At the start of such a novel-length venture, that is all I can tell you. Welcome. I started this story in 2011, before the release of Mass Effect 3. It proved to be a lifeline – an anchor I used to drag myself through a period in my life I'd rather not look back upon. I'd like to believe that my writing has improved since then and, with the wisdom of hindsight, I now have a better idea of who the characters are, much more so than I did in the beginning. So, I've decided to edit it. To go back and change what I should. And to fix spelling errors, because I wrote this so quickly that I never bothered to check on it.
For those reading this again, thank you. It is your motivation and presence that made me turn this into something epic in length. And to Alyssa and StillDormant. Without their help, this story would never have been.
The cover art to this story is provided by DragonianFantasy. You can find the link to the artist through my profile page. It is a part of her Shattered Memories range.
Chapter 01: Death
This wasn't death, but it was close and it was near.
The woman screamed as something exploded next to her, throwing her off balance and into a metal crate. The blast deafened her to all but a whistling sound. It blew dust into her face, blinding her. Terrified, gasping amidst her panicked breathing, she clawed at her face – desperately trying to get the dirt out of her eyes.
Is this hell? Have I survived only to die again?
Another explosion rocked the world, forcing her to squint around as instinct screamed at her to get up and run. Someone was coming her way through the dust and she struggled to see more. Trying to get up, wondering if it was a friend or foe, she could not get her legs to work.
Not now, please... Not now.
Another explosion sent the figure tumbling to the earth. The person fell close to her and was still, a large bag dropping in the dirt. It had a first aid sign on it, causing her to blink, then crawl forward.
Please, be alive and help me make sense of this. Please…
First, she felt for a pulse, but struggled to find skin due to the person's bulky armour. Her fiddling caused a torch light to come on and, on impulse, Abby slipped the strange device from the person's hand to hers – thinking that she might need it. It was poor fitting, but she hardly paid it any mind, aware suddenly that the fallen victim's hand was mutilated. It seemed an old injury though, that had cost the person two fingers on each hand. It made her uneasy, so she struggled to turn the body over, her fingers fumbling to remove the helmet. When she finally managed, she started back – frightened by what she saw. The soldier wasn't human. Not even close. She sat back, oblivious to another explosion that went off not too far from her, staring at the creature. It had strong mandibles, snake like eyes and a reptilian shaped head. It looked… familiar, but in that moment of panic she couldn't place it.
Another explosion went off quite close to her, this time bringing home the fact that she really needed to find better cover. She managed to stand up and looked around to see where the attack was coming from. It was clear that there were two parties fighting each other, but she couldn't decide in which direction she should run. Through the dust, she saw what looked like ruins and decided that it was the best place to be.
Praying that she wouldn't lose her balance, she ran, which was ironic because it was her running which started all her problems in the first place.
Dr Abigail Gable had always enjoyed running. It was one of the things that kept her sane through veterinary school when she used her morning jog to organise her mind. To work through her mental notes, plan her days, and push away all the uncertainty that she faced each day. Years later, she continued the practice, using her morning run for much the same purpose. She had learned that upon getting her degree, most of her problems only started and years later, approaching her mid-thirties with a practice of her own, she had learned to enjoy the time that she had on her own.
It was time that flowed uninterrupted and time that was hers alone, focusing her, soothing her. She used that time to connect to herself and simply enjoy the fact that she was healthy and alive. It was the time of day that she looked forward to the most...
Till she started stumbling.
Abby stumbled, but made it to the door and all but fell inside. She went down on her knees and crawled out of the doorway, pushing her back against the wall and hoping against all hope that she was safe. She almost laughed when the thought crossed her mind, but stifled it quickly.
Don't let madness take you. Not here. Not now.
Abby continued to push herself against the wall and closed her eyes. She heard her own ragged breathing, a panicked, raw sound that hardly sounded as if it came from her mouth at all. Impossibly loud, it was just as intimidating as the sounds of attack so she held her breath, trying to hear more.
There was… a sigh. A cough.
Abby's eyes flew open as she scanned the interior and realised that there was another with her in the building. Again it wasn't human, again she could not understand what she was seeing, but she could tell that it was in pain. It too was huddled, no… slumped against the inner wall of the ruins. When their eyes met, it sneered at her.
"Come to finish me off?"
It took her a full minute to realize that it had spoken. And, it sounded male, the sound somehow distorted around her.
"I…" She struggled, swallowing to get her words out. "No, I didn't. I mean. I don't… I am not a part of this. I don't know what's going on."
The creature blinked slowly, then chuckled – which turned into a rasping sound that seemed to bubble from his chest. "Figures," he said. "Your race rarely does."
She stared at him, shaking. "You… You're hurt," she said and felt that she could at least make sense of an injury, causing her to inch closer. "Let me…"
His movement was so quick she barely saw it. Abby whimpered and threw herself back against the wall when the creature pointed a gun at her. When he fired two shots, she thought that one of them had hit her for sure, but instead there was a dull thud next to her. Turning to look she saw another armoured soldier. He lay on the ground, his glass helmet shattered from the close range shots.
He was human.
Maybe she was on the wrong side.
She forced herself to turn away from him and look at the creature. Pushing herself up, she moved towards him, keeping an eye on the pistol he had lowered to his side. His stiff mandibles twitched when she stopped close to him, but he let her touch his armour. He had been shot in the chest by what appeared to be a heavy weapon. Abby grimaced and pulled the cracked armour away with effort to try and peer inside. When she couldn't see anything she stuck her hand into the hole, immediately earning a sharp growl from the creature. She startled back and pulled her hand out, cutting her palm on the jagged edges of the armour.
"Warn me," the creature hissed. "Damn it, human."
Abby swallowed and inched closer again. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "My patients don't normally…" Talk? "Protest."
"You're… a doctor?" the creature queried. "Do you have medigel?" He grimaced when she stuck her hand in again but said nothing as she probed his chest.
"Medigel?" It sounded familiar, but then in a way – so did this… thing.
The creature exhaled, said something under his breath. "First aid kit," he said. "Medigel. What kind of a doctor are you?!"
The terrified kind.
"First aid kit," Abby breathed and pulled away. "I'll get it."
She turned to leave, but he grabbed her, pulling her back and off balance.
"There is an asari," he breathed. "Out there. You have to find her. If you are a doctor… find her."
"I…" Abby began. "I… Okay." He let her go, and she ran.
Before her world had gone mad, Abby had gone to the doctor to have a look at her ankles.
"I don't know if it's anything," she had admitted as she sat there, feeling embarrassed. She had felt as healthy as she ever had. "But, I stumble. A lot. And sometimes, I'm very tired. Not ill, just tired."
The doctor, the only member of an old family practice, had looked as perplexed as she felt.
"Have you ever broken your ankles?" the doctor had asked clinically. "Played a lot of sports in school? Tore your ligaments?"
She had shrugged and made a vague motion with her hand. "Track sports. Long distance. I've been running my whole life. I've never fallen as much as I do now."
"I'll order some X-rays," he had said after a pause. "Run some tests. Maybe an MRI. Could be a supplement deficiency, but we'll check to make sure. For now, I suggest taking it easy. I'll see what we'll find. I think you're just pushing yourself too hard. You said you recently opened your own practice…"
The bag was where she had last seen it. At first, Abby tried to pick it up, but it was too heavy for her. She glanced around. The firing and explosions seemed to have died down for the moment, but the dust still lingered, making it difficult to see further than a few feet from her. With no perceivable threat nearby, she sank to her knees and opened the bag, digging through its contents despite not knowing what she was looking for. There were bandages in sterile packets and a number of tubes with some strange writing on it. She stared at it all for a moment, wondering whether this was the medi-gel the creature spoke of then stuffed them into her coat pockets along with some hypodermic syringes that had the same kind of writing. She noted idly that she was still wearing her white lab coat and wondered why she had not bothered to take it off before she...
She couldn't think about it, not now.
Asari? What does that mean? She wondered instead, the name itching in her mind. What is an…
Still sitting in the dust, she stared at the first fallen creature and quite suddenly it hit her.
No, she thought. Surely not?
If what she was thinking was true, it was the biggest joke in the universe.
I have gone mad.
She darted a look around her, then got up on shaky legs, and ran back to the ruins, hoping that the dust hid her from view. She ignored the dead soldier, stepping around a dark pool of blood spilling from his helmet, and went back to the creature which had asked her aid.
"You're a turian," she said as she knelt beside him. "What is this?"
The turian coughed, grinning at her in a feral kind of way. "An attack," he said. "Are you going to do something or stare at me?"
A glare found itself on Abby's face, but she quickly wiped it away. She had to force herself to focus and took the medigel from her pockets. She fumbled to open it, her fingers dumb and unwilling to move in her panic. Her hand was still bleeding where she had cut it on his armour and it made holding onto the packet all the worse.
"Squeeze it," the turian mumbled. "Hell, just squeeze it."
Abby did, more out of fright than anything else, and it popped open. Feeling stupid, she quickly put some on her right hand and pushed her hand underneath his armour, spreading it over the open wound that she had felt before. She wanted to ask him whether there might still be a bullet in, but then she decided that his destroyed armour looked more as if it had been burned than broken.
Plasma weapons, lasers – it could be anything.
She was no stranger to the edge of hysteria now trickling through her mind and almost giggled, but managed to keep her pose as the turian let out a sigh of relief. She could feel the gel tingling where it had touched her hand. She studied it thoughtfully and, in a moment's inspiration, dabbed some on her cut as well. The bleeding stopped almost immediately, leaving her to stare at the fantastical creature. He had reached to her pockets and withdrew one of the syringes on his own accord, jabbing it into his neck. His breathing seemed to ease immediately and his eyes drooped as he struggled to remain conscious. He had a thin membrane, much like a snake, that covered his eye. It was fascinating. Simply fascinating.
She tore her gaze away and got up so that she could look out at the battlefield.
"We… have to get out of here," she said finally. "We can't stay here."
What was she going to do?Carry him?
The turian's eyes opened blearily as he looked at her. "You have to find the asari," he said and weakly picked up one of the medigel tubes she didn't break. "Find her."
Abby's stomach turned with anticipation but his need was pressing.
"Where?" She asked without thinking, without realising that she was about to commit to finding a stranger. The turian's barked laugh held no humour as he lifted a weak hand and pointed in the direction she had come from.
"Out there," he said. "Somewhere. You're going to need this."
He clumsily tossed the tube up and she barely managed to catch it. She didn't move immediately, staring down at him as he slumped further against the wall and closed his eyes.
"Is this real?" Dr Abigail Gable queried softly, clutching her prize, frowning at him. "Is this... Are you really here?"
The turian opened his eyes and seemed to frown at her. Though his was an alien face, the expression was familiar to her. She had seen it on more than one person in her life.
It was the expression of someone who thought she had gone mad.
"Of course," he said simply. "Aren't you?"
End of Chapter 1