"I hate you!"

The savagery of the comment surprised me, to be honest. Before I could suitably respond though, I felt a cold and wet substance splash across my face as Elizabeth hurled her cocktail at me. My eyes and nostrils stung as the vodka from the Cosmo hit me square in the face and I rubbed at my eyes frantically to alleviate the burning sensation. Grabbing a napkin to dab the drink from me, I was still able to see through my blurry vision Elizabeth's outline as she surged out the door of the restaurant and into the street to be swallowed up into the crowd, having evacuated her seat across from me while I was distracted.

My face had been cleared at this point but my jacket had not evaded discoloration. The dress shirt beneath that was a lost cause, the white fabric stained a pinkish-red – already too saturated for me to hope to get it out in the wash. By now the entirety of the restaurant was probably looking in my direction – seeing as Elizabeth had fled, leaving me as the sole point of visual reference – but I ignored them. I continued wiping at my face and beard while also clumsily trying to mop up the worst of the stains from my jacket.

Well, this had gotten off to a great start already, right? Might as well order more obstacle for the dipshit Sam McLeod to overcome, seeing as though I was in a restaurant.

The waitress approached me, the lone bastard sitting at a table too large for one person, and with a pained face, asked me if I wanted to order. You know, that's probably a tough job, trying to follow up an awkward situation by simply performing the bare minimum of your duties. I bet that was not in her job description advertised on the internet. I just shook my head at her and she briskly departed, leaving me to reek of vodka and triple sec. In reality, the smell of lo mein and orange chicken (at least the whiffs that the booze did not overpower in the immediate area) from the other patrons around me was making my stomach rumble, but I was too preoccupied in thought to even consider eating right now. I just wanted to wallow in my hunger and solitude for a little bit longer.

If you were to ask me if sort of event was par for the course in my life, I would tell you immediately that it was not. Well…not all the time, at least. The point is, situations like this happen to me often enough that I should come to expect them and yet I am constantly let down with how reality treats me. It just so happens that I've been exposed to a lot of shit in my life that when things do happen to go sour, I somehow am never taken as aback as you might expect.

Take tonight, for example. I should have seen the signs coming when Elizabeth invited me here, some wonky Asian fusion place in San Jose, for dinner. That was strike number one: we never eat anywhere relatively nice. The second strike came to me when Elizabeth, who was beaming at the time, revealed that she had accepted a job offer in Austin, Texas for a respectable software company. It was at this point when something clicked in my brain; that our relationship together was about to change dramatically tonight. Of course, it was all about how I would react that would determine our friendship terms between us. In hindsight, I reacted rather poorly.

Elizabeth was going on and on about how she was excited for the job and I was legitimately happy for her. I knew that she had been job hunting for months and I was glad that she managed to find something that catered to her interests. It was only when she turned the focus onto me did things get a little…troublesome, for lack of a better word. For a long time, I wished that Elizabeth would have never asked me the question that proceeded to derail everything.

"Will you come to Austin with me?"

That caused me to freeze up, partly in horror and partly in intense thought. In my head, the logistics of moving out to a different state were only part of the myriad issues. I was – am - currently enrolled in Stanford's sports medicine PhD program and I was really not keen at interrupting my studies to follow a girl and potentially jeopardize my own career. I know the movies make it seem like dropping everything for a woman is the best decision you could possibly ever make, but I'm afraid that reality is a little more complex than what a Hollywood writer would have you believe. At the time, I was already on my way to earning my master's degree "en route" and any interruptions could severely hamper my progress to earn it. I did voice this concern to Elizabeth and she had the breezy response that I could always transfer to the University of Texas and resume my studies there.

This is where things started to go wrong. You see, no one ever transfers from Stanford - even if it's to the University of Texas – especially if you're in this program. Stanford is the university that continually effuses the most renowned doctors in the country and asking me to leave such a prestigious program is practically asking me to perform career suicide even before I've started working in an office. If I moved, I would have lost out on so many opportunities that could not be replicated over in Austin. Not to knock the University of Texas, but a doctorate is worth so much more (not just in the financial sense) if it has the word "Stanford" typed on the top in Old English Text.

People continually bemoan the struggles they face between their work life and family life. Until now, I had not really known how that felt. I also was curious that Elizabeth even gave me this "ultimatum" in the first place. Sure, we may have made a cute couple in the past year, but it seemed like we kept each other at arm's length most of the time. We did not talk as often as other couples did, we did not live together (the only times when we did sleep in the same room was when one of us came over to have sex, and even then the space was awkward between us), so I simply expected Elizabeth to just dump me outright in the restaurant instead of ask me to come with her once she had revealed her career plans to me. Perhaps she should have seen this outcome occurring, come to think of it.

I know it seems heartless, choosing my career over a woman, but if you saw how little Elizabeth impacted me in my normal life, you would have seen this split coming from a mile away. I guess I just wanted to grease the gears on that front.

I did not try to explain my reasoning further. It was my understanding that she could infer the stakes on my end – perhaps if I had communicated them better to her, her reaction would not have been quite so violent. I just laid my hands on the table and refused her offer point-blank, without even attempting to soften the blow. Stupid move, I know, but the iceberg had already hit the ship in my head, so I was trying to scramble to the nearest lifeboat and escape the wreckage. Get it over with quick and clean, like ripping off a bandage.

When Elizabeth started to cry, my only reaction was to look around the restaurant and gauge how much attention we were drawing instead of trying to comfort her. I've only been empathetic to a few people in my life and Elizabeth, despite her being my girlfriend (for a few more minutes), has never been one of those people. I just felt myself getting more embarrassed from her blubbering as well as exasperated from her not being able to realize immediately that this relationship was not going to be salvaged. I did not feel that any of this was my fault; she was the one who wanted to move to Austin in the first place. Through her tear-streaked eyes, she then spoke what would be the start of her final words to me, words that I will never forget for a long time.

"Do you even care about me?"

And then, in my arrogance, I responded, "I do care, Elizabeth. But you're just not important enough to me for me to care even more."

That was when she threw her drink in my face.

Now, as the booze dried on my shirt, I simply resorted to sitting still at my table, taking measured sips of my gimlet, while pondering if there was anything that I could have done that would have not caused such a sudden rift. After consuming half my drink though, I still had not been able to pinpoint any alternatives that I could have taken with my dialogue that would not have ended up in heartbreak. Even though I was hungry, I asked for the check, paid for the two drinks by credit card and signed "Sam McLeod" in my usual scrawl on the receipt. I could always grab something from my fridge back home. The hostess looked rather apologetic as I headed out into the entry hallway and I gave a grunt as she wished me a pleasant evening. How a restaurant host could fake such cheeriness for long periods of time was a skill that I could not even fathom.

I managed to catch sight of my reflection in the mirror while passing through the hallway and I took a moment to analyze my appearance. I let out a sigh; what with the red staining from Elizabeth's Cosmo on my shirt, it looked like I had just murdered someone. I brushed at my brown and bushy hair, praying that it would stay flat, as it tended to flip up a little in the front. I then ran my fingers through my thick beard, making sure that any alcohol had not dried on it and cause the strands to become sticky. With my facial hair, I probably looked five years older than the twenty-four I currently had on me. In my current getup, I looked considerably more dapper than I would in an ordinary setting, but the jacket did a very poor job of concealing my broad frame, giving me the appearance of a football player trying to go incognito. But with this red stain on my shirt mimicking the appearance of blood, I suppose I kind of fit the bill for a football player anyway.

As I exited the restaurant, I was greeted by a wave of heat and noise. It was only seven in the evening on a Saturday, which meant that it was practically peak hours for Santana Row. This was the fanciest shopping complex south of San Francisco and that, combined with the new school year just starting, meant that the streets were packed with people my age, using their Silicon Valley wealth to partake in the classy establishments while going for joyrides in their parents' electric vehicles. Elizabeth was long gone by now and ordinarily she would be able to distract me from the crowds and cause my anxiety to subside. I wondered if she would be all right after tonight. I had no ill will towards her as we did share some nice times together and I would never regret getting to know her a little better from our relationship. Perhaps I just was not the right match for her; it is perfectly normal for two people to gradually realize that they are incompatible together after a while. Happens all the time.

My agoraphobic tendencies were starting to perk up without a comforting presence by my side though, but fortunately I had the appropriate method to counter such feelings. From my breast pocket, I withdrew my trusty packet of cigarettes (Pall Malls – I could never resist American brands), as well as a stainless steel lighter. I hurriedly withdrew one of the cigarettes and proceeded to ignite the tip before I froze up in the middle of the sidewalk out of panic. Once I felt the warm smoke pour into my mouth, I gave a small smile as the faint tingle of nicotine began to itch at the back of my brain. I exhaled, blowing the smoke out in a fine cloud, barely taking stock of my surroundings before I raised my cigarette up for another drag.

I know what you're thinking. You're most likely mentally chastising me for smoking, a habit that is considered disgusting in this day and age, and that it should be fairly obvious that what I'm doing is tantamount to slowly killing myself. Well, fuck you for your opinion. This is a lifestyle choice, one that I'm not proud of where it happened to end up, but it happened anyway. Sometimes our paths in life take routes that lead us to dark places. Besides, after what will happen to me within the next hour or so, I will have bigger things to worry about than lung cancer. Hell, it could be worse – I could be a crack addict or an alcoholic. Gah, both alternatives sound terrible the more I think about them. In comparison, I'm actually quite glad of where I ended up.

Finally moving with the flow of the crowd, I rudely shoved aside a group of tourists who were stupidly parked in the middle of the sidewalk, taking ridiculous pictures of themselves by holding their phones out on some sort of stick. Technology trends just get weirder and weirder, I tell you. I continued to smoke and contemplate my existence some more while I tried to rid my head of the memories of Elizabeth in some sort of frantic purge of unwanted mental files. Was I the cause of everything that transpired tonight? Or had things already been set in motion that I could not halt our break-up, no matter how hard I tried?

Fate surely was a fickle thing. For the life of me, I could not pinpoint if my behavior (somewhat unwarranted) was the catalyst for the rift or that Elizabeth and I naturally grew so far apart that we could no longer sustain a healthy relationship. Maybe at some point, I could have diverted my path and have wound up with a different result down the line, but it was too late right now to even remember what sort of decision could have turned me down a different road. What was done is done. I'm now back to resuming my ordinary bachelor life after this latest failure in a string of doomed friendships.

I took one last drag before I dropped my cigarette butt on the ground so that I could crush it out with my foot. I had reached the parking garage and found my car relatively easily. After clambering in, I spent a minute just staring out into space with my hands firmly clenched on the steering wheel, the key not even inserted.

You didn't even try, Sam, a voice in my head chastised. You could have stopped her from leaving but you just let her go.

"I know," I muttered out loud as I finally turned the key in the ignition. The car hummed to life, its paltry hybrid engine producing a very feminine squeal instead of a throaty roar that is supposed to give us males a testosterone rush. "I know…"

I pulled my car out of the garage in relative silence and followed the signs so that I could get on the Interstate-280. It was a weekend, which meant that the traffic was proceeding at a fair pace when I would ordinarily be gridlocked into oblivion. That being said, by no means were the highways empty, but the vehicles currently traveling on it were moving just fast enough that I could settle into a comfortable pace and not have an inkling of annoyance impart on me.

Even though it was only a ten minute drive to my apartment and that it was not that late out, I felt my eyes begin to droop. I bit back a yawn and lazily used my arms to steer the car, barely noticing that it was wobbling within its lane. Truthfully, there comes many points in one's life where the unconscious thoughts residing in the deep cortex of the mind push themselves to the forefront, revealing the real monster locked away within. This happened to be one of those points. Needless to say, I was in a pretty bad place at the time and I willingly let the bad thoughts wash over me, spilling into my head and corrupting my purpose, desperate for rationalization from unlikely places.

If I am to be honest, I'm not what you call a happy person if you have not garnered that yet. Haven't been for years. A split like this might not have upset me in an external fashion, but it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back for me in regards to my mental health. It was not from the departure of Elizabeth's presence that I bemoaned, but it was the knowledge that I was alone again for the umpteenth that despaired me so. Even though I lived by myself, it was still comforting to have the knowledge that there was someone out there who shared an intangible link between us. Boyfriend and girlfriend – two people who mutually agree to share a deeper than normal relationship with happiness being a key factor. Happiness being the key word here. With Elizabeth being the latest splinter, the link simply had been shattered too many times for me to start caring anymore. It was back to the doldrums for me unless I did something about that before I could withdraw into a ball of isolation.

I began to count the light posts down from fifty as I drove down the highway in the slow lane. I could see their sickly orange glow from the sodium lamps reflecting onto my windscreen. It was weird, assigning numbers to what would ultimately be headstones. Very morbid thoughts from my end – someone who, in my own opinion, was still relatively sane. I still consider myself to be sane, just that I've been a witness to too much damage in this world. Maybe that was why I was now embracing this horrible urge to cut my story short right here on the highway. I've heard that this sensation, the desire to go through with such a fateful act, was known as the call of the void. Apparently it inflicts everyone within their lifetimes, being a perfectly normal experience for the average person, and it's only a scant few who decide to follow through with their inclinations.

I was one of those few that chose to be a statistic.

"Five…four…three…two…one…zero…," I counted out loud before I finally eyed the sturdy post less than a hundred feet away. Before I could even consider the ramifications of my actions, I gradually turned the steering wheel to the right – not a hard yank, but a deliberate tug. The chassis vibrated as the tires rolled over the rumble strip and I lined up the car so that my side of the vehicle lined up with the concrete base of the light post. I closed my eyes at this point, knowing that I had set everything in motion for this act of my life. I was milliseconds away from impact, but I still had time to exhale in relief. I was not nervous at all, but merely accepting of my fate. I at least hoped that I would not come to my senses in time for me to botch this all up. I then wished that Elizabeth would not take this personally and that she would be all right after this.

I heard a crunching noise and then silence.

Happy trails, Sam.

Someone once said that death is the road to awe, that it is a relatively peaceful transition from one world to the next. All you had to do was follow the light and let it wash over you.

Obviously the person who originally came up with that had never died before, because I was not awed at the moment, nor was there any light. Well, specifically there was no singular light that gave me any indication that I should be heading towards it, for I was surrounded in all directions, even downward, by tiny pinpricks that looked like stars. I say downward in relative terms because all I could perceive was the sensation of floating, like I was suspended in a void – or space itself, considering the "stars" surrounding me.

I could not see my body, nor could I change my course while suspended in this weightless state. I simply floated, feeling rather comfortable as I did so but also slightly disappointed as well. Was this the afterlife? There were no pearly gates that I remembered passing through nor did I recall shaking hands with the big man of the house. This was not heaven, but nothing that I could see (or couldn't see) gave me the impression that I was in hell, either. Not that I felt that my actions in the past warranted my placement in hell, but I saw nothing that Dante described in his Inferno that remotely resembled what that unfortunate realm looked like. So if I wasn't in heaven or hell, then where the fuck am I? This whole afterlife thing is such a rip-off!

Fortunately, I was given little time to wallow in my confusion, as I felt a distant buzzing deep in my ears which began to irritate me. The sensation expanded and began to push on my eardrums just like if I was in a pressurization chamber and I yawed my jaw around to adjust to the feeling. My ears popped and that signaled another change. I felt a sucking sensation of my chest and I had the crazy idea that I was being rendered inside out. I could see if anything was physically happening to my body, but I could definitely tell that something weird was going on as a pit began to expand in my lungs, drawing my breath out through my lungs.

Just then, I felt my legs being yanked down suddenly and violently, and the entire expanse seemed to explode as the stars swirled around overhead. I could see that I was moving but there was no air hitting my face to denote that I was actually traveling or if my plane of existence was traveling around me.

I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out.

The first thing I noticed was a pain in my chest. Like…almost as if my chest was on fire. Yeah, no…this really did hurt. I think my chest was on fire. I mean, this really, really, really fucking hurt! What the literal fuck?!

Finally drawing enough breath, I pushed it out of my lungs as hard as I could and I was rewarded by the noise of my own shout of pain. My back spasmed and I sat up automatically, opening my eyes that I had not realized had been closed this entire time. Bright white light poured into my eyes and I tried to cry out in agony again, but all I could seem to muster was some sort of a pained gurgle. Blinking my eyelids did absolutely nothing to ease the pain and it was only when I felt the sensation of a hand gently but firmly pushing my upper torso back down did I realize that I was not alone.

"…ake! He's awake!" A female voice was shouting. "Strap him down before he causes any additional internal damage immediately!"

"What – the – fuck?" I groaned as I mentally begged for my vision to clear. All I could see were shadowy shapes moving in front of a blinding white background. I bucked against my restraints, trying to break free, but I was constantly held down despite my efforts. My chest still felt like it was burning and now another pain in my abdomen decided to join the fun and flare up, causing me to yelp.

"Repeat!" the female voice said loudly. "Patient has gained consciousness at 0320 hours. Arrhythmia has settled and wound has been stabilized. Vitals settling down into normal ranges."

Patient? Arrhythmia? Wound? What kind of shit was going on here? Did I happen to spectacularly fuck up my suicide, the one thing that I told myself that I would not fuck up? This was just fucking perfect! If this was indeed the case and I was in fact not dead, then I would have to contend to be confined to a painful recovery from all of the bones I knowingly broke (I was amazed that I was not in a body cast at this point, actually), completely empty out my insurance policy which would mean that I would be rendered broke from the hospital bills, and I would also be committed to mental therapy because I tried to kill myself. That was the American healthcare system for you; your life may be saved but you'll be bent over with gusto from the amount of bills heaped onto you. For god's sake, I might as well do the bending myself and spread my cheeks so that my insurance provider could rape me with debt. It's not like I was particularly wealthy so I had basically no chance of paying any of this off. With this knowledge, I was statistically likely to attempt to off myself again just to avoid paying anything at all.

With a grimace, I squinted my eyes and was rewarded as the white veil was finally pulled back. I was in a snow-colored room – obviously part of a hospital – and I immediately noticed a gaggle of doctors standing around me. I was lying on some sort of bench or a gurney – I couldn't tell which – and I also happened to notice that I was bare-chested based on the bone-chilling air wafting onto my skin, causing prickles to rise. My movements seemed rather slow and sluggish and it took a great effort for me to even tilt my head down – the slight movement causing me to gasp in a combination of exhaustion in pain. It was then that I wished I had not looked at all.

From my perspective I was first able to see the tattoos that had adorned my body, noticing that they were remarkably intact from surviving a car crash. The black circle comprised of bars arranged in a maze-like structure over my heart was still there, as were the tribal patterns wreathed around my upper arm and forearm on opposite sides of my body. For the most part, I could tell that my ribcage was not crushed from a steering column being pushed into it, nor were my legs shattered from the car's engine block being displaced into that space. Those were the wounds that I was expecting so it was understandable that I was confused at my apparent lack of significant injuries to those areas. In contrast, the pain did not feel as bad as I would have figured until I finally did notice that my entire lower torso was completely covered in blood.

"Jesus…" I muttered as the bright redness burned into my retinas. "Jesus Christ."

"Sir?" an olive-faced woman – ostensibly a doctor - bent down to my level, her face lined with concern. "Mr. McLeod, can you hear me?"

"What…" I managed to get out as I laid my head back down, "…what happened…to me? The car…it…"

The doctor looked confused at my rambling statement. "Car? Mr. McLeod, there was no car. Are you aware of what happened to you, sir? Is your name Sam McLeod?"

"Yes…" I hissed in pain to both questions, dimly hearing the rest of the doctors chatter on about my vitals in the background. "Accident…on highway…" I fumbled at the right phrase to say – something that would get the suspicion off of me and would delay me from suicide therapy. That was something I was determined to avoid at any cost. "Drank…too much…at dinner. Fell asleep…at wheel…"

Either the doctor could see through my paltry lies or something was very wrong because her confusion did not go away one bit. "I'm – I'm sorry sir, but you're not making any sense. You were not in a vehicle accident. You were not found near any transportation lanes at all. You were found in an alley, sir, and we picked you up from the third level near the Armax Arsenal. Don't you remember?"

Okay, now I was hopelessly lost. How could they tell me to my face that I was not in a vehicle accident? I vividly remember crashing the fucking car, for Christ's sake! And what the fuck was the Armax Aresnal, some kind of gun shop? And…and I was found in an alley?! What?! What?!

"Where…am I?" I coughed out way more calmly than what my internal thoughts were indicating.

"Citadel District Hospital Four," the doctor said fluidly. "You're in Operating – we had to restart your heart when your beating became erratic. We almost lost you, sir."

This was still making no sense whatsoever. I had never even heard of this Citadel District Hospital Four before. I still remembered the general area where I deliberately crashed which meant that I should be in El Camino Hospital just off the 85 highway, not in whatever they said this place was. Was this some private clinic that happened to be more local?

"What happened…to me?" I asked again, now desperate for answers. "How badly am…am I hurt?"

"Your injuries were substantial, but treatable. There was no head trauma so you should not be experiencing any memory loss right now. You had a gunshot wound to the abdomen and-"

Wait…what did she just say?!

Incredulous, I instinctively used my arms to lift my torso up but at the same time, a blast of pain exploded from my body. It did not come from my chest, limbs, but from my abdomen – just as the doctor said. Incredibly, that was the only place that I was wounded for there were no other injuries that had accumulated on my body. Through the blood that stained my skin, I could indeed see a hole just above my stomach surrounded by bright white, freshly healing skin. It was the size of a dime and it wept fluid in a slow leak, not a gushing torrent, but it was the fact that there was a hole in my body to begin with that distressed me so. These were not injuries consistent with a freeway accident. No crash survivors came into operating rooms with just a gunshot to their torso.

What the fuck was happening to me?

One of my arms slipped and I fell backward on the bench heavily, my breathing now restricted to wheezes. I blinked several times as the room spiraled above me. I felt faint and my skin began to grow clammy.

"Damn it!" a high pitched voice said as a figure raced over to one of the panels next to my bench. "His heart rate's spiking! Shock is beginning to take hold again!"

I could not see the person who was currently speaking and it was only when one of the doctors around me moved a little bit did I let out a squawk of alarm. The person who had just spoke was not at all someone I could describe as human – even in my deranged state. For a moment, I had the inane thought that a cosplayer was moonlighting as a doctor in this wacky hospital, but it was only through the man's organic and seamless movements did I realize that I was not staring at a costume but an actual person. Their body contours were too thin – way too thin to be a human and they only had three fingers on their hands. At least, that was all I could notice just from their sterile gloves that they wore. But it was their head that gave it away that I was dealing with something else completely nonhuman. It was a skinny head that possessed a flat nose with just tiny holes for nostrils, a wide mouth with flat teeth, and twin horns positioned just above their wide, yet expressionless eyes.

Even though the sight of this person was shocking, I could not help but find a dose of familiarity in the man's appearance. I felt that I had somehow seen this sort of species before, but I could not put my finger on how. Despite all that, I imagine that I had to look pretty freaked out by this point.

With a shaking finger, I pointed it at the mutated freak at the side of my bench. "What…what…what is that?" I croaked out, my lips completely stumbling over my words as they began to grow numb.

The female doctor took a nonchalant glance back at the thing (for lack of a better term) and did not seem fazed in the slightest. "That?" she replied coolly. "That is Doctor Trexa, our salarian xenomedicine expert." She then tried to push me down again. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to remain calm. Slow your breathing and focus on my voice."

Remain calm? How could she think that was possible after confronting me with all of this? I could still hear her words in my head. Salarian. Xenomedicine. Where had I heard the word salarian before? Was she expecting me to believe that there was another species working in a hospital? What kind of fool did she take me for-

But then it hit me. It was the second term that caught me off guard way more than the first. Xenomedicine. I knew that xeno was a prefix that related to foreigners - xenophobia was the fear of foreign people, for example – but why would that term be applicable in a hospital setting? After all, a hospital only treated humans so there should be no distinction between operating on human patients unless the xeno term referred to…aliens.

Oh my god…no, it could not be. Surely not. Was the doctor telling me that this salarian was, in fact, an alien? And why was this fact still so goddamn familiar to me? Was I going insane? Was this one of those circles of hell?

I believe that it was my hysterical laughter that brought upon the ending of my discoveries for the time being. I just could not help it. Everything just seemed so damn funny that I started to laugh and could not stop. The woman that was holding me down made a noise of frustration and grunted as she tried to prevent my badly twitching body from falling off the bench.

"Something's wrong!" she shouted. "He's becoming incoherent!"

"It's…just too much," I babbled, now fully lost to this torrid whirlpool that I was now trapped in. "Crash first…then get shot…s'all fucked, I'm telling you. Need to wake…from this dream. Wake me up…please, god damn it! Wake me…"

"It's no use!" Trexa pointed at me. "Sedate him right now! Give him 12 ccs of Propofol before he causes further harm to himself!"

That was the best idea I had heard thus far, even if it did come from an alien's mouth. "Yes!" I indicated with a frantic bobbing of my head. "Do it, please! Sedate me! That will end it! Put me to sleep, goddammit! I don't care anymore, just give it to me right fucking now!"

"Sir!" the woman said loudly. "Please calm down! Just relax and let the medicine do its work."

"I will relax once you-!" I halted mid-sentence as my eyelids drooped unexpectedly. "Oh," I muttered as I raised my right hand, where I had not noticed before that an IV tube had been strapped to the back of it, running towards a bag that another doctor was currently injecting the contents of a syringe into. It felt like sacks of bricks had been nailed to my eyelids, weighing them down, and I felt my head hit the bench, already experiencing the sensation of floating away once more – this time a little more intensely.

"Careful…fellas," I blathered, the words spilling out of my mouth. "It's my…first time."

And then I mercifully blacked out, the nightmare having run its course.

You're down the rabbit-hole now, Sam, the little voice taunted.

A/N: Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Aw, crap, not another self-insert story! We've already got a ton of those on this site! How can this one be any different?"

All valid points, I am aware. The distinction is that while many of those SI stories tend to focus on someone adding themselves to the canon of another universe, what I'm going to do is ensure that the protagonist of this story, Sam, does not play such a vital role in the actual Mass Effect canon. What I'm doing, essentially, is creating a self-contained story that revolves around Sam only and none of the characters from the crew of the Normandy. That means that Sam will not get involved with the arcs of the games, he will never step foot on the Normandy, and because he's only a medical student, he will not automatically pursue the role of a soldier simply to fit the militaristic atmosphere of the games. While there may be a few cameos from familiar faces in this story, the focus is all going to be on Sam and how he resolves to live his new life in a different universe without getting heavily involved in the war in the beginning.

In fact, I really don't consider the protagonist of Sam McLeod to be much of a self-insert character at all. Compared to me, our backstories are totally different, we look nothing alike, he smokes (I don't), and Sam will make some decisions throughout the narrative that I would never make if I was given a similar choice. Hell, the only thing that he and I do share is a sardonic sense of humor and even then, Sam's personality is way more hostile than mine (as evidenced by his verbal attacks on the audience, even in this first chapter). This is all my intent to create a completely original character and give him some flaws so that he seems as realistic of a person as possible. He's a man with issues and I'm basically making his day worse by putting him in a "fish out of water" scenario in order to see how he copes.

The reason why I'm writing this story at all is twofold. Firstly, I want to experiment with a first-person point of view, as it's something I have not tried before. This gives me many opportunities to inject personal voice into the actual writing, which will help the audience get to know the character of Sam a little better and perhaps introduce some dry humor into the mix. Secondly, I want to actually create an original main character who isn't written like complete crap like a few of my attempts in the past. I'm using the protagonist from my own For Her trilogy as my direct comparison because I'm quite open in my contempt for those stories. One of the biggest problems that I had, looking back, was that the protagonist in the For Her trilogy was just agonizingly boring. He had no substantial flaws, nor was he particularly likable, and I feel that he was one of the worst characters that I've ever created simply because he was as bland as tofu. The Quantum Error is my own way of performing a take two, to try to prove to myself that I can create an original character that is at least fractionally interesting this time around and not a literal walking Ambien. I'm leaving it up to you, the audience, to tell me if I'm succeeding or not.

Another thing I want to mention is that I'm going to try to not cram this story chockful of throwaway references to popular or obscure franchises willy-nilly. If I do reference them, then I want them to feel natural. I don't want to have the final result look like Ernest Cline's Armada story (a recent novel that got absolutely trashed for having a bunch of references to other works sloppily placed in the narrative) so I will try to be conscious of what content I place. I know that it's alluring for other authors to point out their inspirations like call-outs, but I want to treat this as seriously as possible.

To be honest, I'm not going to enter a fixed chapter production schedule right away, as I'm currently trying to work out a few tidbits in my personal life, so writing will have to take a backseat for a bit. I just was intrigued about this first chapter that I wanted to put it to paper (figuratively speaking) and gauge the reactions amongst the audience. I'm still burned out from my last story, actually, so I'm not really in the best of shape to begin writing again, but I assure you that, depending on how this initial offering is received, I will return and resume working on it at some point.

But with that being said, I would like to know what you think of The Quantum Error so far. I encourage you to leave your thoughts so that I know what pitfalls I need to avoid for this type of story or if you happen to like what I'm doing with the characters and want to see more. I've still got some life left in me, so let's see what we can come up with!

I hope you enjoy The Quantum Error.

-Rob Sears