A/N: Chapter edited as of 3/8/18. See end note for details.
Disclaimers: The Mass Effect series is the sole property of Bioware Corp. Any non OC character and major plot missions contained herein are also the property of Bioware. I do not receive anything for this writing other than the reviews of my readers. Now, on with the show.
Welcome to The Family
Beep! Beep! Beep!
I groggily slap down on my alarm clock's snooze button, eyeing the offending piece of technology with some distaste. I don't know why I thought waking up at 5:00 AM was a good idea, hunting trip or no. But, 'tis the season, and I don't want to let this extra day off go to waste. With a groan, I finally roll out of bed and head to the small bathroom that connects to my room. It feels nice to have my own private bathroom again after a few months stuck with dorm showers at Vandy. It lets me take as long of showers as I want.
After a nice, hot shower, I finally get out and shave what little stubble I had. As I carefully glide the blades across my skin, I take some time to really look at myself in the mirror. People told me that college would change my appearance, but I guess a few months isn't quite long enough for that to happen. Same old brown hair, same old blue eyes, same old beanpole of a body. Maybe I should hit the gym more when I go back.
Anywho, enough wasting time. These deer aren't gonna hunt themselves. I scarf down a quick breakfast, pack some supplies for later, and grab my rifle, pistol, and Bowie knife.
By about 9:00, I reach the hunting ground. For the next eight hours, I see absolutely nothing worth taking a shot at. The only creatures that passed my stand were some squirrels and a single doe. By the time the sun begins to set, I feel thoroughly disheartened. Maybe tomorrow will be better, though. That's the one thought I keep repeating to myself as I set up camp for the night. The sounds of the forest lull me to sleep when I eventually lie down for bed.
The silence wakes me up. After hours of the constant background noise of bugs, animals, the wind, and everything else in the woods, their absence startles me. It's such a complete and utter lack of sound that for a moment, I really do think I've gone deaf. Then I open my eyes and realize that something is very wrong. My tent isn't above me. Not even the sky is above me. Instead, a vast grey expanse hangs above me, going off to the horizon in any direction I look. The trees are gone. The grass is gone. Everything is gone, replaced by pure, unending greyness.
I stand up, feeling very disoriented with no real frame of reference to use. What the hell is going on? Where am I? Why am I here?
YOU ARE NEEDED ELSEWHERE.
The temperature around me drops, and a chill runs down my spine. That voice… that was not a voice that anything should be able to make. For one, it didn't disturb the air molecules around me, instead reverberating through my very bones. For two, it sounded less like a voice and more like a titanic crypt door closing deep underground.
I turn around, and my body freezes in place. That… is that?
A seven-foot tall figure stands there, wearing a hooded robe that devours any light that gets near it. A single, bony hand holds a scythe that cuts the air molecules around it without moving. From the hood, two blue points of light sit within empty eye sockets.
That is the face of Death.
A PLEASURE TO MEET YOU, THOUGH I WISH IT WERE UNDER BETTER CIRCUMSTANCES.
Better circumstances? But, but… the only time you would ever see the Grim Reaper is when you die. There are no other circumstances.
QUITE THE CONTRARY. I AM NOT HERE TO USHER YOUR IMMORTAL SOUL ANYWHERE. IN FACT, I AM HERE TO USHER YOUR VERY MORTAL BODY SOMEWHERE ELSE.
"Wait… have you been reading my thoughts?" I ask, finally gaining control of my mouth.
IT MAKES THINGS EASIER WHEN PEOPLE FORGET TO SPEAK, SUCH AS YOURSELF.
Ok, I'm just not gonna think about the implications of that. I have other implications to think of. "So you mean I'm not dead? Then why are you here? Or, what am I doing here?"
THERE IS NOT A UNIVERSE ANYWHERE WHERE DYLAN OWENS HAS DIED, Death says. HOWEVER, THERE IS A UNIVERSE WHERE YOU ARE NEEDED. I AM HERE TO ESCORT YOU THERE.
"Wh-what do you mean I'm needed?" I ask. "And… another universe?"
IT IS QUITE SIMPLE, WHILE ALSO BEING MORE COMPLICATED THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY IMAGINE. A glowing white portal appears in the air next to him. SIMPLY STEP THROUGH THIS PORTAL, AND MOST OF YOUR QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED.
"Wait, that's it? You just expect me to walk through there? Just like that? I don't want to go wherever it is that leads! I want to go home!"
I AM AFRAID THAT IS QUITE IMPOSSIBLE, Death says.
"But, but… but you brought me here in the first place. Can't you just send me back?"
IT IS NOT THAT SIMPLE. THERE IS NO GOING BACK. THE ONLY WAY FORWARD IS THROUGH HERE. He motions to the portal.
"And if I refuse?" I ask, trying to keep the quiver from my voice.
THEN YOU WILL DIE HERE. He pauses, apparently considering his next words. I TRULY AM SORRY. I WISH THERE WERE ANOTHER WAY.
The portal moves towards me. Before I can react, it swallows me, and my entire world goes white. The white slowly fades, leaving nothing in its wake. I lose consciousness.
My eyes shoot open. I'm breathing heavily, and sweat runs down my forehead. I'm lying down. I'm back in my sleeping bag. The roof of the tent is above me. All my stuff is where I left it when I went to sleep.
Holy shit, that was some fucked up dream. I have no idea what caused that, but I really hope it never happens again; dreaming of Death isn't exactly a fun experience. I take a few more minutes of just lying on the ground, trying to calm down. Once I feel more under control, I get up and begin preparing for day two of this hunting trip. Exiting the tent, I check on my guns before anything else.
Those aren't my guns…. My rifle and pistol have been replaced by two weapons that look tantalizingly familiar, but my brain doesn't want to work at full capacity right now. The rifle looks like a bullpup configuration, only without the magazine. It also has a hole in the stock for the thumb instead of a full grip. Why does this rifle look so familiar? I look at the pistol, hoping it might jog my memory. It looks kinda bulky, and instead of a plain grip, it's got a weird hand guard configuration.
Wait a minute… a few synapses in my brain fire off in recognition. As soon as the rest of my brain figures out what I'm looking at, I pass out.
My consciousness returns with a jolt. An explosion interrupts the silence, and my eyes shoot open. Just as quickly, they squeeze shut as the single loudest, most god-awful noise reverberates through my entire existence. I curl into the fetal position, covering my ears and trying to stop the pain. It's ultimately a futile gesture; the noise feels like it's coming from inside my own head.
As quickly as it began, the sound recedes. The silence that follows is one of the most pure feelings of relief and joy I've ever felt. Even though it only lasted for ten seconds at most, it felt like decades.
I once again open my eyes, but I don't make any move to get up from the fetal position I curled into. Instead, I lie there, trying to make sense of everything that my senses tell me. The sky above me is a deep, blood red. Smoke billows into the air near the horizon. Off in the distance, multiple large, insectoid-looking ships hang in the sky.
What was that thing Sherlock Holmes says? Something about eliminating options and whatever's left must be true no matter how improbable? Because the only option left in my mind is pretty fucking improbable.
I'm on Eden Prime during Sovereign's attack.
I'm in Mass Effect.
My mind goes blank as it takes on the herculean task of understanding what the fuck is going on. Every time it concludes I must be dreaming, so I pinch myself. Nothing happens. I slap myself once just to make sure. Still nothing. So if I'm not dreaming… if I'm really here… how?
Death. He said there's a universe where I'm needed. But that was just a dream, right? I woke up from that…. But I woke up from that only to find myself here. Did that really happen? It must have. Why, though? How the fuck could I actually be of any help here? I'm 19 fucking years old! I'm a college student! And for engineering, at that - not even anything groundbreaking like quantum physics. There are probably thousands - millions of people just like me out there. How can I make a difference?
Well, if I'm already here, and if I want to make a difference, I suppose my best bet is trying to find Shepard. Shit, I wonder what they'll be like in real life. Male or female? Default appearance or a custom one? Backstory? In any case, I at least have a game plan.
I finally stand up and glance around, taking stock of my situation. I'm still wearing the hunting garb I had on yesterday, although my orange vest has been replaced by some kind of metallic harness strapped around my torso. Is this a shield generator? God, I sure hope so; I don't have any armor, so shields are a must. Once I finish a personal pat down, I turn towards the weapons. My trusty old hunting rifle has been replaced by a Mattock, and my pistol replaced with a Carnifex. Well… I guess it's not too different from what I had before.
Unfortunately, I don't exactly have a holster for the Carnifex or a strap for the Mattock. I guess I'll put the Carnifex in my pocket? As I bring it towards my hip, it pulls towards the bottom of the shield harness. Curious, I move it up and let go. The gun stays there. Well hot damn, I guess there's a fancy magnetic strip holster type thing.
With that taken care of, I grab the Mattock and do one final check of the campsite. One final thing catches my eye: my Bowie knife, still in its sheath. Wow… that actually makes me feel a lot better, for some reason. Other than the clothes I'm wearing, that knife is the only thing left of my old life. I strap the knife back on and feel just a little bit safer than I did before.
Now I just need to figure out where the fuck to go. In the absence of any real idea, it seems like a smart idea to head towards the smoke off in the distance. Then I realize just how idiotic that thought seems. Sure, Dylan, walk towards the fire and bad stuff. I sigh to myself. No sense trying to rationalize anything anymore, so I might as well get to walking.
Negotiating through the woods doesn't take much effort, so my mind begins to wander a little. Though it's mostly just going "Holy shit what the fuck is happening I don't like this" over and over. One thought does manage to stand out: namely how fortunate it is that I had just re-played Mass Effect 1 and 2 back home. Mass Effect 3 was slated to come out in a few months, and I wanted to refresh myself on the series a little bit. And beyond that, I had probably finished both games at least 3 times each. God, I hope I manage to remember enough shit.
After maybe 15 minutes of hiking through the woods, I come to an area that feels vaguely familiar. A small cliff drops down six or seven feet to a little mini-canyon, maybe a dried river bed. Directly ahead of me, up against the far canyon wall, stand a few Dragon's Teeth. They're currently retracted, but even just knowing what they're capable of sends a little shiver down my spine. Off to my right I see what I'm fairly certain is the dig site. Which means to my left is where Shepard saves Ashley.
Hot damn, I got lucky as hell. If I keep my head down, this could be a perfect ambush spot. I settle in to wait, hoping that Shepard and company haven't already passed through.
A few minutes later, I hear mechanical clicking noises. Peeking over the edge of the cliff, I see a group of geth drag a man towards the Dragon's Teeth. So that's what a geth looks like in person. I won't lie, it's… kind of scary. The troopers probably stand a good few inches taller than my 5'11", and they certainly bulk much larger than me.
Shit, I want to do something, anything to try saving this man, but I can't. If I shoot at them now, I lose my ambush, and I don't think I can take a group of geth on by myself. That, and I'm… I'm afraid. Seeing the geth in person, seeing the Dragon's Teeth, seeing all the smoke and fire off in the distance… it terrifies me.
The sound of running off to my left catches my attention. I think that might be Ashley. I shift my position just in time to see her burst into the clearing, chased by two geth drones. True to the cutscene, she trips but still manages to destroy the drones chasing her with practised ease.
The sound of metal sliding on metal, followed by a stomach-churning wet noise pulls my attention back to the geth from before. The sight almost makes me throw up.
They impaled him. The man from before hangs lifelessly, impaled through the torso by the Dragon's Teeth. Blood runs down the shiny metal, forever stained by that man's death. I swallow the bile that sits in my throat, readying myself for what comes next.
The geth finally notice Ashley, who has pressed up against a rock, assault rifle in hand. As they pass by my position on the cliff, I get to a knee and take aim at the center of mass, not wanting to risk missing a headshot. My hands shake, so I take a few deep breaths in an attempt to steel my nerves.
Here goes nothing.
I pull the trigger. Some higher power must be on my side because the tiny shard of metal pierces the metal skin of the geth. Wow, that recoil wasn't bad at all; no worse than my old hunting rifle. A fraction of a second after the shot hits, both geth whip around to face me. Instinctively, I shoot twice more, thankfully doing enough damage to destroy the first geth. Its buddy, however, raises its pulse rifle with machine-like speed and precision and begins to pepper my position with weapon fire. Even moving as fast as I can, I still feel a few rounds ping against my shields before I drop into cover.
Holy shit, that was entirely too close. I think I feel my heart trying to beat out of my chest. I don't have any real kind of monitor for my shield levels, but I'm pretty sure they got close to breaking. Ok, have to remember that this shield generator kinda sucks. Luckily, since I killed one, that's the only geth left. Also luckily, the geth seems to have shifted its focus entirely to me, leaving it easy prey for Ashley.
After the gunfire stops, I peek out from behind my cover. Instead of a destroyed geth lying in a heap on the ground, I see it floating in the air, almost eye level with me. Once again acting on instinct, I shoot it three times. I must have hit something important because a small explosion rips apart the machine's torso. Only once the debris fall to the ground do I realize the implication of a floating geth.
Shepard and Kaidan must be here. I look down to where Ashley had been, seeing her standing with another woman and a powerfully built man. I guess that means femShep. Still don't know what she looks like, though, since she has a helmet on at the moment. Oh, wait, they're looking at me, too. Not wanting to look like a threat, I put my hands up and attach the Mattock to the mag strip on the back of the shield harness. I make my way over towards them, somehow managing to slide down the cliff face without falling on my face.
Once I reach the three marines, an awkward silence hangs in the air for a few seconds. That is, until Ashley breaks it.
"Who are you and what are you doing in this area?" she asks. Ok, well that wasn't quite what I expected.
"I guess that's one way to greet the guy who saved your ass," my mouth says, completely bypassing any filter from my brain. Fuck, that's not what I wanted my first impression to be.
"And I guess that's one way to talk to a marine who could kick your ass," she says, putting a hand on her hip. She doesn't do anything overtly threatening, but I still find myself intimidated a little. My eyes widen slightly.
"Ok, yeah, fair point, well played." She smirks very briefly at my response before putting her marine face back on.
"Alright you two, settle down," Shepard says. And there's Jennifer Hale. God, such a good voice. She turns towards me. "Sir, whoever you are, thanks for the help. What's your name?"
"Dylan, ma'am," I say. "Dylan Owens." I smile a little bit, not only because I want to appear friendly, but also because holy shit I'm talking to Commander Shepard.
"Well, Mr. Owens, I'll admit I'm very happy to see a civilian survivor. Commander Jennifer Shepard at your service."
A/N: So... ok, listen, I know I published this story over 6 years ago, and you may be wondering why I would bother coming back to revise the very first chapter. Well, it's honestly for my own benefit. The original first chapter was just so... bad that I'm shocked I managed to gain any fans at all. I doubt posting a revised first chapter after all this time will cause a noticeable difference in readers or reviewers, but I don't really care. It's a pride thing. I've known for a long time that I could do so much better, and I finally decided to do something about it. Let me be clear: No major changes will take place. This is just a revision to bring the writing quality up. 99% of plot points will remain unchanged, and the few that might change will be quite minor.
If you're a new reader just stumbling on this story, welcome! I hope you stick around and enjoy the story. If you're a fan who's just going back and re-reading stuff, then surprise! Either way, I'm glad that readers are finally able to experience a first chapter that I'm actually proud of. I'm more than likely going to go through and edit most of the early chapters of this story, so keep an eye out for those down the line. I'll also try to keep updating the sequel fic in tandem.
And as always, from the bottom of my heart: Thanks for reading!