A/N: And so the journey restarts. Heh, I guess you could call this the "respawn" point; one hell of a sucky save-point, if you catch my drift...
Also, be ye warned; this story will not be a strict retelling of the first one. rather, many things will change, other than a few key points that i happen to like, or happen to be important to the story itself. so, sit back, relax, and enjoy the plot-bunnies that invade. well, those, and my plot candy (720 degree plot twists)
Into the Fire v2
Nicholas Perry let out a sigh as he inserted the key to his parents' home, his backpack slung over one shoulder after a long day sitting through a math lecture, one of the many required lectures and classes to take in college. A glance to the left as the door opened and he saw his car, a 2008 fire-engine red Ford Focus, his first and personal favorite car; Nick couldn't help but smile at how many times that car had kept him from getting into a serious accident.
Pushing the door closed behind him, Nick dropped the backpack onto the floor, walking into the kitchen, immediately making a beeline for the refrigerator, holding his "classic" glass coke bottles, one of his many preferences, all thanks to falling in love with the Fallout series of games. It only took him a few seconds to pop the cap off, setting it down to clean off later for his collection with the rest of the caps and bottles, and took a drink of the cola.
After kicking off his shoes, Nick went through the kitchen into the stair-room, leading down to the basement; a large, thirty foot by thirty foot room, the red speckled epoxy absorbing some of the light as he delved into the room, turning the lights on, and admiring the design he and his dad had come up with to keep the room from needing support beams, despite the concrete floor above, all supported by two large thirty-foot concrete and steel reinforced beams. Shaking his head at the momentary lapse in attention, Nick continued to the far side of the room, plopping himself down onto the couch, firing up the xbox 360 sitting in the corner, right next to the family big-screen TV.
As the loading screen came up, Nick glanced back at the basement door, only to have his brow furrow, noticing the door was not only unlocked, but slightly ajar. Quietly setting down the controller, Nick stood up, walked over to the door, and pushed it closed with a click, closing the bolt-lock into place. He slowly walked towards the old part of the basement, the dark area foreboding in the thought that someone could be hiding back there.
"Hello? Is someone there?" Nick's adrenaline levels spiked when he heard a slight gasp from the old part of the basement, followed by some shuffling, a crashing sound, and a feminine gasp of pain. Glancing around, Nick spotted a baseball bat sitting in the corner. Not really sure when it was put there, and not especially caring either, Nick grabbed its handle, and slowly walked towards the old section of basement. As he reached the threshold, he slowly reached his hand towards the light-switch, and quickly flipped it on. Once his eyes refocused, the bat was promptly forgotten, his jaw hanging wide open at the sight before him.
Lying on the ground, a woman in what appeared to be scientists' clothing, judging by the seeming lab coat, was on the floor, her leg pinned beneath a stack of two by fours that had been leaning against one of the old walls, and she was looking at him, panic evident in her eyes; bright, clear blue eyes, surrounded by a blue face, with tentacle-like ridges on her head instead of hair. A quick glance at her entire body and Nick's mind was reeling.
"Wha... what the hell is an Asari doing in my house?" The blue alien just looked up at him, her panicked state overriding everything else. Letting out a sigh, Nick bent down, and carefully began removing the boards that had fallen on top of her. It only took a few seconds, and once they were off, Nick knelt down, and looked at the girl, his hazel eyes meeting her blue ones. "Do you have a name?"
After a few moments of silence, the Asari managed to rediscover her voice, tentatively speaking, "M-my name is L-Liara; Liara T'soni." Nick's jaw dropped again, his eyes as wide as saucers at this revelation. The Liara's face took on a confused expression. "I-is there something wrong with my name?"
After a few more moments of Nick's stunned silence, he began massaging his temples, standing up and pacing back and forth, muttering under his breath in unintelligible speech, his voice laced with confusion, annoyance, anger, and frustration. Liara simply laid where she had fallen, massaging her leg where the boards had fallen on it, watching Nick pace. Finally, Nick stopped, took a deep, cleansing breath, and turned to Liara, his voice much calmer. "First off, my name is Nick. Do you know how you came to be here?"
Now having something to focus on, Liara gingerly sat up, her eyes getting a distant look as she delved into her memories. "I was in my ship, a small cargo vessel, only lightly armored, and I had just left the relay to head for the planet Therum, having found out about some likely Prothean ruins. Before I could come near the planet, some kind of spatial disruption appeared in front of me, and pulled my ship in before I could react; the next thing I knew, I was above this world, my ship only partially functioning, and I couldn't escape the gravitational pull of the planet, so I did my best to land as safely as I could." Liara made a hand gesture, "I crashed not too far from here. Not really knowing what was going on, I ran here to hide. I didn't know this was a Human world."
Nick nodded, a pressure headache building just behind his eyes at his cursed luck. He knelt down in front of the young Asari again, "Liara, that spatial disturbance must have brought you here, because your universe; the Asari, the Citadel, Turians, Salarians, none of them exist here." Liara's brow-ridge furrowed in confusion.
"What do you mean? Of course they exist!" Without another word, Nick stood up, and extended his hand to Liara. She looked at it somewhat tentatively, cautiously, before accepting his hand, and was lifted off the ground, standing only a few inches shorter than Nick. Before Liara could say anything more, Nick gestured for her to follow him, walking towards the xbox in the far corner of the basement. Digging through a cabinet, Nick pulled out a small green case, very thin and with a man on the front, standing in the silhouette of a planet. The title Mass Effect was visible on the top.
As Nick extended the case to Liara, she took it from him, examining the cover, before rotating it to look at the back. As she looked closer, Liara gasped in shock, seeing her own name in the text, as well as a picture that looked similar to her, if slightly digitized by the computer effect of the game. Nick then spoke, "If you want to know the whole story, you can do your whole mind-meld thing with me, and I'll show you all I can safely show you about what I know, and help you understand."
Liara looked at Nick somewhat suspiciously, "Why would you want to do that? I don't even know who you are." Nick nodded, before glancing over to a clock, and sitting down at the desk in the middle of the room, turning on the computer.
"Well, for one, if your ship crashed, then the government knows about it, which means they'll come looking for you, so if they aren't already here, they will be soon. Whatever you left in that ship, consider it lost, because once they get their hands on it, they'll never let it go. Two, if they get their hands on you, they will likely experiment on you, torture you, then kill you to dissect you and find out everything they can about you."
Liara's blue skin paled as his description went on. "H-how could your government do such a thing? The Alliance-" Nick held up his hand, interrupting her.
"There is no Systems Alliance here, Liara. It's the year 2011, and the Earth has a myriad of governments. The United States of America is where you are right now, and they like to take what they don't have, by force if necessary. Granted, you don't know me; but right now, I may very well be risking my life by helping you."
Liara's eyes widened at his statement. "And why would you do that for me? Is the United States of America not your country; your government?"
Nick stopped his typing, let out a sigh, then turned to face Liara. "Look, you're a fellow sentient, regardless of your species; you didn't ask for this, any more than I asked to have an alien drop in my back yard and break into my house. Thing is, that's what has happened, and I'm just gonna live with it." He then turned and began typing again.
Curious now, Liara stepped up behind him, and asked, "What are you doing?"
Without looking up, Nick spoke, "I'm sending out some messages. I like to write sci-fi stories in my spare time, and the universe you're from happens to be one of them. I also know a few others who do the same thing, and I'm sending them a message to meet me in Canada, where the headquarters is to the company that created that game I showed you. On top of that, I'm sending them a message to tell them who I am, who I have with me, and why I'm coming there."
Liara looked closer at the screen, and could make out the names on the screen; Herr Wozzeck and Sarge1995. "Are those people you know?"
Nick just shrugged, "I don't really know them, other than stories they've written. But the way I figure, if I'm going to try to help you, I may as well find other people who would be willing to help as well."
As Nick finished typing, and was in the process of closing down the computer, helicopters could be heard coming near the area. Worried, Nick jumped up from the seat, and ran towards the back door. Half running, he threw open the door, gestured to Liara to wait where she was, and went outside, out from underneath the large wooden deck. Looking into the sky, Nick was shocked to see over two dozen military-grade helicopters, all moving towards a thin column of smoke rising into the sky.
Without a second thought, Nick ran back into the house, locking the door, and running through the house, Liara hot on his heels, as he grabbed his backpack, a Swiss Army make, and began dumping the college books and papers onto the floor. As an afterthought, Nick grabbed a blank piece of paper, and wrote a short note to his parents, before moving through the house and grabbing some essentials; some food, a few water bottles, his 48 hour survival kit, and his pistol from his twenty first birthday.
Stopping, Nick looked at Liara, before grimacing, "Look, that outfit will stand out anywhere we go, not to mention the fact that no Human has blue skin, or tentacles instead of hair." Thinking quickly, Nick grabbed ahold of Liara's hand, pulling her up the stairs to the second floor, into one of the spare bedrooms. Grabbing some clothing that was being stored there, he thrust it into the Asari's hands. "Here, put these on. I know they aren't exactly your size, but they're the only clothes my sisters left before they moved out. This is called a Hoodie; after you put it on, pull the hood over your head, and try to keep your face shaded. The better we can hide your skin, the longer we can keep you from being discovered."
Nick closed the door on the hapless doctor, moving through the house and grabbing anything else he thought he could possibly need, including his stash of emergency cash, amounting to somewhere around two hundred dollars. As soon as he had packed up the things he figured he'd need, he brought out another empty bag for Liara's clothing, so it wouldn't get left behind. As he moved back up the stairs, Liara stepped out of the spare room, wearing the clothing he had handed her, the hood pulled up over her head. "Like this, Nick?"
Nick just smiled, "Yeah, just like that. Now come on, we need to get moving."
The two of them grabbed the bags in the kitchen, but before Nick could leave, he was hit with the realization that this time, he could be leaving for good, without having ever said goodbye. Setting his jaw, Nick turned to Liara, "Look, there's a stop I'd like to make before we go; I just want to say goodbye to my parents..."
Liara just nodded, a look of understanding painting her features. Without another word, Nick turned off all the lights and things in the house, grabbing his keys, and the two of them walked out the house, with Nick locking the door behind them. Slowly, acting calm, the two of them loaded the bags into the trunk of the Focus, before getting into the car. As the doors closed, Nick started the car, causing Liara to jump. Nick glanced at her, smirking. "What, never been inside a vehicle that runs off of a combustion engine before?" Without waiting for her reply, Nick put gas into the engine, causing the Focus to shoot forward, immediately veering onto the road, but well under the speed limit.
The drive to where Nick's parents worked was a quiet one, neither of them saying much of anything. As the Focus pulled into a parking spot, Nick motioned for Liara to follow, getting out of the car. Looking up at the sign for the county convention and visitors' bureau, Nick took a deep breath before stepping into the building. Nick smiled as he saw his parents, both at their two desks in the entire rented building, working at their computers.
As they looked up, they both saw him, and smiled, as his mom stood up. "Nick, what're you doing here? It's good to see you... wait, who is that?" Nick took a deep breath, before pulling Liara into the office, and closing the door behind them.
After closing the door, Nick's dad spoke up, "Nick, who's that with you? And what are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be home from school today."
Nick took a deep breath, before responding, "Mom, dad, you remember that one game that I've been playing for quite a while now, right? The one called Mass Effect, with all those aliens and the big squid-looking thing?" Both of them nod, so Nick continued, "Well, apparently, it isn't as fake as I originally thought. Liara, go ahead and pull down that Hoodie." As she did so, both of his parents let out a startled gasp. Not giving them any time to respond, Nick continued, "She's called an Asari; she crash-landed her ship here, and the government swarmed the wreckage. If I hadn't found her in our basement, they probably would have taken her, and experimented on her. That's why we're here."
Nick took a deep breath, running a hand through his hair, before getting to the big issue, "I'm getting her out of here; I'm going to try to find a ship to get her back to where she belongs, even if it's a slim chance at best. The fate of an entire galaxy may very well depend on it."
After a moment, his dad spoke up, "So what's the big problem? Find her a ship, and get her out of here. Assuming that what you're telling us isn't some kind of sick joke."
Hearing this, Liara stepped forward, "I assure you, I am no fake." With a wave of her hand, a book on the desk was surrounded by a blue glow, and suddenly began levitating, surprising both of Nick's parents.
Taking advantage of the momentary silence, he finished, "The issue is that I may very well have to go with her. Once the government finds out that I know about her, and kept her from them, they'll likely throw me in a prison cell, and throw away the key."
His dad then responded, "Nick, listen to what you're saying! You're talking about throwing away your life for this girl; she's not even Human! You're talking crazy!"
Before he could say anymore, Nick held up his hand, and in a quiet tone, ended the argument, "Dad, what would grandpa say?"
He could see the grim look on his father's face to his statement, unwilling to say anything more, as well as the tears threatening to spill over in his mother's eyes.
"I'm sorry, but if I don't help her, no one will. I know I may not be coming home, but it's a risk I'm willing to take."
After letting out a sigh, Nick's father stepped up to him, and put his hands onto his shoulders. "Nick, you have a full life ahead of you. You're an adult now, so this is your decision to make. Your mother and I will support you, whatever you decide. And if you do leave... w-we'll miss you, son." Nick tried his hardest not to break down at the sight of his father shedding a tear, his hands trembling slightly on his shoulders. Nick nodded to him, before turning towards his mother, moving over to embrace her as she cried openly. Her sobs wracking against his body only making his decision that much more difficult.
After what felt like only nanoseconds, Nick pulled away from his parents, his own tears falling now, and began to step away. "I'm sorry, mom, dad; but I have to do this."
Both of them nodded, crying, but smiling all the same. His dad spoke, "We know you'll make us proud, whatever happens. We raised you as best we could. If we hadn't, you wouldn't be making this decision to help her." Nick nodded, before reaching down onto his mother's desk, and picking up a portrait of Nick, his parents, and his five older sisters, a picture taken only a few months prior during a family vacation. He held it up, questioningly. His father nodded, "You can take it; we can print out another one."
Nick nodded, sliding the picture out of the frame and putting it into his pocket. With another hug for his mom, and a handshake with his dad, Nick turned, and without looking back, left the building, Liara in tow, and re-entered the car. His face still red, Nick pulled the car out, turned on his GPS, and began the long drive towards Canada. As they pulled onto the road, Liara spoke up, "You are giving up your life to help me; why would you do such a thing?"
Nick spared a momentary glance towards her, before looking back to the road, considering how best to answer the innocent question. After thinking, Nick responded, "Because it's the right thing to do; and because if my grandpa were still alive, he'd have done the same thing to help you, as he was just that kind of man, the kind that every man wishes they could be."
They continued on the road in silence for a while, driving along the interstate highways towards the East, travelling out of central Ohio before swinging north towards Canada.
Director Samuel Watkins walked through the high security doors, having given his fingerprint, voice confirmation, and iris scan, and nodded at the large array of screens covering three of the four massive walls, a familiar sight in his line of work. Without waiting, he spoke aloud to everyone in the room, "Alright, people, I want a status report on that crashed ship in Ohio; what do we know?"
One of the aids sitting at a computer terminal spoke up, "We've secured the crash-site, evacuated the nearby area of all civilians under a hazardous material spill cover."
Another aid spoke, "We've initiated search patterns, so far no sign of the occupant."
"We had a report stating that one of the resident civilians left with an unidentified person as our forces moved in to secure the crash. Working on locating him now."
Without even knowing more facts, Samuel had a gut instinct screaming at him, and he had learned long ago that his gut was rarely wrong. "Alright people, I want to know everything about this civilian; name, birth-date, family, friends, everything." With that, the commotion began, and the name Nicholas Perry suddenly took on a life of its own, rising to the top of the list of most wanted people within the secret room full of people with hidden agendas.
As they came up to a rest stop, Nick pulled the car in, and after putting it into park, turned it off. Liara turned towards him questioningly, "What are we doing?"
Nick turned towards Liara as he opened the door, "I'm just stretching my legs a bit, probably going to grab a candy bar or something." Liara gave Nick a very confused look.
"What is a candy bar?"
Nick just smiled, before closing the door, leaving Liara to sit inside the car, still confused. As he walked into the small pavilion, he pulled out his wallet, taking out a few one dollar bills, before buying a Twix bar, a snickers bar, and a cherry coke. After a moment of consideration, Nick pulled out his iPod touch, and began searching for a Wi-Fi signal. Finding one, he looked through his email, and smiled as he read the messages in his inbox.
Nick quickly jogged back to his car, and practically jumped in as he did so. Liara looked at him questioningly, "Why are you suddenly so excited?"
As Nick smiled widely, opening the Twix bar for himself, replied, "Those two guys I sent messages to? they've already responded. They both happen to be in New York for some kind of Bioware held Mass Effect convention. Quite honestly the perfect place for you to blend in and get lost. As for Bioware, they said they would have representatives meet us at that same convention, and they'd help us from there. They said something about 'having what we'd need,' whatever the hell that's supposed to mean." After a moment, Nick looked down at his hands, then remembering the snickers bar, handed it to Liara. "Here; this is a candy bar, made with chocolate, peanuts, caramel, and a crunchy wafer."
Liara timidly took the candy bar, and after a moment of studying it, opened the wrapper. She tentatively sniffed at the snickers bar, before taking a hesitant bite. As soon as she could taste it, her eyes grew wide, the corners of her mouth shot up, and she took a much bigger bite, and tried to speak through her now-full mouth, "Thish ish sho grwood!" Liara's brow-ridge furrowed as Nick began laughing hard at her, "What?"
After a few moments, Nick managed to regain his self control, but still smiling, replied, "I'm sorry, I couldn't help but laugh; most people don't talk with their mouths full, as humans consider it impolite. I just thought it was funny how excited you seemed to be by the taste of the candy bar." Liara, now slightly annoyed at being laughed at, started to pout as she continued to eat her snickers bar, causing Nick to laugh more as he pulled the car out of the parking lot.
As they continued down the road, Liara looked out the windows avidly, taking in all the sights, especially the trees covered in a thin veil of snow. Nick glanced over towards her, before shaking his head. "So, what do you think of Earth? Well, this pre-spaceflight Earth, anyways."
Liara just shook her head, continuing to look out the windows, "This is absolutely spectacular. To see an area developed like this, and yet still so close and connected with the nature around them. Most civilizations cover their planets in technology and industry by the time they reach space, so to see a planet with nature tamed but not destroyed... it truly is a marvelous sight. I only wish I could see more of it." Nick didn't say anything for a while, but just continued to drive as the Asari unceasingly watched out the windows.
After a few hours, Nick noticed that his head was starting to hurt, and he began rubbing one of his temples with his right hand. Liara, noticing the movement, turned towards him. "Are you alright, Nick?"
He nodded his head, "Yeah... yeah, I'm fine, Liara. Just a bit of a headache." Liara looked at him again, somewhat skeptically.
"Do you usually get headaches?" Nick shook his head, but didn't say anything. Liara pressed on, "Did you see anything leaking from my ship? Any clouds of odd-colored smoke or anything?"
Nick furrowed his brow in thought, mentally looking back as to what he saw. "Now that you mention it, I think the smoke had a strange blue hue around it, but I didn't think anything of it." Liara's eyes grew wide with the discovery.
"Did you inhale any of it?"
Nick glanced over towards her, an eyebrow raised at her as though she were losing it for freaking out about the smoke. "Yeah, I did. It was kind of hard not to, when the wind was blowing it our direction." Hearing that, Liara started to mutter under her breath, her breathing rate increasing quite a bit. "Liara? Hey, talk to me; what's wrong?"
She looked over towards him, her eyes wide. "Nick, you may have inhaled element zero vapors." Nick started to think about it, before the realization hit him in the gut like a sucker-punch.
"It could kill me if I inhaled too much." A glance at the look on Liara's face told him all he needed to know.
Brendan stood inside the massive New York convention center, looking around at all of the various Bioware displays; though they covered many of the popular games produced by the company, Mass Effect completely dominated the entire facility, being that the final game in the trilogy was only a month away from release. With a sigh, he stepped away from the banister he had been leaning on, and began slowly walking between the booths, his mind light years away from the entire convention.
'How could Bale have Liara of all people end up in his basement? How the hell could she even be here on Earth? It's just a videogame, right? And he said that he's communicated with me, Herr Wozzeck, and Bioware. Would Bioware even believe him?' With a shake of his head, he tried to clear the thoughts out of his mind, just as he ran headlong into someone.
"Oh, sorry 'bout that." The man turned around, and just shrugged with a slight smirk on his face.
"No biggie; you here for the Mass Effect convention, too?"
Brendan nodded, "Yeah; well, that, and I'm waiting for someone. By the way, the name's Brendan." The other guy held out his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Brendan; I'm Art. You here by yourself?" Brendan gave him a nod, before glancing around the place, then responding.
"Yeah, my parents gave me the cash for the ticket out here, told me to be careful and have fun, and haven't really said much more other than that. What about you?"
Art seemed to grimace slightly, before letting out a sigh, "Yep, I'm alone... though you wouldn't think it, by the amount of times my parents keep texting me to check up on me. I love 'em dearly, but they drive me absolutely nuts some days." Art looked around a bit, before turning back towards Brendan, "Wait, you said you were waiting for someone?"
Brendan nodded, "Yeah, he told me he'd be here sometime today, though probably later on."
Art's brow furrowed, "Really? That's a hell of a coincidence; I'm waiting for someone too. I don't really know him, but he says it's important, so for now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt."
His curiosity piqued, Brendan asked, "So, who would you happen to be waiting for?"
Art looked at Brendan, suspicion obviously painted across his face, "Oh, no one in particular; just someone I've talked with on a website called Fan Fiction dot net."
Hearing that, Brendan's jaw dropped. "You too?" His brow furrowed slightly, before his eyes shot wide open, "Wait, I thought the name Art sounded familiar; you're Herr Wozzeck! I've read your stories! Damn good ones, too, compared to some stories on that site."
Art gave Brendan a once-over, before his eyes widened as well; "Jesus Christ on a pikestaff! Are you Sarge '95? The one that Bale referred to in his message?"
Brendan nodded, "The one and only." After a few moments of awkward pause, Brendan cleared his throat, asking, "So... do you think Bale is actually legit about this? I mean, finding Liara of all people in his basement..."
Art grimaced, "I'm not sure what to believe. Sure, it'd be pretty rad if he's telling the truth. The way I figure, though, the best-case scenario would be that he's coming here, he was bullshitting us, and we all get a great laugh out of it."
Brendan turned away, only glancing back at Art, "And worst-case?"
Art simply sighed before responding, "Then it's a race to get Liara back to her own dimension in time for Shepard to find her, and avoid the coming of the Reapers. Again."
Casey Hudson sat in his hotel room, looking down at the secure laptop he had brought with him, reading and rereading the email he had received from the individual referring to himself as 'Bale626,' as well as the other two people he had included in his rescue of Liara, and their attempt to help her get off-world. He couldn't help but smile, knowing just how much of a big deal this truly was. A voice sounded behind him, taking his attention away from the computer.
"You know that if they're telling the truth, we're the only chance they have at getting off this planet, right?" Hudson just nodded, letting out a sigh as he did. After a few moments, Hudson turned around, and faced the figure hiding in the shadow of the room.
"You know, you could still go with them; it's not as though..." Casey's voice trailed off as the man held up a hand, gesturing for him to stop.
"You know I won't do that. I've already made my peace, Casey. This is my world now, and here I will stay. But as you said, this could mean victory or defeat for another dimension like mine, if she goes or stays. If this 'Bale' character," The man let out a mirthful chuckle at the name, "Can manage to bring her here, and get her back to where she belongs, then we'll have succeeded where I failed."
Hudson merely nodded, "Well then, did you want to send the response?"
The man nodded, and as he stepped out of the shadows, a well-polished set of armor came into view, the N7 emblem shining in the sunlight from the window.
A/N: sorry if the parent scene was a bit of a tear-jerker, but I felt it was something that needed to be addressed; no one really covers that scenario, and it's rather important, if you're the kind of person who cares about your parents.