Yellow Haze: Jessica

Yellow Haze: Jessica

Yellow. A deep, unending sea of yellow spread out before Jessica. She found herself peering out at the vast, bright ocean from high above, through the bedroom window of her family's apartment in Adrasteia. Well, 'bedroom'. Her family never had much money and the one bedroom apartment wasn't built for a family of four. Jessica and her older brother had shared a room. What was intended to be a small dining room became a bedroom for two when separated from the living room by a convenient curtain. But despite it being the second floor apartment she grew up in, Adrasteia was nowhere to be seen from the window and she had to be thirty stories up. Nothing but yellow as far as the eye could see.

She desperately tried to get a grasp on what was going on. How am I here? Why am I here? Something was happening before I arrive here. Even if she couldn't remember what, she could feel it in her gut. Something important. But no matter how much she focused- no matter how much she searched through her memories- she couldn't recall what. Was she in danger...?

Jessica swiveled in place, her good eye scanning about her old apartment. It was unchanged since she last saw it. Scorch marks decorated the walls and all that remained of her and her brother's beds were a pair of burned out boxsprings. No, one thing was out of place, causing Jessica's chest to tighten. The living room couch. It was little more than coal and ash during her visit with Yan Sun. Now it sat in perfect condition, as if untouched by the flames that scarred the rest of the apartment.

But it wasn't the couch that had Jessica so choked up. It was the woman sitting atop it. She was in a long, full-length, black, loose fitting gown and wore a dark purple hijab with a black trim and a white design almost resembling a vine spread across it. Her hands were resting in her lap. A kind smile spread across her face as she looked to Jessica. It was warm. Inviting. It was home.

"...Mother...?" Jessica asked in barely a whisper, a hand slowly moving to her mouth as she attempted to register what she was seeing.

The woman on the couch-... Salma-... Her mother-... followed Jessica with her smile as Jessica crossed the threshold from bedroom to living room.

"What is the matter, dear?" she asked tenderly.

It was only after the words had lingered for a moment that Jessica realized her mother had spoken to her in English. While her mother had a basic understanding of both English and the locally used batarian dialect, she always shied away from speaking them due to embarassment of her thick accent in favor of her native tongue of Turkish. Jessica studied her mother, the thick, unexplainable haze weighing heavily on her. But through the yellow haze something else stood out to her. Salma's face. Aside from her familiar smile, the rest of her face seemed out of focus. Distant. The details were difficult to make out.

Jessica's expression hardened as she lowered her hand. Her attention moved from Salma to the burned out room around her. To the warped ceiling. Back to the window and the yellow beyond it. Think, Jessica. Think. Remember! You have to remember! She closed her eyes, desperately searching her memories for any explanation for how she got here.

"Collectors!" she nearly spat as she turned back towards her mother, "I-... Collectors have me! They-..." she stammered, her gaze once again examining the room she was in, "...They are doing something to me. This isn't real!" The anger and frustration began to brew to the surface as her good eye locked back on the woman on the couch, "You are not real!"

Salma gave a soft chuckle, tilting her head affectionately. "Has Martin been telling you stories again, Jessica? You know he is just trying to scare you."

Despite the change of language, her voice was just how Jessica remembered. Soft. Caring. Compassionate. It just made her all the angrier that it wasn't real. It can't be real... Can it?

"No! They are-... Gah! They must be in my head!" she growled, bringing one hand up to rest against the scarring that cut into the hairline above her right ear. "You are dead!" Please be real.

Salma's expression remained unchanged. Just a gentle smile. "Then how am I here, my daughter?" she asked expectantly, the way one does when a child says something absurd.

It only seemed to further aggitate Jessica, but her expression softened. The wheels in her head began turning and her mind raced to a new conclusion. "Am I... dying...?" she asked, her voice cracking ever so slightly.

Salma remained silent at first, allowing her daughter to try and process the situation before speaking up once more. "My beautiful daughter. Do you remember when you were nine? Martin was playing outside with you. Do you-..."

Jessica didn't need any more context. Despite the haziness, it was a memory that was still clear in her mind. "I was hit by a car." she said flatly.

Salma gave a soft nod. "You were not breathing. We rushed you to the doctor. Do you remember what I told you afterwards? When the breath once more entered your lungs? I hugged you tightly and I said-..."

Jessica's lips moved to repeat her mother's words, but the voice that echoed forth was Salma's.

"You are too much of a handful for even Allah. He is not ready for you. He needs much more time to prepare for your arrival."

Salma gave a soft chuckle as her words were recalled. "He is still not ready for you, Jessica." she said, "You still have much more to live for. More than even you are willing to admit." A look of pride creeped into her expression as she looked over her daughter. "And I know that you still have so much more to offer the galaxy."

The uplifting words were met with the usual resistance from Jessica. A roll of her eye and a deep scoff. But Salma was used to Jessica's difficulty. She spent a lifetime dealing with it. "You are still so angry." Salma mused aloud, "I see so much of your father in you."

The words cut through Jessica like a knife. It wasn't said as an insult, merely an observation, but there was little that could have hit Jessica quite as hard. Her eye watered up, blurring her already-fuzzy vision. As much as she loved her father, she never respected him. He was a liar. A cheater. He took advantage of, and hurt, everyone around him. Corrupted everyone around him. All of our family's troubles come from him. To his decision to bring us here. To Adrasteia. Everything was his fault. My family died because of him.

Jessica merely needed to entertain the thoughts for Salma to react. "Nothing in life is so simple, Jessica." she explained. "Your father loved us. This much I know. He may not have shown it in the way you or I would have liked, but it doesn't make it any less true. You must not be so harsh on him. Blaming him for everything won't change anything."

Salma's reaction only caused Jessica's anger to bubble right back to the surface. "No. You are right. Is not all his fault." Jessica agreed through clenched teeth. I pulled the trigger on that Enforcer. "Is your fault! You forgave him! Everytime he lies! Everytime he tells you some bullshit!" I started the war against Cross. "You let him-... let him get away with everything! He walk on top of you like-... like a rug! And you let him!" she continued, shouting by this point as tears began to stream down her cheek. It's my fault you're all dead. "Is your fault that everyone died!"

She expected her mother to get angry. To scold her. But she didn't. The specter on the couch's smile never wavered. "Jessica. You can not remain angry at the rest of the galaxy forever. You can not remain angry at yourself forever. You must learn to let it go. Nobody lives forever. It was just our time."

And that was when it hit Jessica. It was just a dream. Salma couldn't get angry. Because Jessica couldn't remember a time when her mother got angry. It's why the image was so fuzzy. Despite the photograph that Jessica looked at of her family each and every day, each passing day put more and more distance between her and them. Her memory was imperfect. Her favorite hijab. Her loving smile. Her soft, soothing voice. These were the details Jessica could recall perfectly when she thought of her mother. The rest was blurred by time. It caused guilt to build up within her. To, for even a moment, forget what her own mother looked like. Her thoughts were cut short as the realization pushed back some of the haze, allowing her to recall the events leading up to this room. The Collectors. They took me. They... they took everyone. The pod!

"You are not my mother." Jessica said as the memories began to flood back to her, "And I am not dying. This?" She glanced about at the burned out apartment, which was suddenly overcome with a thin, yellow fog. "...Mmm? Is just a stupid dream. You are dead." she repeated. Her words were cold. Irrationally harsh for a woman well aware that she's doing little more than arguing with her subconscious mind. I miss you so much.

Salma's smile only seemed to widen at the revelation. "I suppose that if this is a dream, then that means you already know everything I am telling you. Allah-..."

Jessica didn't even allow Salma to finish before snapping back at her. "Fuck off! You were always a fool!" she continued to vent at the ghost looking back at her, "There is no-... no 'Allah'! And if there is then you are even more dumb for believing he would give a fuck about us! So do not give me your-... your bullshit! It was not 'your time'! It was not father's or Martin's! You all died because-.... because-..." Because of me. "Because you were weak! All of you were weak!"

Tears poured freely as she continued to rage at the apparition, streaming down her cheek while Salma merely listened. Listened as her daughter tore into her. Listened as her daughter wore her pain on her sleeve just as clearly as the tattoos and burns that decorated her flesh. Burns that tied her to this building. Anchored her intimately to this room.

"When I was hit by that car? Mmm? There was no 'Allah' deciding whether or not the time was right. There was only me! I get back up because I am strong! I survive the fire because I am strong! You? And father? And Martin? You just-... just give up!" You left me. "You-... you abandoned me!" I'm so alone. "And now I am here. Alone." I am so scared.

A distant set of sounds rang out. Dull at first, but it grew louder with each passing second. It was difficult for Jessica to make out with any clarity over the sound of her own thoughts. Then another set of sounds. These ones far louder than the first. Gunshots!

Salma gave her that knowing smile. That understanding, motherly smile that used to tell Jessica that everything was going to be okay, pulling her mind from the firefight that seemed to be happening in the distance. "My sweet, sweet daughter. We did not abandon you. We are right here." she said and, as if they had always been there, her brother and father were right beside Salma on the couch. One on each side. "We will all be together soon, my love."

Jessica wiped at her tears with the back of her hand and drew in a shaky breath. She examined the hollow representations of her brother and her father as another set of gunshots rang out, now sounding as if they were right outside of her apartment door.

"No... We won't." Jessica said, and the false avatars began to evaporate into nothingness, that loving smile never leaving her mother's face. "...Because I am not weak." I don't deserve you. "Because I do not give up on the people that I love." Please don't go. Please don't leave me again.

"I love you, my daughter." The words echoed in Jessica's mind, causing her eyes to flutter with tears as she watched her family flicker out of existence as if a light had been turned out.

Jessica bit down hard, clenching her teeth tightly together as she raised her middle finger and pressed a gentle kiss against the side of it before waving it at the couch.

"Fuck you. I hope you rot, you dumb bitch." Please come back. Please.

Jessica shot upright and her eyes snapped open to the sound of chatter, both familiar and unfamiliar. Her throat felt constricted. Her chest heaved as she ejected the thick, yellow substance from her body and her lungs fought for air. She found her mind struggling to focus once again as her eyes strained against the unfamiliar architecture and she struggled to climb free of the pod where her slumber took place. But somewhere from the back of her mind, her father's words found their way to her.

'Sometimes we must struggle. We must fight. We do it in this life so that we may find peace in the next.'

She didn't believe in another life. She didn't believe in a place where she would magically be reunited with those she lost. She didn't believe she would ever see her family again. But maybe there was a new life for her. A second chance. An opportunity to start again. And it was waiting for her back on Aite.

Time to fight, Jessica.