Yellow Haze: Elena

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?”