Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Elliot’s All-American Diner, Illyria, Elysium
5:23 PM - 13/10/2176
Vasquez entered through the old-fashioned hinged doors of the diner, a smile spreading across her face as soon as the aroma of waffles, bacon and all sorts of other delicious things hits her. Her eyes wandered briefly across the billboard near the entrance. Paper rather than digital, a conceit happily made by many local organizations for being able to advertise in one of the more popular places in the southern end of the city. The entire place was modelled after the old diners that populated the eastern United States during the 20th century. She’d been subjected to more than one lesson on the history of such establishments during her time there.
Her smile grew as she walked past the entrance, taking in the familiar sight of the long counter with the kitchen behind it, stools all along and a row of booths along the outer wall. The place stood out like a sore thumb, with a ridiculous color scheme and constantly playing obscure music on a sound system disguised as an antique jukebox. Probably the most advanced piece of tech in the building, along with the TV screen hanging from the ceiling. It didn’t take her long to find her team - they were by far the loudest people in the diner. With a shake of her head she walked over and slid into the booth next to Cynthia, a pale woman with a black crew cut who looks too small for her fatigues. A relatively fresh blob of medi-gel covered her lip and chin.
The formal tone of the exchange was enough to cause Viktor and Samsak, who were sitting on the other side of the table to burst into laughter, raising the beers in their hands. Viktor looked every bit the viking, with a blonde beard that definitely exceeded Alliance regulations. Enforcement was lax for garrisons, and she didn’t have it in her to report him herself, besides, he always whined for weeks whenever he was forced to cut it. Samsak was the oldest at the table, but just a Private. He’d joined late. He was short, muscular and a hell of a drinker.
“Aww, c’mon sarge! You’re not still pissed about the stunt yesterday?”
“I swear the volus started it.”
Vasquez rolled her eyes at the comments, but soon dropped the serious look, chuckling as she looked around. There wasn’t a place in the galaxy she loved more than this stupid diner. Her right hand started to slide into the pocket of her fatigues as she looked around. She grasped the box in her hand briefly, just to reassure herself that she still had it, and then turned to the others to ask.
“Where is she? Her shift is over.”
“Yeah, she’s in the back I think. She’ll be here, Linda.”
“Tonight’s the night, right? No chickening out this time!”
She was elbowed in the side by Cynthia and was about to say something about who’s the one running away from a fistfight with a volus, but she wasn't given the chance as Janet came out of the kitchen, lifting the counter hatch aside and stepping out to their booth. She was 22, one year older than Linda, and freckles dotted her smiling face, curly red hair tied up in a bun and emerald eyes wandering across the group of soldiers before locking her gaze with Vasquez’. The most wonderful woman in existence, she had no doubt of that. And after tonight they’d spend the rest of their lives together if all goes well, she thought as she felt the box, unable to keep from looking nervous as she returned the smile.
Janet put one hand on the table, and the other on the backrest of the booth, leaning down to kiss her. She was still wearing her work clothes, a ridiculous shirt and skirt combo. The kiss was enough to soothe her worries and she stood up, grinning.
“Hey… ready to go out? We have some special plans tonight. I-...”
The music in the diner came to a sudden halt as the TV screen switched from an antique TV show to a live news broadcast.
BREAKING NEWS - ELYSIUM IS UNDER ATTACK. UNIDENTIFIED FORCES HAVE BREACHED ATMOSPHERE.
Redrock Agency HQ, Freedom Falls, Aite
10:00 AM - 07/10/2185
“I love you.”
Connection failure. Reconnecting…
Unable to reconnect. Terminating call.
Vasquez let out a heavy sigh as she stared at the words on the screen, nothing but static coming out of the speakers of her omni-tool. She wasn’t even sure if her words made it through at all. Because she had felt the need to scold him for nothing. What else could she do? Jason was leading their team on a mission into unexplored space. Protecting a science team. An ExoGeni team. And she couldn’t do anything to help now.
She had double checked all the information as soon as Matriarch Syranis mentioned ExoGeni. Reached out to her old contacts. Everything checked out. No shady corporate directives. No deadly artifacts. And they would be protecting the Matriarch’s people. The pay was good. Very good. They couldn’t afford not to take the job. But despite all that… what if she was wrong? What if she had just sent the man she loved to relive something that haunted them both to this very day?
Would it be any worse than what you have already done to him?
Beaten and bruised Jason is lying on the muddy ground, behind him is the dark abyss he had fought his way through against all odds. Because she asked him to. Because he trusted her. Blood was streaming from the hole in his torso where his shoulder had been. There wasn’t a hardsuit in the galaxy that could hold up to an Eviscerator blast at point blank range. He didn’t look angry. There was just confusion. As if he couldn’t understand what was happening. The blood kept coming. The rain was pouring down, overflowing. But it still wasn’t enough to wash away the blood. She turned her back to him. Started to walk away. Left him to bleed out, broken and betrayed.
I was trying to spare him. It was all I could do. I wasn’t in control.
She didn’t believe herself for a second. She could’ve resisted. If she’d been stronger. If she’d just said no when the voice came in over the radio. Or if she’d just kept the mission from happening in the first place. She’d been so close to telling him. But she couldn’t. She was too weak. And Jason had paid for it. They had all paid. Every time she looked at him, every time she saw the metal limbs bolted onto his body in an attempt to repair the damage she’d caused, she was standing in the rain again, watching him suffer and bleed for her. And every time she talked to the employees of Redrock, the people that trusted her with their lives, she saw the ones that hadn’t made it back. The ones that had died in that dark hole, because she had asked them to.
Vasquez allowed her omni-tool interface to dissipate, putting the device back in her pocket. She was sitting in the base. The place they’d worked so hard to build. At a round table in the rec room. Rarely visited by her. Her gaze fell to her hand as it returned from her pocket, an overwhelming swirl of emotions hit her as her eyes locked onto the ring on her finger. She’d been shocked when he proposed. And happy. Happier than she’d felt in a long, long time. She could see the life she wanted within reach. They could build something on this world. Together.
How long until you hurt him again?
The thought, and the guilt that always followed it, was inevitable. Whenever she thought about the potential for a future together, whenever she started to feel like she just might be able to live happily here, she remembered all the pain she’d caused him. She couldn’t live without him, not after all they’d been through. But she couldn’t stand the thought of hurting him again either.
“Are you ok…?”
Vasquez blinked, only now noticing the wetness of her cheeks as she brings up a hand to wipe away the tears. She looked around until she spotted Li standing next to her, looking up with a frown on her face. The girl couldn’t be more than seven, but there was an odd sense of understanding in her eyes. She’d been through more than any little girl her age should have to. She forced a faint smile at the child and shook her head.
“I’m fine, I’m just-...”
The hug was unexpected, but not unwelcome.
“It’s ok. I get sad too.”
Memorial Park, Illyria, Elysium
6:02 PM - 13/10/2185
Vasquez shivered as a cold wind blew across the open space of the park, and reached down to zip up her jacket. Sleet covered parts of the park’s far-reaching grass fields. The trees that were meant to shield the place from the noise of traffic were leafless still. Spring was late this year. Not that it mattered much, traffic was light. The south end of Illyria relied on the tourism, and between the fear of disappearing colonies and the heightened security restrictions placed on travel in recent months the industry had taken a big hit. A lot of the popular spots were all but empty. The diner had been when she visited it earlier. She didn’t know what she had expected from visiting, but she had regretted it quickly, and departed for the park.
As she continued on down the concrete path through the park, her gaze wandered. It was mostly empty, as far as she could tell. There was an old lady feeding pigeons on a bench. She had always wondered how the pigeons got there. Someone would have had to gone to the trouble to bring them all the way over from Earth. Could they have stowed away? The thought was lost to her as the monument came within view. A stark sight, several pale, angular concrete pillars jutting out of the grass in the middle of a crossroads in the path, angled inwards toward the center. She slowed her step as she got closer, stopping at the bronze placard in front of the monument and reading.
Dedicated to the victims of the Skyllian Blitz
She let out a quiet grunt and moved on, rounding the monument. It wasn’t what she was there for. She continued to walk down the path. More gray, green and white. The wind was picking up, causing the cold to bite that much harder. She moved a hand up to brush away the hair that flew into her face, quickly reminded of why she usually sticks to a ponytail. It didn’t take her much longer until she could see it. She stepped off the path, heading out across one of the largest grass fields in the park. No one was on it, not in this weather. It looked unremarkable. Just grass, and more half-melted ice. It didn’t matter. She knew it was the spot. She came to a stop, looking around as she let out a long breath, mist forming in front of her mouth.
Vasquez kneeled down, unconcerned with the cold as her pant legs were soaked from the sleet. She reached for her zipper, pulling it down enough to reach in and grab a small, navy blue box from an inner pocket. She turned the box over in her hand, studying it briefly before flipping it open. The ring inside is a simple gold band with an inscribed pattern. She took it out, putting it in her palm and shifting is slightly back and forth, watching the overcast sky reflect as her gaze grew distant. She blinked, doing her best to hold back tears, and taking a brief look around to make sure she was alone.
“Hey Jan… I… I know it’s been a long time, and… I’m… sorry for missing last year. My… life has been… messy. But… it’s getting better. I’ve, uh… I’ve met someone. He’s kind, understanding… and he’s a real goofball, like you.”
She blinked, and tears rolled down her cheeks as a small sniffle escaped. The harsh wind felt ice-cold against wet cheeks and her hair was blown to the side.
“And… he’s proposed. We’re getting married. I… I’m moving on. I have to move on, Jan.”
She gently placed the ring down in the grass.
“I thought… I thought I should return this. When… I told your parents I was going to propose, your dad, he… he gave it to me. Said it was an… heirloom. I couldn’t… couldn’t face them after… but you should have it. I… I have to move on, but I’ll never forget. I’m sorry… I’m sorry I never got to give it to you… I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to-...”
Shock as Janet was brought out in front of her, pushed into the grass by the batarians. She was shaking, staring at Linda as if she was the only person there. Smoke in the air, and the distant crackle of gunfire, a sharp contrast to the blue skies and green grass. Chafing as Vasquez struggled against her restraints. Her squad was beside her, all on their knees. Cynthia stared in horror, Viktor averted his gaze.
“I don’t know! I told you I don’t know!”
The aliens ignored Linda’s screams. She tried to convince them, but it had been no use. The leader, in rugged, bladed armor, lifted a Kishock harpoon gun to Janet’s head. She struggled again, but couldn’t break free. Panic set in as they refused to listen.
“DON’T HURT HER! I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T FUCKING KNOW!”
There was no hesitation from the batarian. A squeeze of the trigger and a sickening thump. The harpoon punched straight through her skull, and her lifeless body slumped to the ground. Vasquez was on her feet before she knew it. She was shouting but she didn’t know what, she was running but it was already too late. It hadn’t processed yet. There was no time. The batarian’s eyes widened in surprise as he brought the Kishock to bear. She was almost upon him when the trigger was pulled. An overwhelming pain as it struck the side of her head, tearing her cheek apart. A hard fall into the grass, and a last glimpse of Janet before everything turned black. Eyes stared emptily. Blood soaked the grass around her head.
Not a harpoon. Not this time. Hail striking hard against her cheek as a gust of wind hit. Gray skies again. Biting cold on her face, streaming tears. Her hands clutched at the grass as she doubled over, leaning her head down until it pressed against the ground, quiet sobs escaping her as she laid there, doing all she could to be near Janet one last time. She stayed for as long as she could, only when twilight approached and the cold became unbearable did she stand to leave. She was shivering as she looked down at the ring in the grass, pale from the cold and with no more tears to cry. A heavy, exhausted sigh was all that escaped before two quiet words, spoken softly.
Apartment Complex, Illyria, Elysium
7:27 PM - 14/10/2185
Vasquez pressed a finger against the orange haptic interface on the door ahead, and then stood back to wait for it to open. She glanced down the gray-white corridor to the elevator where she’d came from, her fingers twitching uneasily. It wasn’t too late to leave. Maybe it-
“Chief Vasquez…? Holy shit, come in!”
The surprised voice sounded as soon as the door slid open. It belonged to a small, wiry woman in sweatpants and a grease-stained t-shirt. Stitches covered a split in her eyebrow, and she’d let her black hair grow into a short mohawk. Cynthia Spunkmeyer. One of her old squadmates. She waved her inside, and they both stepped into the apartment. It was a fairly standard affair. Couch, screen showing a game of biotiball, desk with a computer terminal, shelves, a kitchen corner and a window overlooking another of the city’s many parks.
She followed Cynthia inside and sat down in the couch when she gestured towards it. The woman went over to the fridge to take out a couple of beer bottles.
“Been a long time Chief. Didn’t expect to ever see you back on Elysium. And seriously. It’s Cyn.”
“Yeah, it, uh… it’s been a while…”
“Three years since I heard from you. Haven’t seen you since after Torfan.
She walked over to the couch, falling into the seat next to Vasquez and holding out one of the beer bottles. She shook her head in response and tapped the implant at her temple.
“Can’t drink anymore. Neural Repair Implant.”
Cynthia furrowed her eyebrows as she placed the second bottle on the table, opening her own and taking a swig while studying her former squad leader.
“Shit, what happened?”
“I’d-... another time. Long story.”
She gave a light shrug in response.
“Alright… so out with it, why are you here?”
Vasquez shifted uncomfortably, her gaze on the table.
“I… I was visiting the park.”
Cynthia gained a frown and set the beer down before putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Linda, shit… I didn’t think you were ever-... why now?”
She let out a faint, uncomfortable chuckle.
“I… I’m getting married.”
Cynthia’s eyes went wide and she shoved her guest, her expression shifting in an instant as a grin spread across her face.
“Yeah… his name is Jason, and-...”
“How long since you met?!”
“Little over two years-”
A sudden punch to the arm.
“And you didn’t tell me?! You asshole!”
The hug was just as sudden, but soon returned in kind. It was an unexpected gesture from her former squadmate. They had both changed a lot since the siege, she supposed.
“I’m telling you now. I… honestly, I don’t have a lot of friends where I am right now, and-...”
“Aite, right? I had to learn that from Markus because you haven’t kept in touch. Sounds like you barely have with him either…”
It was clear from her tone that it really did bother her, but her grin couldn’t stay away for long.
“I know. And… I’m sorry.”
It didn’t come easy to her. Never did. She had to force it out.
“Wooow… that one must’ve hurt, Chief.”
An annoyed grunt was all that escaped her.
“C’mon, I’m just messing with you. Now tell me everything!”
“Fine. After I left ExoGeni in ‘83, I didn’t know where to go. I ended up on Omega…”
It was a long while that they talked. It was strange to talk to Cynthia again. Awkward at first. It had been a long, long time. Vasquez told her the basics. Meeting Jason, their life together. Omega, Illium, Earth. And Aite. Redrock. Building a life for themselves. Cynthia shared as well. The aftermath of the Siege. Continuing to serve. Being shuffled out of active duty. Moving back to Elysium. It had been a long time since they had talked like this. After Elysium things had changed between the team. And after Torfan… well, nothing got better.
Breaching in 3… 2… 1…
Cynthia went in first, her Crusader raised, and the others followed soon after. The Typhoon that Vasquez favored was impractical when breaching, leaving her to cover the corridor until everyone else was in. The two of them were all that was left of the old team after Samsak died and Viktor left. Several Blitz survivors had found their way into the battalion assaulting Torfan, even though it wasn’t supposed to work that way.
“We’ve got something…”
After passing through the smoke of the breaching charge she found herself standing in a room much like all the others they had sweeped. Dimly lit, hollowed straight out of the moon rock itself. A group of batarians were standing in the room, all of them with their hands behind their head and their weapons on the floor. A universal gesture if there ever was one. Their weapons were kicked away and they were forced to their knees.
Everyone there knew what kind of people these batarians were. Pirates. Slavers. Terrorists. Scum of the galaxy. The unit had agreed beforehand. Many of the other squads had too. There wouldn’t be any prisoners today. Blood and scorch-marks covered the blue hardsuits of the marines, all of them battered and bruised, but they moved with ruthless efficiency. A single bullet to each of their heads. Cynthia stood watch by the entrance.
All but one of them were executed this way. A grizzled batarian in a scratched and dented set of silver bladed armor. Vasquez had hoped that they would reach him first ever since finding out he was on Torfan. She had made plans with the rest of the team for how it would be handled. This was her only opportunity. It was time for justice. For Elysium. For Samsak. For Janet.
A single shot of her pistol to each knee to keep him in place. Loud cries of pain. Threats replaced by pleading. Cynthia and Nick held him down while she approached. She pulled it from her armored boot. A long, sharp metal spike. Kishock harpoon. Nick moved aside and she planted her knee on the batarian’s chest to pin him down. She didn’t know much about them, but she knew enough for this. The eyes. Had to take the eyes. They believed they were the portals to the afterlife. None of that for him.
A gauntleted hand on his forehead to keep it still. His pleading for mercy continued, but the words didn’t register to her anymore. Her translator? No. They were being drowned out. She could hear nothing but Janet’s terrified sobbing. Her face was devoid of all emotion as she brought the spike up to the alien’s face. She slowly forced it down into his eyeball. Felt him scream in terror as his eye was mangled, but heard nothing.
“Uh… Chief? You okay?”
It was Cynthia’s voice that greeted her as found herself in the apartment again, staring blankly at the table and clutching her right hand into a fist that held nothing. She nodded faintly.
“It still happens, huh…?”
“I’m coming with back to Aite.”
“Yeah! Just for a bit. Have to meet this Jason guy, right? See your base?”
“No. Cyn, you’re not-...”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun! I don’t wanna wait ‘til the wedding to meet your people!”
Vasquez let out a frustrated grunt.
“We haven’t talked in years, Cyn. Just because I decided to come over doesn’t mean-...”
“You did decide to come over, so tough shit for you if you didn’t want me back in your life. I’m coming.”
She let out an exasperated sigh and a small nod.