. Rain was pouring all around them. She recoiled as she felt a stabbing pain in her temple, and Jason's hand was immediately gripping her arm, asking her what was wrong.
She could feel herself holding something heavy, and as she looked down she was shocked to see the shotgun in her hands, and she stared in disbelief as a shot thundered from the weapon, her fiancé staggering back as his arm was severed at the shoulder, blood spraying her dress. She tried desperately to stop herself as she took aim at his other shoulder, but it was useless. Another loud shot and Jason collapsed in a pool of blood and rainwater. Suddenly in control of her arms again, Vasquez tossed the weapon aside, rushing to his side and kneeling down. The guests were gone. The park was gone. Tall, menacing spiked trees surrounded them.
"Jason? Jason! Just stay with me, just-... Oh God, I'm so sorry... I-... I-... no... just-..."
In a flash of movement something grabbed her throat in a vice-like grip. Jason. Metallic limbs had emerged in place of the ones she had just removed. With a blank look on his face he stood up, keeping her in a chokehold as he lifted her up into the air. At first she struggled, wriggling and doing her best to pry the hand open, with no success. When she saw the betrayal, the disgust, the hate in his eyes she stopped, her arms falling to her sides even as her vision started to blur. What was the point? She knew she had it coming.
"...d-... do it... I deserve it..."
Li stumbled as she hurried across the uneven terrain of the forest. A spiked tree scraped her shoulder and she felt tears well up from the pain. A glance at her arm and she saw blood trickling from the scratch.
"Mom? Mom! Where are you?"
She was cold. And afraid. Her jacket was soaked in rain. She knew she had to keep going. She had to find Mom. Dad had said so. The forest surrounded her on all sides. Dark, never-ending. They had always told her she should not go there. But when the bad people had come Dad had told her to run as fast as she could. That she would be safe if she found Mom. When she ran she had seen Dad get shot by one of the bad people. A towering figure in dark armor and a head adorned in strange patterns.
She kept moving. Over rocks and roots. Stumbling again and again. Crawling.
"Mom!" she cried again, tears streaming down her mud-covered face. At the sound of a branch snapping behind her she turned and saw her mother standing there, on the edge of the woods, smiling and arms outstretched. Spirits lifted Li hurried towards the familiar face. It changed as she drew closer. Tan skin fading into blue, long black hair giving way to alien crests. But it didn't matter.
She hugged Mom, and knew everything would be okay.
Li awoke in bed. It was a comfortable bed. She lived in a new place now. The trees were different here, and there was a huge moon in the sky. She liked to sit and look at it. She lived with Mom, and her friends. It was still dark, but before she could go back to sleep she heard a noise in the living room. Something moving. Skittering. Crawling. Nervously she slipped out of bed. The floor was cold. She snuck quietly towards the doorway, and out into the living room. Her eyes went wide with terror as she saw it. A huge black spider was crawling across Mom, who was sleeping on the couch.
Terrified that it would spot her she crept over to the kitchen and grabbed the largest knife she could find. She knew she had to keep Mom safe. Dad had told her that too. When she came back to the living room it saw her. Eight red eyes glowing brightly in the dark of the night. She couldn't let it hurt Mom. Summoning all her courage she charged at the monster, plunging the blade deep into its gut. It let out a horrible screech that bled into an overwhelming, booming metallic bellow. Everything turned silent as it fell to the floor, long legs curling up against its body. Mom awoke, startled, looking at Li with terror in her eyes. As Li looked down she saw her pyjamas stained with blood. Red blood.
Her gaze turned to the monster, but it wasn't there. Johnny was. He was lying on the floor, a pool of blood around him and a blank look on his face. The kitchen knife was sticking out of his chest.
Darkness. Absolute blackness. Jason's eyes struggled to adjust to the pitch black of the living quarters. Was he in bed still? No, he was standing. His eyes looked down to the heavy weight in his hands. His Revenant. Why? Suddenly, as if a spotlight had been turned on from above, the center of the room exploded with light. No, this wasn't right at all. This wasn't his home. He was in some sort of... lab? Sensitive equipment beeped and fizzled all around him. A ping to his left. A buzz to his right. But the center of the room was empty. No, not just empty. Hollow. Something was missing. A million questions flooded his mind. How did he get here? Where is 'here'?
The lightsource died out just as quickly as it appeared, bathing the room in darkness once again. Jason's hand shot towards his forearm, pushing the sleep out of his mind as he rushed to activate the headlamp on his hardsuit. Unbelievable! As a surge of light rushed from his helmet, it was as if the lab had aged a hundred years in an instant. Everything was destroyed. Rusted. Forgotten. A small puddle sat in the center of the room, pulsing as each new drop of water rained down from a crack in the ceiling above. A metallic object- resembling a spider of sorts- began to rise from the puddle.
"No-.... No, no no!" Jason called out, his voice trembling at the sight of the artifact. "I'm not supposed to be here!" he shouted. There was no echo. No reverberation. Almost as if the darkness flooding in from every side simply swallowed his words. A noise creaked out from the darkness. A grinding, metallic sound. Low and distant at first, but it grew louder and closer with each passing second. He found himself having trouble pinpointing where it was coming from. First it flooded in from the left, causing Jason to swing the heft of his weapon towards it, then to his right. Before long, the sound was ringing on all sides. Then... nothing. Was the darkness moving? It slowly encroached on Jason from all sides, pushing him ever closer to the artifact in the center of the room. It was thick. He could almost grab it as it twisted and writhed towards him like small tendrils of blackness. It filled his visor, finding little trouble passing right through the protective material. He opened his mouth to scream, but it too was soon filled. The darkness stole his cries for help before they could escape.
He suddenly found himself feeling heavy. Impossibly heavy. Then weightless. A moment passed. Then another. In an instant, his vision returned and he was standing in a dark circle, an absess surrounded on all sides by the darkness once more. A slit of light broke the darkness, slicing in from somewhere behind Jason and he raced to meet it head on, though no matter how much he pumped his legs, they refused to take him forward. The light flickered like a lamp losing power. No, it was a lamp. The lamp on the nightstand beside his bed.
"Jason." a voice called out softly, echoing in the darkness. It was distorted at first, but even through the metallic tint it was unmistakably Vasquez, "What are you doing?"
The darkness pulsed to the sound of her voice. He was in his room. In his home. In their home.
"Linda!?" his paniced voice replied, "Where are you!?"
"I'm right here, you idiot. What's wrong?" she asked, stepping forward from the darkness opposite of him. The dark liquid seemed to retreat from all around her. Sharp tendrils of black wiggled and darted away just beyond her.
"You-... you have to get out of here! You have to run! Now!" he urged her. "Please! Just go!"
The metallic groaning sounded out once again. It was coming from above. Jason craned his neck upwards as the ceiling folded back like a piece of fruit being peeled. A silhouette began to descend from above, arms outstretched to its sides like some sort of divine figure.
"Where am I going to go?" Vasquez asked with a sigh, "Come on, Jason. Just come back to bed. You were just having a bad dream." It was only now that Jason noticed the artifact, mere feet away from Vasquez in the center of the room. Watching as if this was all just a stage play for its amusement.
Jason's attention quickly shifted from the approaching figure to the artifact.
"Get away from it, Linda!" he urged, "Please! Please! You have to go! I-... I can't protect you from it if you stay!"
The soft, sweet, calming voice of an asari sounded out to his left as the divine figure reached the ground. Jason couldn't make out what she was saying. It was in a language long forgotten to time. But it was soothing. Elegant. The figure was an asari. Sickly gray in color with lightning-shaped facial markings. Red cybernetics pulsed across her skin in tune with her words. A second voice, more metallic in nature accompanied hers. Overlapped hers, almost as if it wasn't even coming from her. Drowned in the same groaning he heard before, the voice echoed in his mind. Unlike the asari's, however, this voice was clear, translating her words for her.
"Oh, my sweet child." it said as the asari tilted her head sympathetically, "You cannot protect them. You never could." The voice sounded sad. Understanding. Forgiving. "Just as you could not protect-..." A storm of names filled his head, all overlapping each other like metal gears grinding atop one another.
The names flooded his mind. Some old, from a life long before Vasquez. Soldiers he barely even knew who died in the line of duty. And then a single name, somehow more pronounced than the others.
Jason's breathing began to grow heavy, struggling to suck each breath in through his nose. The weight of the Revenant in his hands felt like little more than a feather as he pointed it at the asari, but his muscles betrayed him. They tightened, constricting all throughout his body, refusing to allow him to pull the trigger. The asari smiled. A kind, heartfelt smile. His trigger finger snapped back away from the trigger guard hard, but the sound of his bones shattering were muffled by the impenetrable darkness, as was the scream accompanying it. Vasquez continued to speak as if nothing was wrong, though her voice was drowned out. Little more than a faint whisper in the distance as her lips continued to move.
The voice called out to him and, as if made of tissue paper, his armor began peeling back. First his helmet, slowly working its way down to his chest as the metal and mesh undersuit turned to dust.
"All of them." the voice continued, sounding almost apologetic. No, it didn't sound like anything. It was a feeling. A pulse emanating from deep in his head.
It should have been impossible to hear it all. To understand it all. All of the information flooding in at once. But somehow it was clear as day.
"It will be."
"All of them."
His armor gave way to flesh and bone, unrelenting as the metal broke away from his arms. His Revenant shattered into thousands of pieces and then dissipated into absolute nothingness. A calmness came over the room and he tried to focus on Vasquez. On her moving lips. On what she was trying to say. Nothing. And then a sharp pain in his shoulders was punctuated by the resounding return of the loud, metallic groaning. It somehow sounded more menacing. More threatening. Two metal tubes erupted from his shoulders, pushing down his arms like steel vipers as they slithered round-and-round. Everything they touched hardened until both of his arms were sleek, grey, cybernetic limbs. Vasquez' mouth continued to move as if nothing was out of place to her while the steel snakes dropped to the floor and slithered off into the darkness.
"No!" Jason screeched, his metallic hand reaching for the Phalanx holstered at his thigh.
"You will only hurt them." the voice foretold.
And as if his muscles obeyed the voice's will, he found himself unable to bring his aim towards the asari. He bit down hard as he felt an otherwordly force come over him, urging the pistol towards Vasquez. Towards the woman he loved. Towards his wife-to-be. Towards his unborn child. There was no change in expression on Vasquez' face as the pistol slowly turned towards her. Her lips continued to whisper in silence.
"NO! I-... I WON'T DO IT!" Jason insisted, quietly begging his muscles to obey him.
Vasquez' hand moved to her belly and it instantly began to grow larger. In a matter of seconds, it was as if she was nine months pregnant. Jason's hands shook. His legs quivered as he mustered up every ounce of strength he could to resist the will of the voice. His left hand reached across to grasp his right wrist, each movement a battle of its own, sapping his strength.
"You... won't.... control.... me...." Jason spat as he wrestled the pistol upwards, inching the barrel away from Vasquez and up under his own chin. A stream of tears poured forth from his eyes.
The voice boomed, both from within Jason and without.
"Noooooooooooooooo!" the voice thundered, "You will obey me!"
His finger inched towards the trigger as he resisted the staggering force pulling his hand, attempting to wrench the barrel from against his lower jaw. His finger twitched in place, unable to pull the trigger. His eyes shifted back to Vasquez as she continued to carry on a one-sided conversation, entirely oblivious to everything taking place around her. His gaze lowered to her belly. To the child he would do anything to protect.
"You cannot do this! I will not allow it!" the metallic voice echoed in his head.
A lopsided grin crossed Jason's face as he took one last long look at Vasquez. The pull of the asari seemed to weaken. He wouldn't allow it to hurt Vasquez. To hurt his child. His index finger slid into the trigger guard.
Jason sat straight up, sweat pooling around his forehead despite the cold winter air. He had kicked his covers off and knocked his pillow aside, but that didn't matter. His gaze immediately shot to his side. To the figure laying in bed with him. Vasquez. She was fine. It was just a dream. He swallowed hard, scooting closer to it as he slid back beneath the blankets. His breath was laboured and uneven, as if he had just ran a marathon. He wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his hand on her stomach as he pressed his face against the nape of her neck, taking in the familiar smell of her hair. He matched the curve of her body with his own, like two puzzle pieces clicking together, and kissed her neck softly.
"I love you." he whispered. A soft, mid-sleep smacking of her lips was the only response. But it was enough.
Yan Sun felt cold. The dining room was always too chilly. She wasn’t even convinced that it was the actual temperature. The furnishing was so frigid. Impersonal. Rain was smattering against the expansive glass roof. The gray clouds cast a gloomy light in the room. If she looked to the right she would be gazing out over the Hong Kong skyline through the massive, room-wide window. She had missed her city. Part of her had even missed this place. Her attention was pulled to the other end of the table as her father spoke. The table was longer than she remembered, but she had no trouble hearing him. He was wearing his suit, as always. Her mother was there too, standing behind him. She was in her favorite dress.
“I gave you everything you wanted.” he said with a sigh, a weary disappointment in his face. “Anything you asked for. Your education, your sims, your computers… the shuttle. The only thing I asked for in return, the one thing, was that you be a good daughter. That you would one day continue my legacy. My father’s legacy. What our family built.”
Yan Sun looked down at her plate, unable to face him. She prodded her food in silence.
“Instead what did you do? You neglected your studies, started misbehaving, stealing, disappearing for days. You threw away everything you had and brought shame to your family because you allowed that dyke to poison your mind!”
She flinched as her father raised his voice, wanting desperately to speak up in defense of herself, of her actions, of Changying and her feelings for her, but the words wouldn’t come to her, her initial urge to outrage giving way to shame over disappointing her father, and disgust over her own actions. There was something wrong with her, wasn’t there? Was there any meaning to the things she’d done? Had her relationship with Changying been genuine? Or had it just been to rebel? To upset her father in the ways she knew would hurt most?
Her mother stepped forward then, placing a hand on her father’s shoulder to calm his anger, only sadness and worry in her eyes.
“We only wanted what was best for you… you know that, don’t you? We tried to help… but you only pushed us away. You refused to listen, and she hurt you. Now you have gone across the galaxy to get away… left behind the people that love you for a life of uncertainty and danger. We don’t even know if you’re alive. I hope every day that you will reach out… it is not too late to make things right. You can still come home.”
Yan Sun felt tears welling up in her eyes,, overcome with guilt. “Mother, I-... I’m sorry, I never-...” was all she managed before her father interrupted.
“You see how your disappearance has hurt your mother? Is this how you would treat your parents, after everything we have done for you? And now you have run right into the arms of the next perverted thug that would have you. Did I not raise my daughter better than that? You know she is just using you, do you not? She would sell you in a heartbeat if the price was right. You are a fool and a degenerate, not the sweet, brilliant girl we loved. You have made your choice, and you are not welcome any longer.”
For probably the third night in a row the same habit began to appear. His omnitool shuffled through the same somber music without direction as bottles emptied and emptied until tossed increasingly haphazardly aside. It was approaching the end of another month in his despondent setup in the small apartment, the single window bearing the frost of another cold night in the making. In contrast to the norm he might make it out of the house to a get together, an invitation to which he’s still not sure how he managed. And he might’ve made it there, too, if he hadn’t noticed that damn tear on the wall.
Pulling himself up off the couch, he skirts the island countertop as he shambles unsteadily into the kitchenette. There, far above the sink, was a tear that had stained the otherwise impeccably untouched walls of his impersonal home. Despite the fact that his feet caused small avalanches of garbage and glass as he walked, something in his inebriated mind become unflinchingly focused on that one, small imperfection and sought to correct it.
With unsteady hands, one of which still clutching the half empty bottle of ale, he hoists himself onto the sink, eyes fixed on the source of all his current woes. Balanced on crouched legs, he reaches up to snatch it off the wall, hissing his displeasure.
The swipe of his arm proves too much for his careful balance and his feet slip out from under him. Too inebriated to stop himself from falling, he crumples awkwardly, slamming the side of his head on the countertop as he tumbles to the hard floor. The sound of glass shattering is drowned out by the intense rushing in his mind as his vision quickly tunnels into darkness.
Zaylus finds himself sitting at a booth in the familiar Miner’s Respite, his arms laying limply on the table in front of him. Though the restaurant is nearly empty save for a few hunched people at the bar, the din of chatter is nearly overwhelming. Conversation hangs heavy in the air like standing water, and the turian looks down between his outstretched hands. Sitting on the table is an overturned drinking glass, filled most of the way with a dark substance, presumably liquor. Not a drop has spilled onto the table, and it's unclear how it ended up in this orientation.
“Ugh, seriously.” Zaylus mutters in mild exasperation, raising his hands to encircle the drink, cocking his head as he considers how to deal with this situation. As he’s uselessly shifting his fingers around, a tall figure approaches to his left. A man, human. He appears to be in a much darker place than the rest of the Respite, his face barely visible. One hand rests on his hip while the other reaches out to point at the turian’s drink.
“Did you order it neat?” He asks, barely audible above the noise.
“No, was I supposed to?” Zaylus replies without looking.
“You should’ve ordered it neat.” The man says.
Zaylus grunts, looking up at the bar. “I hate this new bartender.” He mutters, shooting a glare at the Hanar behind the counter, who is doling out drinks in the incorrect orientation to seemingly indifferent patrons.
“I’m only coming here when Va’ynna is working.” Zaylus decides.
“What do you think of her?”
“What do I think of Va’ynna?”
“That asari, what do you think of her?”
The man once again points, this time at Zaylus himself.
“That’s right.” He nods, waving a hand as he turns to leave.
Zaylus, having avoided his gaze through their brief encounter, turns to watch the man leave with an increasingly unsettled expression. Shaking it away, he once again returns focus to the glass, carefully setting his talons along the outside and gingerly lifting. The cup slides up with ease. The liquid, instead of spilling over the table, retains its shape, rippling lightly once the casing is entirely gone.
Zaylus drops the glass at once, clasping his hands to the sides of his head. With a distressed whine he rises from his seat and fastwalks toward the exit.
“I hate this fucking planet.” He mutters.
The chatter ceases as soon as he touches the door, and he nudges it open and pushes outside, fully expecting the chill of winter. Instead, the sun shines brightly and a warm breeze blows around him. It appears to be the middle of summer, and despite being just outside the bar, the land before him is rather bare and open. He turns around, expecting the doors of the Respite but finds only an open road with a distant structure up ahead. He looks over his shoulder once more, again finding nothing but the empty road.
“Am I late?” He murmurs, bringing up his omni-tool to check the time. Instead of the regular interface, he sees only his own puzzled reflection.
“I’m sure I still have time.” He assures himself, setting off down the road. The building comes up in his path much faster than expected, going from a mile off to directly in front of him in five or six paces. It registers with him now that he’s standing in front of the Redrock building, its doors already open. He cautiously steps inside, looking all around him. It’s deathly quiet, a layer of dust adorning every surface and fixture. His footsteps echo irritating loud as he makes his way further into the building, making it difficult to hear the stirring from inside Jason’s office. As he passes the doorway he sees movement inside, and leans back to investigate.
A broad shouldered man sorts through boxes inside, his back to the door and the turian.
Zaylus straightens himself in the doorway. The man doesn’t turn around.
“I just got turned around.” The turian lies.
“No, you didn’t. Hurry out the back. They’re waiting for you.”
“Oh. Alright. Sure.” Zaylus lingers in the doorway, but the human seems to be too engrossed in his work to give him a glance.
The turian shuffles toward the hangar, his footsteps sounding like choral laughter. He presses his hands to his head in irritation, shutting his eyes as he passes through the next door.
In rushes a whole word of sounds, the brightness that blinds him separating into many different points of light. Many voices, varied in tone and volume, stream past him as pedestrians weave around him like a stone in a moving river. They are guided and directed by an alleyway of markets, storefronts, and street vendors, ever backdropped by molded metal walls and stained glass panels. Colored and flickering lights call attention to all the goods and services you could ever wish for, and some you generally wouldn’t.
He wills a step forward, the dull metal thud feeling more natural to him than anything else. He ventures a few more, and a street preacher calls upon him to take heed and listen as he reflexively ignores the zealot, picking up his pace to turn a sharp corner to his left. The shops thin out as the streets narrows, and passerbys grow thinner and more relaxed as the din of the busy street begins to fade.
Up ahead, an already familiar chain of landmarks fill the proverbial checklist in his mind. First, a batarian man stands guard outside an open door, straightening up and glaring malevolently as the turian passes. Then, faded signage for some backdoor shows, with questionable legitimacy. Finally, a curved turn with yellow painted arrows, navigational markers he runs his talons along as the street leads him into the curve.
There, sitting in the entryway of a meager workshop is a scrawny, young human. His unwashed blonde hair has been repeated dirtied by uninhibited mechanic work, and his hands bare even more evidence of a filthy lifestyle.
The man perks up as Zaylus comes into view, slapping his hands on the ground and pushing himself to his feet.
“There he is!” He declares, as if he had been expecting him. “My friend, it’s good to see you!”
The human hops down into the street, reaching up to grasp his friend’s shoulders as he beams a warm smile at him.
Zaylus beams right back down at him, the gentle face of an old friend bringing him right back to this place and time. He reaches up to briefly grasp the human’s wrists, to which he nods and releases his shoulders, the greeting complete.
“Kent!” A burly human inside the shop bellows, holding his arms out in a questioning gesture. Behind him other men laugh and wave dismissively toward the doorway.
“Ah, let him go. He can’t keep his head on straight today, we’ll get this done sooner without him.” One man insists, lifting his goggles to inspect Kent and the turian as he pauses his work.
The foreman quickly relents, waving Kent away as he shakes his head good-naturedly. “Get the fuck out, kid.” He quips, the attention quickly returning to their respective jobs. Kent laughs freely, snapping a hand up to his forehead to give a haphazard salute. “Thanks! I’ll be in early tomorrow, I promise!” He insists, ignoring the grunts of dismissal as he waves for his friend to follow.
Snickering to himself, Zaylus gives the disinterested workers a brief wave as they set off together down the street.
Kent leads the way, hopping up and down on raised walkways as he chatters on about the workshop talk, what’s been going on in the neighborhood since they last spoke, and whatever vid series they both indulge in. He is an animated, lively young man, roughly Zaylus’ own age but very young and very old in a lot of ways.
Zaylus, not much of a conversationalist, allows his friend to do most of the talking, offering short affirmations that he understands, or that yes, he is listening. It’s a comfortable, relaxed exchange, as it almost always is, even if conversation is sometimes interrupted by a confusing turn or a pack of irritated vorcha. Eventually the tight, sprawling neighborhood opens out into a row of market stalls, replete with countless conversations, enticing smells of cooked food, and the hot air of many beings in close quarters.
With practiced ease Kent navigates the dense crowd, dragging the turian in tow as he comes up upon a favored food vendor, pointing up at the menu instead of shouting over the din. An aging turian, white apron tied around her waist, points back at the pair and nods, preparing two variants of the same dish.
Zaylus’ attention drifts into the crowd, to the multitude of persons rushing past, or just wandering aimlessly. A well dressed man, moving slowly. A touch of red.
A nudge at his side takes his eyes back to Kent, who is holding out a shallow container of noodles, another tucked in his other hand. He takes the bowl, nodding his gratitude in the crowded space. Kent smiles wide, cocking his head in the direction he leads, out of the markets and into a quiet alleyway.
He can’t be sure how long they sat there in that narrow bend, eating and chatting. Somewhere just out of sight a group of children laugh and tease each other, but never come into view. No one passes between them as they sit opposite the small street. Eventually their conversation reaches a natural end, and Zaylus lets his mind and gaze drift somewhere off his companion. Kent, sensing the distraction starts to fidget and quickly brings up his omni-tool, feigning surprise as it lets out a little chime.
Kent runs a hand through his hair, looking up at the turian whose attention he’s retaken. “I nearly forgot, I promised to watch my friend’s place while she’s out. I should be heading over there…”
As Zaylus prepares to depart, Kent reaches out to stay him with an open hand. “Wait! I mean… do you want to come with me? I’ll just be sitting there by myself if you don’t.” He admits, casting a hopeful glance at his friend.
The turian cocks his head at him, “You never even want to go to your place.”
“This is different!” Kent declares, hopping to his feet and motioning for Zaylus to follow.
He does, but not before giving his friend a less than serious glare.
Kent only laughs, setting off down the street with joyful laughter. Zaylus obediently follows, his mandibles flaring in a smile.
“Come on, this way.” Kent directs, taking the turian by the wrist and leading him down a corridor. Now elevated somewhat from the main streets, front doors of expansive apartments are staggered on either side. Well dressed asari pass them on the right, giving the two long looks as they weave through the complex. Eventually reaching the end of a hallway, Kent stops at a locked door, raising up a keycard with pride before displaying it for the doorlock.
The door slides open with a mechanical whir, opening into a small entrance area that precedes the spacious layout of the apartment. As promised the accommodations are obviously upscale, the modern and luxurious feeling of the home speaking to the status of its owner. The entrance area leads out into a full kitchen area with an extended sitting area immediately to the left. Further back into the apartment is a dining area that holds a large windowed view of Omega. More closed doors are on either side, no doubt more rooms in the same apartment.
Kent steps inside and spins around, holding his arms out as he waits for the turian’s reaction. “What did I tell ya? Don’t ask what she does to afford this place.” He laughs, swinging over to the kitchen and inspecting the collection of bottles on the counter.
Zaylus wanders into the sitting area, picking up a small ornamental varren statue and turning it over in his hands.
“I’m pretty sure she’s got some dextro stuff sitting around. Let me- ah, here’s some!” Kent remarks, scooping up a bottle of liquor and turning it over to read the label.
“Why does your friend have dextro stuff?” Zaylus asks absently, inspecting the sharp teeth on the statue.
“I think she’s got a turian boyfriend. Or did, anyway. I can’t keep up with them.” Kent shrugs, searching through the cupboards for drinking glasses.
Suddenly interested, Zaylus turns sharply toward the kitchen, squinting his eyes in thought. “Your friend… she’s a-”
“Asari.” Kent answers quickly, holding up a hand. “She’s… yeah.” Suddenly flustered, he hides the reddening in his cheeks by busying himself with the drinks.
Lingering on the human, Zaylus carefully sets the statue down and crosses into the kitchen. He sides up behind the human, leaning one hand against the counter and giving him a suspicious look. Kent nearly jumps back, almost spilling the drinks in his hands. “Christ, man!”
Zaylus laughs indulgently, earning a upset glare from the human.
“Here.” Kent offers the turian the dextro variant, his grin quickly beginning to return.
“She’s got a lot of vids. You ever seen Love on Illium?”
“You’re gonna love it. Promise.”
No matter how many times he relived the memory he never grew to appreciate the second tier romance film as much as his companion hoped and assured him he would. The ultra cheesy mush of the vid might've also offended some part of his increasingly fragile masculinity if it weren't for the enraptured look on his friends face each time they reached the climax of the story. So he held his tongue and indulged him then, and every time that day repeated in his dreams, out of respect for his friend.
When another round of Love on Illium had come to an end, a broadcast made easier to swallow with several glasses of high content alcohol, the pair simply sat on different bends of an angled couch. After an intense explanation of the finer details of the film, the conversation eventually wandered in a different direction.
“Anyway, that guy, the one who plays Justus, the turian? He’s from Omega! Isn’t that cool?” Kent chatters on without hesitation, inebriation slurring his words just enough to be noticeable.
Zaylus, more adept at holding his liquor, looks on in indulgent appreciation of his friends drunkenness.
“That’s what I want to do.” Kent continues wistfully, letting his head rest against the back of the couch.
“Play a turian in a shitty movie?” Zaylus teases, already bracing for the sharp rejoinder.
“Shitty?!” Kent demands, slapping his limp hand against the turian’s leg, finding the hard carapace doing more harm to himself and pulling back. Quickly forgetting the injustice, he lets his head lull back into the comfortable position.
“I want to be an actor, man. Make it big, be in all the vids. Don’t you think that’d be the coolest thing ever?”
Zaylus returns a less than interested noise, gaining a hard, albeit unsteady stare from the human.
“What?” The turian questions incredulously.
“Do you have dreams, Vel?”
“Do I have dreams?”
“Do you have any fucking dreams? I’m gonna need you to level the playing field a little bit.” Kent decides, shakily pouring himself a fresh drink.
“I don’t think you can handle any more.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“You’re here, man. You made it to Omega. God damn fuckin’ Omega. Now what are you going to do? What did you come here for?” Kent presses the issue, strangely and suddenly intent on his makeshift interrogation. Zaylus, too young and naive, and perhaps too comfortable with his friend, is unable to feel defensive, only thoughtful.
“I don’t know…” Zaylus murmurs, lightly rolling his shoulders. “It’s all… so much more than I thought it would be.” He confides in his friend, a sharp liquor and amiability loosening his tongue.
“I feel like… like I’m out here looking for something. They say turians belong in groups, maybe it's that kind of thing, I don’t know.”
The thoughtful silence lingers for a few moment longer before the turian continues, almost ashamed.
“I’m going to see what that group is all about.”
Hissing in disapproval, Kent leans forward and opens his hands to his friend.
“Please, Vel. You know I think that’s a shitty idea.”
“I know it’s not exactly…” Finding the end of that statement bitter to the taste, he shakes it away, and continues to justify.
“It’s Omega. No one is exactly clean out here. Like you! What are you getting so righteous for?” Zaylus turns the question back, feeling increasingly motivated to rationalize his decisions.
“I don’t hurt people.” Kent hisses through his teeth, narrowing his eyes. “Are you gonna start killing people who step on your territory?”
“I’m not going to kill anyone.”
“That’s not something you can promise. You practically just got here- you haven’t seen what those guys do! It’s a shitty fucking idea, Vel!”
Unconvinced, Zaylus sniffs and turns his head away dismissively.
Eyes boring into his friend, the human’s expression turns toward pleading.
“Come with me.”
“I’m serious. Join me in the shop, or-”
“I don’t know anything about that shit!”
“I can teach you, or there’s other things you can do! Logistics and scout-”
Zaylus holds up a hand, staying his friend’s drunken rambling but not the hopeful gaze in his eyes.
“I don’t know anything about what you do. You never wanted to tell me. Now you’re trying to offer me a job? What the hell are you talking about?”
Nervously pulling at his thumb, Kent looks down at his feet.
“I don’t want you to go with those guys.” He murmurs, honesty spilling out of him before he can think to stop it. To protect himself.
“No, please hear me Vel.”
Forcing himself to meet Zaylus’ eyes, he presses on. Drunkenness slows his tongue but the words are unmistakably sincere.
“I’ve… I’ve seen what this place can do to people. I’ve been here all my life. People come here and it… it gets into their heads. It doesn’t ever let go. They don’t notice until it's too late, or they’re dead.”
Zaylus flinches slightly, increasingly unsettled by the intensity in his friend’s voice but frozen to the spot. Kent presses on, unabated.
“Some people just can’t handle it, and those people want it the most.”
Kent sighs bitterly, his face pained and conflicted.
“I’ve seen it happen over and over again… to my friends… to people I loved.”
Zaylus’ jaws part, his response smothered by Kent’s hurried addition.
“Please, just, think about it. You could have a good life, I know it. I know you.”
Zaylus, overwhelmed by the display of emotion, shakes his head softly in response, and slowly rises.
“I should get out of here.” He murmurs.
“I’ll see you around.”
The turian makes his way to the door in a blur as Kent stands and extends a staying hand.
“Wait. Just… be safe. I-”
“Don’t worry about it.”
The mechanical slide of the door cuts off any further sentiment. Zaylus hops the stairs two at a time and hurries off down the side street, the lights and sounds blending together as a static rises in his head.
The people move by faster now, barely registering in his peripheral as the pained expression of his friend plagues his mind’s eye. Unable to stop or see where he’s going, his foot catches and sends him sprawling helplessly to the ground, scrambling backwards against a hard metal wall as he takes his miserable head in his hands, the rising static becoming unbearable.
The assault of buzzing soon becomes varied, and Zaylus catches the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Then, shouting. The sound of bodies dropping against sand. The metal under his back becomes hot and jagged, the solid foundation under his legs crumbling into shifting dirt. Prying his eyes open, the sensation of battle comes crashing down on him.
The hot sun beats down from a cloudless sky, blinding him. Rolling up onto his knees, he can make out the forms of armored figures crouching behind rocky outcroppings, peeking up and diving down with the rhythm of gunfire. He himself is pressed up against a jutting boulder, providing him shelter against the onslaught of bullets.
“Are you in this fight or not?” A voice yells from behind him, prompting him to look down at the pistol in his hand. His weary mind considers the object for several long seconds, before he lets it fall from his limp hand and stick itself in the sand.
“What the hell are you doing?” Another voice demands as he places both hands atop the rocky shield, drawing himself up to full height. He cannot see his enemies, but each bullet that whizzes past leaves a streak in the air he can almost reach out and touch.
“Get down, you fucking moron!” Yet another voice screams, the sound of it slurred and distant in his mind. Slowly, as if moving at half speed, Zaylus steps out from his outcropping, his talons dragging over the rock as he charges into the hail of gunfire. More screams and shout come from all around, but they no longer make it past the shallow surface of his understanding. A kind of tunnel vision closes in over his eyes, all that’s clear are the bullet paths and the distant blurs of light they appear to emanate from. It feels like a small eternity in those few steps he makes, before being cut down by enemy fire. The visible paths make this anticipated, each streak ending its life in Zaylus’ chest. The sensation of being kicked sends him to his knees, a spreading tightness in his chest giving him the feeling of losing breath. In equally slow fashion, the turian falls to the ground, twisting to land on his back, staring up at the sky.
A coldness creeps into his limbs, his vision blurring in from the edges. Tearfully he tries to blink it away. In that moment the battle vanishes, and stonely silence once again takes its place.
Snow, not sand, is what surrounds him now, fluffy and perfectly white, cradling his fallen form. The pain in his chest persists until he looks down at himself, finding no wounds of any kind. Blearily he gazes around himself, blankets of snow greeting him to every horizon. Hardy bare trees in tight groups occasionally break up the expanse. The sky is dark, the plains of white barely illuminated by some unseen moon. He huffs, bringing himself back up to his knees, and then shakily to his feet. A familiar cold creeps into his fingers and toes. He plods forward numbly, heading for the nearest patch of trees.
The steady crunch of snow under his feet is an unexpected companion. His talons run gently over the stripped bark of the trees, brushing away some of the snow that has settled there. He doesn’t linger long. In his mind’s eye he can see leaving these trees behind and coming upon…
He can’t remember. But he can trudge a little faster. Picking up the pace, he drags his way through the snow, the small grove growing smaller in his quick glances until it can no longer be seen.
“What is happening to me?” He whimpers softly.
“Don’t you recognize this place?” A gentle voice replies, echoing from somewhere behind him.
Zaylus’ eyes widen and he whips his head around, scanning the empty horizon for the speaker.
The voice only gives a soft chuckle in response.
Wearily, he lets his gaze drift back in front of him.
“Please… Have I been here before?” He asks, barely above a whisper.
“A long time ago.” The voice somberly replies.
“But I don’t remember.”
“You tried to forget.”
Zaylus numbly considers the statement, rolling through the reel of his memory and coming up short. As he is about to question the voice again, a grey mass off to his side catches his eye. He turns to scrutinize the contrasting picture, barely more than a speck in his vision. With newfound strength he bids himself to rise, and plods diligently forward.
“You might not want to do that.” The voice softly warns.
“Why?” The turian croaks, increasing the speed of his gait.
“You tried very hard to forget.”
“Then I want to remember.”
“Very well.” The voice concedes, seeming to follow him as he nears the dark object.
Ever growing in his vision, he desperately attempts to assign recognition to the mass. Eventually he can see it is a body. A turian. Dressed too sparsely for the cold, it seems. It lays curled peacefully in the snow, facing away from him.
Zaylus slows to a cautious walk, stepping slowly around the body as he still searches for an answer. Upon glimpsing the face, he stops dead. With horrible realization he finds himself paralyzed, staring dumbly into his own face, half buried in the fallen snow.
“Do you recall now?” The voice asks regretfully.
The turian does not respond immediately, taking a horrified step back as he stammers.
“I-I don’t remember.”
“You weren’t lost.”
“You knew what you were doing.”
Heavy silence settles like the falling snow, and the turian’s expression slowly shifts from unbelieving to dawning shame.
“I want to leave this place.” He murmurs sullenly.
“Then you should start walking.” The voice advices distantly, then grows ever silent.
With growing guilt and resignation, he turns from himself and leans forward into a weary gait. Raising his drooping eyes to the horizon, he sees for the first time a series of specks in the distance, and sets his path onto the faraway skyline.
Without his disembodied companion to impart advice, he carries on alone, focusing his quickly dwindling energy on the city in the distance. After what feels to him an entire night of walking, he nears a small collection of homes on the cusp of a larger town. Weary feet and deep memories lead him to the entrance of one of these homes, and with a few moments of hesitation, he opens the door and steps inside.
The home is rather small and dressed sparsely, but the atmosphere inside is one of familial warmth. A small sitting room stands between him and an open kitchen area, where a turian woman stands, chopping rhythmically against a cutting board. She sways softly with a light tune emanating from somewhere in the home, leaning into the rhythm as she prepares the meal. Down a hall to the left comes the sound of young voices playing and laughing, invisible behind a closed door.
Zaylus turns slowly toward the hall, lingering for a moment before returning his tired gaze to the woman. He ventures a step forward, the floor lightly creaking under his weight. Hearing this, the woman turns and finally notices him there.
“There you are.” She acknowledges warmly, scooping a shallow bowl into the crook of her arm and mixing the contents with the other hand. “Now where have you been all night?”
“I… I don’t... “ Zaylus stammers hoarsely, his gaze slipping to the floor.
The woman gives a soft chuckle, turning her attention back to her work. “Fine, don’t tell me. Maybe I don’t want to know. Sit down, won’t you?” She gestures absently to the dining table at the end of the kitchen.
Pressing a hand to his head, Zaylus shuffles across the home, an old habit leading him to a chair on the far side, facing into the kitchen. He drapes his arms on the table in front of him, numbly looking all around him.
The sounds of her preparing a meal in the kitchen and the soft voices from down the hall lull him into a familiar, yet painfully distant feeling of comfort and security. Faded memories of cold nights just like this one threaten the edge of his memories, and he regretfully pushes them back down. After soaking up all the soft ambiance he can take, he speaks quietly from his seat.
“I’m… I’m just sorry…”
“Sorry about what?” The woman turns to face her son, hanging the gentle question between them.
“I just…” He trails, pressing the hand harder against his head as the words bite his tongue. “I shouldn’t have… I don’t think… I think I fucked up. I think I got a lot of things really wrong.” He murmurs tautly, struggling to meet her gaze.
The woman seems unaffected by this odd confession, turning back to separate the food onto plates. “Now I really don’t want to know what you got up to tonight.” She laughs, “As long as you didn’t get caught, I don’t need to know.”
“That’s not really what I meant.” Zaylus says slowly, tapping his talons against the tabletop.
“You know you should be careful, though. Not everyone is as understanding as I am.” She laughs indulgently, cutting him off as he tries to explain. “But I hope you’re not bothering the neighbors again.” She warns, “You’ve given them enough trouble as it is!”
Sighing defeatedly, Zaylus rubs a hand over his eyes. “I don’t think you’re listening to me.” He mutters.
“Would you go and fetch your sisters, please?” She requests without looking, waving an arm toward the hallway.
With resigned obedience, he rises and steps toward the darkened hallway where small voices still sound. As he’s crossing the kitchen, a chime sounds from the doorway. His mother throws her hands up in excitement, clasping them together again as she hurries toward the entrance.
“Our guest is here!” She calls in delight.
“Who?” Zaylus asks, stopped and curiously watching his mother.
She laughs, going to open the door for the newcomer. “You are silly. Sure, it’s been a while, but I’m positive she’ll remember you!”
Curious, if not a little unnerved, Zaylus steps toward the door as it opens, and another turian woman steps inside. She is much younger, and wears signs of obvious distress. Her clothes are torn and bloodied, and a gaping wound in her neck provides fresh cerulean blood to the mess of her mangled body. She stares piercingly forward, directly at Zaylus, seething with rage.
“Oh, it is so good to see you!” His mother declares with glee.
Seized by horror, Zaylus can barely move as the bloodied turian charges him, knocking him hard onto his back. Growling with fury, his attacker closes her hands around his neck, digging her talons into the exposed flesh there. Sick with terror, he is paralyzed by the unrestrained hatred in her eyes as she looks down on him, wound ever dripping onto his face.
Collecting all his energy he snakes one arm between them as the other hand wrestles hers free, and with great effort shoves her off of him. He scrambles to his feet as his assailant finds her footing, rushing forward again with undaunted aggression. They clasp hands together as they wrestle, locked into a stalemate with faces near inches apart.
Opening her mouth at a sickening angle, the woman lets out a pained scream, deafening and disorienting him. Feeling his muscles give out on him, he can only witness her retaking hold of his neck and thrusting him back against the wall. With terrible force she repeatedly slams his head into the wall, dragging his limp body back just to smash his skull again. His vision cuts into flashes of her face and arms, until it gives out entirely, dropping him into darkness once again.
With a sharp gasp he bolts upright, breathing heavily in the dim light. He finds himself at home again, sitting on his unmade bed in the small apartment. Slowly he cranes his head around, finding himself safe and alone. The sun appears to already have gone down, the last lingering light barely illuminating his hovel home. Breathing a sigh of relief, he swings his legs over the edge of the bed and rises, ignoring the light switch and crossing into the kitchen. He picks up the bottle of ale in the sink, now full once again. As he’s scrutinizing the object, a soft knock sounds at the door.
With skeptical curiosity he rounds the counter to approach the door, opening it for the stranger. In the hall of his apartment building stands a man, human. A red scarf dangles in the cool breeze, its color making it difficult to tell the garment, as well as much of the man himself, is drenched in blood. He gurgles a greeting, the spurting bullet wounds in his chest providing him some difficulty speaking to the turian, but otherwise he stands largely unfazed. One hand is raised at his side, slowly waving side to side.
Almost as soon as he opens the door Zaylus slams it shut again, eyes wide and breathing heavily as he turns around and leans backward into the door, bringing his hands to his head in distress. He cries out, knocking his coiled hand against his head a few times. As he wallows in his emotions, a human calls out in front of, instead of behind him.
“Hey man, are you alright?”
Prying open his eyes, Zaylus focuses on a booth of humans staring at him with confusion and concern. Slowly, the gentle din of afternoon conversation wafts back into his senses, and the familiar interior of the Miner’s Respite fades into view. The human who addressed him has turned in his seat, and expectantly waits a response from the distressed turian.
“Uh…. yeah, I’m fine.” He murmurs, bracing a hand against the wall he leans on to push himself back onto his feet. “Thanks.” He said tightly, taking an unsteady step toward the bar counter.
“If you say so…” The human mutters in response, turning back to his friends who pay the turian no more mind.
Zaylus shambles up to the bar counter, shakily pulling himself onto one of the seats. The turian bartender notices him and walks over, placing both hands on the bar.
“What’ll it be?”
“Um… anything, I don’t care.” Zaylus shakes his head, earning a curious look and an eventual nod from the bartender. “Oh… and make it neat.”
“Sure thing.” The bartender replies, walking back to grab a dextro bottle from the collection.
As he waits, Zaylus lets his gaze drift around the familiar bar. To his left, an asari patron meets his gaze and smiles briefly before turning back to her friends. From all around laughter and drinking provide a foundation of friendly atmosphere for the venue, and for a few moments he feels at peace. As he’s enjoying the feeling of communal amiability, a friendly voice sounds from behind him.
As he turns to see the speaker, his vision cuts to nothing, the sounds of the Respite being left behind.
A horrible pounding in his head greets him as he blearily returns to his hovel home, rolling miserably onto his side. The haphazard stack he constructed now lays in pieces around his legs, serving as a reminder of some moronic drunken ideas of home improvement. The bottle he had been holding has broken against the kitchen floor, the remaining liquor forming a sad puddle next to his head.
He groans, pressing one hand against his aching head as the other strives to hoist himself off the hard floor. With great effort he manages to get his legs under him, leaning heavily against the counter as he attempts to right himself. Taking a moment to process the lingering events of his dream, he presses his forehead against the tabletop and occasionally lets out a low whine.
Then, fearing he has lapsed into a condition of self-pity, lifts his head back up and stretches his arms out on the counter. The right hand accidentally encounters a glass he has set there long ago, and his reeling mind decides to turn the cup over and take the contents between sharp talons.
He brings the business card close to his face, folded and fading from wear, but still somewhat legible. At the very least the word ‘Redrock’ stands clear against the many creases, serving as a reminder of the paper’s original intentions. After scrutinizing the piece for a few moments, Zaylus tucks it neatly back into the glass and pushes himself into an uneasy step toward his bed. Swaying and tilting, he manages to find his way and throws himself down on his side, his arms tucked around him. And somehow, eventually, despite the pounding in his head, he drifts into a deep, dreamless sleep.