Yellow Haze

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.

Yellow Haze: Jason

A strange sensation came over Jason. He rubbed at his eyes hard, eager to clear the yellow haze settling in. Suddenly, he was distracted by the chill washing over him as a gust of wind blew in. He looked down at his arm and the goosebumps forming. Something seemed off, but he couldn't quite place it. Regardless, it was freezing outside. He pulled at the collar of his jacket and opened the front door to the house before him and stepped inside.

A moment of confusion flooded over him as he tried to place the room he was in. It was a living room. Television. Sofa. Coffee table. Armchair. A small shelf was opposite of him, picture frames lining the top of it. The pictures were blurry. Out of focus. Jason marched forward, narrowing his eyes as he attempted to clear his vision. A man and a woman with a little girl. They looked happy. They looked-... No. Not just a man and a woman. It was him! He blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted. As if a light had just been turned on, it all came into focus. A small, lopsided smirk tugged at his lips as he focused on the woman in the photo with him. Linda. His arm was around her shoulder, their heads pressed together, big smiles on their faces as they looked at the camera. The little girl was giving a big, toothy smile as well. She had her mother's dark hair and olive skin, which was offset by her bright blue eyes.

He glanced around the room with renewed interest. It was a nice house. Lived-in, but nice. It was his house. "You're really losing it, Jason..." he muttered to himself as he reached up and ran his fingers through his hair with a sigh, "Might be time to cut back on the work hours..."

"Jason? Is that you?" came a voice from the adjacent room. Soon enough Vasquez stepped through the open door to the bathroom, still adjusting the strap of her black, trendy tanktop. Military-style pants traded for jeans. Combat boots replaced with fashionable boots. Jason's smirk widened as he looked her over.

Vasquez stopped in place as she caught his gaze and glanced down at her outfit. A bit of embarassment creeped into her expression. "What do you think...?" she asked as she looked back to him. "Look-..."

"...Hot?" Jason finished before giving a big nod, "Ab-so-lutely." The two exaggerated thumbs up he followed up with was met with an eyeroll from Vasquez. Though, as per usual, she was unable to suppress the small smile hidden somewhere beneath that tough exterior of hers. "What's the occasion?" Jason asked. And, just as soon as it began to manifest, Vasquez' smile disappeared.

She stared at Jason blankly for a moment, but when he remained silent she gave an aggitated tilt of her head, her hand coming to rest on her hip. "You better be fucking with me." she threatened.

Panic. Sheer, absolute panic. It settled in hard and fast as Jason wrestled through the recesses of his mind in a desperate attempt to put an occasion to the date. Birthday? No. Did a holiday just creep up on him? No... Wait, what was the date?! Why couldn't he remem-... Of course! A small snicker escaped him as he winked at her. Their wedding anniversary. Obviously. It's why he's home from work so early. "Eight years." he said, sucking in a deep breath, "Just... flies by."

Vasquez turned on her heels, giving a shake of her head, "How have I put up with your shit for this long?" she called back. Jason chuckled as he stepped through the open archway to the kitchen and took his jacket off. "Can you check on Mel? She's out back." his wife continued, "Make sure she's wearing her jacket. I keep telling her not to take it off but-... I swear, it's like everything I say goes in one ear and out the other with her. She's just like her father."

It got another chuckle out of Jason. "Yeah, right." he called back as he placed his jacket over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "Because I'm the stubborn one." he teased as he moved over to the kitchen window and leaned forward, pressing his forearms against the window sil. The window was solid black. No, not just black. It was empty, as if all of existence simply ended beyond it. He furrowed his brow and brought one hand up, running it across the window pane. It was cold to the touch, sending a shiver down his arm. As his fingers glided across the glass, they left a trail behind, peeling back the thick emptiness. Filling it in. Replacing the darkness with the world beyond it. His smile widened as he settled back against the sil and looked out into their spaceous backyard.

There she was. Right where she always was. Playing with her toy soldiers under the tree in the backyard. All of the leaves had long abandoned the large tree, swept away by the encroaching Earth winter. "Jacket: On." Jason confirmed as he continued to watch from the window.

"Good." Vasquez shouted back from the bathroom, having to raise her voice to be heard, "You need to start getting ready! Ilyna will be by to Collect us at six on the dot! And make sure you've got a credit chit for Li. We still haven't paid her for the last time she watched Mel."

"Got it." Jason responded, his focus remaining on his daughter as she organized a battlefield at the base of the tree.

"Leah and Nathan can't make it." Vasquez continued to shout as she readied herself, "Leah said she had the dates mixed up for Tara's move so they need to help her get settled into her new apartment."

"Mmhmm." Jason hummed back, only half paying attention. He couldn't shake the feeling that it was like he was seeing his daughter for the first time. That haziness continued to have a presence over him, fogging up his memories. Seven years old already. Time really does just fly by.

Vasquez continued to explain the night's situation, but her voice grew more and more distant with each word until she was barely audible. The black, tar-like emptiness began to run down from the top of the window, once more obscuring Jason's view. Small streaks of nothingness interupted the picture until the window was like a photograph torn in places. Jason tilted his head to the side, his smile persisting as he watched his daughter play with her toys before she disappeared out of view.

A sudden weightlessness overcame Jason as his wife's voice slipped further and further away. Any and all sensation slowly slipped away as the nothingness ran over the side of the window, spilling off of the sil and onto the floor. As if black paint was being poured into the room, the floor was slowly devoured by this intense void. He felt no fear, however, as the blackness overran the floor beneath him and then he himself. It wasn't something to be feared. It just was. Like a force of nature. It didn't hurt. It was just like going to sleep. Peaceful. It was as if everything just... shut off. Vasquez' voice became a dull droning that may as well have been a mile away. A pinpoint of light in an all-encompassing darkness.

"Jason...?" he suddenly heard, loud and clear as if that pin of light had shot through the darkness like a heat-seeking missile, "...Are you awake?" It was Vasquez. Her voice was a little hoarse, as if having just woken up.

Jason struggled to open his eyes, overcome once more with a yellow haziness that felt like weights on his lids to go with the weight on his chest. "Mmmhmmm." he hummed as he blinked away the confusion. He was in bed, his wife's head pressed against his bare chest. He instinctively looked towards the alarm clock, but the digital readout provided little more than ambiguous shapes and colors no matter how hard he strained to read it. "...What time is it?" he asked, doing his best not to move to keep from disturbing Vasquez as he searched for his voice. His head craned to the side slightly, looking to the windows for any indication of the time. But there was no information to be gleamed. The thick, blackened oil blotted out the bedroom window as well.

"It's still early." she said softly, bringing a hand across to rest on Jason's side. And, as if her words were a key, the window cleared up, giving the slightest of views through the blinds. It was still dark outside. "I just-..." she struggled for a moment, shrugging against his chest, "...I wanted to say I had a really good time last night, Jason. I love you."

Despite the overwhelming heaviness keeping him pressed against the bed, a tired smile manifested. "Love you, too." he said softly, pressing as much of a kiss against the top of Vasquez' head as he could manage without moving. "Here's to eight more." he mumbled through his smile.

Vasquez nodded against him. "Eight more." she agreed. The two simply laid in silence for a moment before a long sigh escaped her. "Time to wake up, Jason." she said, her hand stroking along his side, "Time to work."

Jason's focus once more turned to the window, brow furrowed. "Just-... a little bit longer." he bargained, his right hand searching for hers as it came to a rest on his side.

Vasquez gave a tired snicker. "Jason... You need to wake up. It's time for work, soldier!" she said.

Jason sucked in a deep breath, letting it out slowly in a drawn-out sigh. He nodded his head against the soft, welcoming pillow as his fingers interlocked with hers. "...I know." His gaze moved down to their hands. Flesh-on-flesh. Skin-on-skin. "Few more minutes..." he said in nearly a whisper, fear settling in at what may happen once he releases his grip on her hand.

A small smile spread across Vasquez' lips as she looked up at Jason, cheek still against his chest. "It's gonna be fine, Jason." she said, "Your augmentations show promise."

Jason bit back on the dread that settled in, giving a small nod as his response. "Yeah..." he sighed, continuing to study their hands. He squeezed his wife's hand one last time before releasing his grip.

As if on command, the flesh on his arms began to harden and crack like dried mud the moment their flesh parted ways. Vasquez settled her head back against his chest as the cracks widened, moving through his arms like veins. Through his hands. Up to his shoulder. Jason brought his other arm around Vasquez, giving her one last hug as the flesh flaked, slipping away to reveal a faint, blue glow underneath. The glow started near the shoulders and worked its way down his arms, filtering through the cracks like a beacon. The skin turned to ash as it fell to the bed and, for a moment, he found himself worrying that Vasquez would be upset over the mess he was making. But she didn't say a word. She simply closed her eyes and took in a deep breath as she drifted back to sleep against his chest.

It didn't hurt. There was no pain, only numbness. It was as if he had just shoved both arms into a tub of ice water. And as the skin continued to flake free the glow subsided, leaving behind the cold, unfeeling, grey, synthetic limbs beneath.

"Jason..." came Vasquez' voice once again, though she remained still, lips closed tightly. No, it wasn't Vasquez. It was-...

Jason shot upright. A thick, putrid, yellow fluid filled his throat and his body ejected it onto the floor beside the pod he found himself in. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust. Halisi was stood above him. That's the voice he heard. His head still swam, the memories of his dreamscape already beginning to slip away. That perfect life. That perfect family. Slowly succumbing to the dark void in the back of his mind. His focus was torn between the two worlds for but a split second.

Collectors. Distant shooting. Overlapping voices wrapped in terror. The sour taste of bile in the back of his throat.

His wife. His daughter. A nice little house back on Earth. Peace. His friends and family. Safety. A normal life.

The dream and the reality intermingled in his mind before he blinked away the cloudiness, and with it went the life that he, for a moment in time, had finally achieved.

"Fuck..." he groaned, "Where's the snooze button?"

No spaceous backyard was waiting for him. No anniversary dinners. Just a whole bunch of big, ugly bugs hellbent on putting him and everyone he cared about in the ground. This life was far from normal, but Ilyna needed him. Li needed him. His team needed him. He had a pregnant wife to get home to.

As his mind drifted to Vasquez he found himself almost feeling sorry for whoever or whatever was waiting for him, because he knew there was nothing they could do to keep him from going home. Nothing they could put in front of him that he wasn't going to tear through.

Yellow Haze: Leah

A meadow of yellow stretched out across Leah's vision, so bright it was nearly blinding. Top-to-bottom, left-to-right, and corner-to-corner- yellow. The image began to shade itself in as if an invisible painter was high above, brush in-hand, detailing a picture before her very eyes. The yellow took on a new shape- thousands of flowers dotting the grassy countryside.

Leah looked out from her position atop a hill simply admiring the beauty that sprawled out before her. A gentle breeze came in, causing the flowers to sway back and forth softly. Smile on her face, Leah turned around to be greeted by the sight of a house- of her house. She was on Aite. She was home. The flowers covered her front yard. The unseen artist must have had a change of heart, however, as a single flower at the corner of Leah's vision began to change. It started to shed its color, droplets of yellow dripping from its delicate petals like rain before disappearing in the soil. It left behind a vibrant light blue. Leah smiled to herself. It was a Blue Iris. Her mother's favorite.

As she took a seat beside the beautiful flower, a gloved hand reached out to it. She wasn't alone. Her piercing green eyes looked to her guest. The smile on her face widened as she took in the dirty blue smock her mother was wearing. She always wore it while she gardened. It matched her gloves.

"Keeping me company, sweetie?" her mother asked.

Leah gave a small nod as she scooted against the soft grass to sit up against the house while she watched her mother tend to the single flower. "Yeah, I think so." she said softly.

But they weren't alone. No, a man was nearby. Much like Leah, he sat against the side of the house and looked out over the meadow. He was little more than a shadow. A darkened figure despite the nearly-blinding sun in the sky. A black void in the shape of a man. A single yellow flower resided near his outstretched leg. He seemed familiar. So, so familiar. But she just couldn't place him.

Her mother sat up, adjusting the brimmed hat that was keeping the sun out of her eyes as she looked out over the meadow behind her. "Couldn't have chosen a more beautiful day." she admired before turning her attention back to the Blue Iris.

"Yeah..." Leah agreed with a nod as she noted the smell. It was as if all of the flowers were right in front of her. An intoxicating aroma. "I miss this."

"Miss what?" her mother asked, her attention split between Leah and the small mound of soil at the base of the blue flower she was tending to.

Leah gave a small, embarassed shrug of her shoulders. "Just-... this." she attempted to clarify, "You. Outside working on the garden. Us just-... hanging out." Another moment passed before she sighed, "You being alive."

Her mother gave a small chuckle before gesturing to Leah with the spade in her hand. Had it been there a moment ago? "Well that makes two of us, sweetie." she said. She always did have a sense of humor.

Leah chuckled along with her, brushing a few strands of unruly blonde hair back behind her ear. She found herself glancing at the man once again. He was holding a bottle by the neck, taking a long draw from it and studying the label before returning his distant attention to the meadow. Leah's smile wavered as she studied the dark figure.

"Much better." her mother said, pleased with her work.

It drew Leah's attention back to her. Back to the gardening she was doing. She examined the lonely flower. The mound of dirt it sat atop. The headstone that topped it off. Where did it come from? Had she just not noticed it before. A name. A date. A declaration. Leah couldn't read it. It barely even seemed to be letters. Just scratchings. Etchings. But she didn't need to read it. She knew exactly what it said. 'Loving wife & mother. Gone but never forgotten.'

Her smile faded as she studied the cold stone that represented a life taken too soon. A deep and intimate guilt bloomed in her chest.

"What do you have to feel guilty about, sweetheart?" her mother asked as if she could just sense Leah's feelings. That kind, warm smile remained.

Leah looked away from the stone and to her mother. "I'm just tired, mom. I'm just so-... so tired."

Her mother gave a deep sigh as she set down her spade. With little worry about the dirt on her pants, she scooted over to take a seat beside her daughter. "Tired of...?" she asked simply.

Leah became acutely aware of just how much she missed these little moments. These heart-to-hearts she could always count on her mother to be there for. She always knew when something was wrong with Leah and she was never too busy to just... listen.

"Tired of being me?" Leah said with a humorless chuckle, folding her arms across her chest as the tears began to well up in her eyes. "Tired of being an instrument? A weapon?" Her gaze dropped to her lap before settling back on the meadow before her. "Tired of hurting the people I care about."

As the words left her mouth, the ghostly painter in the sky continued to orchestrate her vision. The meadow of yellow flowers all began to melt away, slowly replaced with a field of Blue Irises as far as the eye could see. Each flower decorating a small mound of dirt. Each mound of dirt marked by a headstone.

"Tired of this-... this fucking curse!" Leah continued, looking back to her mother. A flash of blue surrounded her and the grass around her stood up straight. Her statement was punctuate by a darkened sky, as if her biotic display had scared off the sun.

Her mother drew in a deep breath, nodding to herself as she studied the field of flowers, each representing a life taken by her little girl. A world ended. A hole left in someone else's heart. She gave a small gesture towards the meadow-turned-cemetary with a nod of her head. "You feel guilty about them."

Leah shook her head. "Pirates. Slavers. Terrorists. I was only doing my job." she explained. No, she didn't feel guilt over them. But it did weigh on her. Whether she could admit it or not, it did, but it wasn't their deaths that ate at her. No, they had made their choices. It was the fact that it had to be by her hand. It's true, she was only doing her job, but it was her job because of who she was. Because of what she was. A trained killer. A weapon. How many families had she torn apart?

"Then who?" her mother asked. She knew the answer, of course. She knew everything. She always did.

A few tears found their way free, leaving light blue streaks down Leah's cheeks as she turned her gaze to her mother's headstone. To the man beyond it. The yellow flower by his leg had turned to a Blue Iris as well, and now she could see that he wasn't leaning against the house. Maybe he never had been. He was sitting back against a headstone. His own headstone. The guilt swelling in her chest only grew worse.

Her mother looked to her warmly. Lovingly. "Sweetheart... You didn't kill me." she said matter-of-factly, bringing her hand to rest on her daughter's knee and giving it a comforting squeeze.

"You're dead because I'm here." Leah said plainly. Almost harshly. She brought her own hand over her mother's. "Because I'm cursed with-..." she trailed off, opting to show rather than tell. The blue glow once again reared its ugly head, causing a bolt of lightning to shoot across the dark sky just over the mountains in the distance. The headstone atop her mother's grave cracked, nearly ripping itself in two, but her mother paid it no mind.

"Whether it's a gift or a curse comes down to how you use it, sweetheart." her mother said. It was what she always told Leah when she was feeling sorry for herself.

It was something Leah desperately wanted to believe. That her mother hadn't died in vain. That Leah's mere existence was more than just a black hole that sucked in everyone that got close to her. That she could use her biotics to bring some good into the galaxy. 'Comes down to how you use it.' But had she been using it right? As she found her gaze moving to the man and his headstone, she had her doubts.

But Leah had little time to dwell on it before that bright yellow began to surge in once again from over the distant mountaintop. Like an ocean, it devoured everything in its path. And it was heading right for them. She stood up, biotics flaring once again as she readied herself to face the surging yellow wave head-on. It flowed down the mountainside, filling in the meadow below. Turning each blue flower into a watery grave.

"Make 'em pay, Leah." came a voice.

Leah sucked in a deep breath as a few more tears ran from her bright green eyes at the sound of the familiar voice. These ones yellow. They mixed and mingled with the blue trail as they found their way down her cheeks. She looked to the man. To Damien. The bright glow casted by the rapidly-approaching yellow tsunami illuminated him.

"I will, dickbag." she sniffled, giving a single, stern nod as the golden ocean swept in, washing them all away.

Suddenly, her eyes fluttered open and she was staring up at a chitaneous ceiling. Without warning, she found herself wrapped in Damien's arms and pulled into a sitting position. She blinked hard, desperate to focus on him through the haze painted across her vision. A tightness set into her chest as her throat constricted and she instinctively leaned to the side, ejecting a thick, yellow liquid onto the floor beside her. A few dry heaves followed as she wiped at her mouth with the back of her gauntleted hand.

"Hey. I'll, uh, be back shortly." came a voice as Leah tried to get control of her body. She rapidly began searching for the person attached to the voice. Searching for Damien. The rest of the room was little more than a dull droning. Sounds and voices all fading in and out as her mind raced to figure out what was going on.

There he was. A blurry figure barely visible through the messy bangs that hung in her face. Da-... "...Nate?" she grumbled as the figure came into focus and the cobwebs slowly began to clear out of her mind. The other voices in the room began to grow louder, almost deafeningly so.

Of course. Collectors. They took her. They took everyone. They took Li. That's why they're here. She had to get up. Had to move. She grasped at the pod she was in, pulling herself free in an attempt to follow Nathan, but she only managed a few steps before dropping to her weakened knees. Palms against the ground, she struggled to fill her lungs with air.

Her mind drifted. To Damien. To Nathan. To her father. To Tara. She needed to get up. She needed to keep pushing forward. No matter what. Her father still needed her. Tara still needed her, and the Collectors were trying to take her away from them.

Time to make 'em pay, Leah.

Yellow Haze: Elena

Drowning. Elena felt like she was drowning. Sinking into a sea of yellow. So thick. Heavy. Couldn't breathe. So hard to move her arms. Why couldn’t she move her arms? Come on! Swim!

Light. Harsh, bright light. It was hard to see anything, all a blur. The sharp smell of chlorine seemed to bring her senses into focus. White tiles stretching out. A pool of blue water. Wet, cold floor against her bare feet, prompting her to look down. Yeah. Her legs, but not quite right. Something was off. Loose-hanging blue trunks, and a white towel over her shoulders.

Where was her top? She found herself adjusting the towel, casting a self-conscious gaze around herself. Her classmates were lined up on both sides of her. Everybody was chattering among themselves, until a sharp whistle rang out across the swimming hall, and everybody’s attention turned to the teacher. Mrs. Hill. She was in her 40s, shoulder-long blond hair and a stern look on her face. Whistle around her neck and datapad in one hand.

“Alright boys and girls, today is swim day! For a passing grade you have to swim 100 yards. We will start with basics. Everyone please get in the shallow end of the pool, you can leave your towels by the benches!”

Elena kept her towel, dragging her feet as she walked toward the shallow end of the pool, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with every step. Maybe she could just tell Mrs. Hill? Maybe-

“Carlos! Your towel!”

The call sent an unpleasant jolt through her body, an inexplicable anxiety filling her mind. She reluctantly removed the towel from her shoulders, scrunching it up in her hands as she looked down at her chest. It was that of a scrawny teenage boy. Of course it was.

Feeling incredibly exposed, she kept her gaze low, avoiding her classmates as she stepped over to the benches to relinquish her towel. Her only shield against the world, and the growing unease in her stomach. She found herself folding her arms across her chest as she walked towards the pool. The air had an unpleasant chill to it, and the gaze of Mrs. Hill seemed to bore into her skull as the teacher waited for her to join the rest of the class in the pool. As she hesitated by the edge of the water, her classmates’ eyes turned to her as well. Judgemental stares. Whispers rising to an overlapping choir of mockery.

Familiar words. Hurtful words. But… how did they know? This wasn’t how it had gone, was it? Something was wrong. This didn’t make sense. A word stood out among the other insults. Too formal. Too clinical. Out of place.

Aberrant.

For a moment the vast room seemed to darken and blur, and she could have sworn there was a flash of yellow in the teacher’s eyes. A strange, booming reverb accompanied the word, and she had a sudden feeling that there was somewhere to be. Something important to do. A sense that none of this was right. There was no time to listen to these insults. It didn’t matter anyway. She had to-

“What’s your name, recruit?!”

“Elena Herrera, sir!” she said loudly in response to the sergeant’s shouting, before she could even think about how nervous she was. Push it down. This was it. This was her chance.

The sergeant paused for just a moment, looking her over in her Alliance-issue fatigues before nodding.

“Get moving, soldier! You’re gonna swim across that pool and rescue your comrade! Now go go go!” he barked at her.

Stirred into action by the sergeant, she drew a deep breath and lept in before she could hesitate. Cold water enveloped her. The pool seemed to stretch on forever below her. Deep as the ocean. Dark blue oblivion. Her fatigues clung heavy to her body, and it felt like she was going to sink.

No.

It’s just water.

This was the start of her new life. Failure was not an option.

Somehow, through frantic flailing, she managed to breach the surface. The neon orange rescue dummy was sat across the pool, wearing fatigues just like her own.

She had to reach it. But her strokes were so slow.

So heavy.

Exhaustion washing over her.

The dummy seemed to morph before her eyes. A frightened girl, staring in mute horror as she’s placed into an alien stasis pod. Pale skin, uneven black hair, clunky boots and a dirty jumpsuit.

Wrench?

She had to make it. She had to power through. But… the pool didn’t want her to. The water seemed to be growing thicker, the air darker. A murky yellow overtaking blue reflected from the sky above. Almost impossible to move. Wading more than swimming. Fighting for every inch, her body failing to complete her commands. Struggling to breathe as thick, yellow sludge pressed heavy against her chest. A gasping breath cut short as it seeped into her mouth.

No. Just a bit more...

But she felt so drained. Spent. Reaching out for the edge, but she was too far away. Fingertips failed to find purchase.

Slipping.

Sinking.

Suddenly a hand grasped her own, starting to pull her out of the suffocating pool.

Wrench!

...no. Up close, it was obvious that it wasn't Wrench at all. Tan skin, a colorful summer dress, long dark hair and a warm smile. Rosa. She had left the stasis-... no, her bed, behind. Walked over to the edge to pull her out. It wasn’t right. She knew it didn't make sense, but even as part of her wondered where the IV stand and the heart-rate monitor was she couldn’t help the immense relief that washed over her.

It was short-lived, however, as blue light overtook her surroundings, drowning out Rosa’s face… and snapping her back to reality...

Hard metal surfaces. Slippery chitin. Unable to find a steady handhold. Cramping legs. Thick, musty air. Overlapping, hurried voices. Windpipes full of gunk that had to go out. Now. Coughing, hurling. Disorientation. Collectors. Wrench. Lucy. A little girl and her mother. The Jack. Rosa.

Yes… she had a job to do.

“What’s the situation?”