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.