Well, here we go again. Massive Gain's first repost, rewritten in the third person. With thanks to my two betas, 1054SS325MP and Narayu. You guys make it all possible. Readers, please be both of the two Rs and review! Reviews make it all worthwhile. More reviews, more reason for writing faster and better!
Date unknown, location unknown
Pounding pain lanced through Paul Alleyn's skull, searing his mind. He moaned involuntarily and the movement of his jaws, tiny as it was, caused another spasm of agony to hammer across his brain, thundering against the back of his eyes.
He waited for a few moments, letting the drumming peak and then slowly recede to a constant dull throb. The first coherent thought that came to his mind was, ahhh...why do I hurt so bad? The second was, why am I alive? The thought surprised him. Slowly he dredged through his memories to find why he'd wondered that. He drew a blank. Why am I lying down? he thought next, then, hmm, floor's wet and hard. Am I lying on ice? For a couple of moments he considered whether he really was lying on ice, before realising, there aren't any ice sheets off the coast of Wales.
Why Wales? came next, and hard on it's heels, try moving.
He moved his right index finger slowly and experimentally, with considerable trepidation. It moved - or at least, he thought it did. That was encouraging, so he moved another finger. It moved as well. With increasing speed and decreasing worry he moved the rest of his fingers, then his hand, then his left hand and fingers, then more of his body. Everything seemed to be in working order.
Why don't I open my eyes? he thought, and did so.
Paul closed his eyes so fast that he feared, for a second, that his eyelids may have got whiplash. He clenched them shut, bringing the palms of his hands up to press against his eyes in an attempt to block out the pain arcing across his brain. Slowly the agony ebbed away, and he cracked his eyes cautiously open. Wincing as he adjusted to the bright light, he saw a jagged-edged slice of bright blue sky.
Blue sky?! he thought, confused - since when do you see blue skies in Wales? - and then realised why there was only a jagged slice of it and not a wide over-arcing vista. On either side of him rose irregular rows of rooftops.
He sat bolt upright and immediately groaned and slumped forwards, hands clutching his head as more tidal waves of pain slammed across it. With a gasp of air he pulled himself together and straightened up, staring round in shock and fright.
Oh my god oh my god oh my god...
Paul was sitting on the damp concrete ground of a narrow alleyway in what seemed to be, from the smell and general feel, to be a large city. Either side of him were tall buildings, office blocks maybe, or perhaps blocks of flats. Probably the latter, given the odd-looking bins lining the walls. Paul felt himself beginning to panic and closed his eyes, taking long, deep breaths until he felt marginally calmer. A memory flashed across his mind - walking down a trail running along the edge of a cliff. Grey sky overhead, mild winds. The smell of salt and the sea in the air. A solo hiking trip in Wales, rucksack on his back. A sudden gust of wind making him stagger, and then while unbalanced a dog suddenly slamming into the back of his legs, sending him staggering two steps towards the edge of the cliff. A foot slipped on a patch of grass and went over the edge, and then he was tumbling off, falling, falling down to the waves and hard rocks below...then black.
He opened his eyes, spread his arms and looked down at himself. He was still wearing the same clothes - black jeans, sturdy walking boots, a black waterproof windcheater over a black t-shirt/polo neck combo, a large red eye on the chest of the shirt with the legend 'Mordor and the Eye!' in calligraphic script beneath it. He dug a hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone, an old and bulky iPhone 2. The date it showed, when he tapped it on, was still the same as it had been then - 5 June 2013.
Paul slowly pushed himself to his feet, wincing with pain - his back and rear end were stiff and felt bruised. Stowing the phone back in his pocket, he looked round again. His rucksack lay a few feet away, and he staggered over to it and picked it up, slinging one strap over his shoulder. He glanced at the road at one end of the alley and took a step towards it, then paused, pulling his phone out. He began tapping in a number, but stopped when he realised there was no service.
"Figures," he muttered, replacing the phone and heading for the road, intending to go to the nearest police station. He stepped out of the alleyway, glanced round, and froze. Not twenty feet away, standing under a tree by the side of a river that ran along the road, was someone who was obviously a tour guide, with a group of tall female figures...with blue skin, tentacled hair, and futuristic clothes.
Paul's mind shut down.
"Are you alright?" a voice asked, and a hand slapped his cheek gently. "Hey. Are you alright?"
Paul opened his eyes, registering that he was on his back again. A face swam fuzzily into view, hovering over his own. It was a very attractive face, with delicate features, a pointed chin and high cheekbones, and large almond-shaped eyes. And blue skin, with the facial markings that all asari have forming a pair of crescents on her temples.
"Y-yeah," Paul stammered, more from the shock of seeing asari than anything else. "I'm fine, thanks."
The asari stood up and half-held out a hand, hesitated and then pulled it back as Paul started to raise his hand tentatively. He blinked but ignored it as he pushed himself up, frantically trying to control his pounding heartbeat.
"You sure?" she asked. "You just sort of fell down. Do you need to go to a hospital or something?"
"N-no," Paul replied, forcing himself to stay calm, "I'm fine, really. Just...uh, just blacked out, I suppose." He saw a sceptical look on her face and tried a reassuring smile. It came out more like a bad case of strychnine poisoning. "It...happens occasionally. I'm fine, trust me."
"Hmm," the asari said, still watching him, apparently unconvinced.
"Seriously," Paul said, starting to panic again. The asari's gaze was still on him, as if she knew something was off - his clothes probably weren't helping matters at all. He dampened his lips, desperately casting about for something to say.
"Well, if you're sure..." the asari said, the dubious look falling away. He nodded, trying for a smile again and managing to look like he was sucking on a lemon.
She looked as if she was going to say something but then thought better of it, gave him a short nod, and walked away.
Paul took a deep breath, turned and headed back into the alley, where he collapsed against a wall, clutching his knees to him and breathing as if he'd just done a hundred metre sprint.
Oh god, he thought, oh god, oh god. I'm in the Mass Effect universe. He closed his eyes and forced his breathing to regulate itself. Leaning his head back against the cold wall, he ran through the possibilities. Possibility one: he's insane or hallucinating. Very likely, but he'd heard that it doesn't occur to insane or hallucinating people to question what they think is real. Possibility two: he died and this is the afterlife. Not very likely, but maybe more credible than possibility three: he fell through some kinda wormhole thing and wound up sprawled on his back in the MEverse. He racked his brains to try and think of something that would reassure him that he wasn't hallucinating.
A thought struck him: he'd read somewhere - he wasn't sure, but he thought it was in T. 's The Once And Future King - that people cannot hallucinate smells, nor dream them.
Smells. Bins smelled. And there were plenty of bins lining the alley walls.
Paul pushed himself to his feet and stepped over to the nearest bin. With a quick glance at the road to make sure no-one was watching, he lifted the lid, stuck his head right over the rubbish, and inhaled deeply. The next second, he was on his hands and knees, coughing and gagging fit to burst from the stink that had shot up his nostrils and slammed into his brain like a hammer-shot.
"Well," he rasped finally, standing up and wiping his lips with the back of his hand, "no way am I hallucinating that."
He mentally checked insanity/hallucination off the list. That left afterlife or wormhole travel. Somehow he didn't think the afterlife was the MEverse, so that left wormhole travel. Not too bad, all things considered. There were worse places to end up. Warhammer 40K, for example. He shuddered. That did not bear thinking about. Picking his rucksack off the ground where he'd dropped it, he opened it quickly to make sure he still had everything. Two changes of underwear and socks; camera; camera charger; phone charger; ginger nuts; waterbottle; extra pair of jeans; extra shirt; two books - hardbacks from the early nineteen hundreds, Paradise Lost and The Illiad, his favourites; toiletry bag; first-aid kit. The first-aid kit reminded him that he still had a pounding headache, and he fished the case out. He removed a packet of aspirin and took two, replacing the case in the bag. Reaching into the front of his shirt he pulled out a leather pouch on a cord round his neck. Apparently, old coinage was very valuable in the MEverse, and he - fortunately - always carried around a 'lucky' 2nd century A.D. Roman denarius.
"Fat lot of luck you were," he muttered, fishing it out and glaring at it. He stuck the coin back in the pouch and dropped it back in his shirt, zipping the jacket up tightly.
As he walked out into the road again, he formulated a plan of action. First, he thought, find a public terminal, like in a library or something. Check the date and find where he was; then find the nearest antique store and sell most of my stuff. Then - he glanced down at himself - get some 'normal' clothes, so I don't stick out so badly. Finally, find a hotel or something and try to come to terms with what's happened.
He rounded a corner and stopped abruptly, as he saw across the river one of the most iconic and recognisable buildings in the world: the Houses of Parliament.
Tuesday 5 June 2181, a library somewhere in London
Paul shifted his rucksack from one shoulder to the other, waiting for the terminal to complete it's search. It seemed that library terminals, just like library computers, were slow as all hell. He shifted it again and then put it on the floor with a mutter of annoyance. The terminal had been a full two minutes already, just searching for an antique store. Still, he'd managed to find out the date, at least - 5 June 2181. That supported his wormhole theory, he thought vaguely. How, he wasn't sure. There was just something slightly reassuring that it was the same date, even if the actual day of the week and the year were off. The day was just one day off; the year by 168 years. He shuddered. Trying to take his mind off it, he glanced at the pair of gloves dangling by steel cords from the terminal. They were, so he had been told by a rather confused librarian, omingloves. Apparently, the holographic interfaces of omintools and terminals required tiny implants in the fingers to use them barehanded. If you didn't have the implants, you used the gloves, which had the necessary chips - or whatever it was, Paul never really found out - in the fingertips. He thought they looked rather cool, like something out of Minority Report.
"Harko's Antiques," he read, when the display finally lit up. According to the terminal, it was the closest on-the-quiet antique store that wasn't run by a volus. He examined the directions carefully, noting them down on his iPhone. Paul chewed his lip thoughtfully, wondering whether to find a hotel now or later. Better now, he decided, and slipped the omnigloves back on, typing in a search term: cheapest hotel in London. He hit search and removed the gloves, leaning back in the chair with a sigh. Staring into space, he introspected a little. All things considered, he felt he'd borne up rather well. Of course, he realised with a sudden cynical thought, it helped that he had had no close family in the real world - was it the real world anymore? - and was used to being alone. His mother had died in childbirth, and his father had handed him over to an uncle before drinking himself to death before Paul's sixth birthday. The uncle he'd been living with put him in an orphanage when that happened, and he ended up in a foster home at the age of twelve. By his seventeenth year, when he moved out, though he liked and respected his foster family, they weren't really close. Still, it hadn't harmed him; he'd grown up an intellectual, rather geekish bookworm who managed to somehow reconcile that with being fit - he ran ten miles a day, and fenced every other day.
A faint ding brought his mind back to the terminal. He noted down the name of the hotel - The Blue Lotus - reasoning that he could probably get a taxi or something to get there once he'd sold some stuff, before closing the terminal and standing up and leaving the library. As he went, he opened his Maps of Britain app, trying to see if he could match the route given with the map of London he had. If he was lucky, it wouldn't have changed much. He walked out of the door, not really looking where he was going, and suddenly felt himself collide hard with someone heading in the opposite direction, knocking whoever it was over.
"Oof," he grunted, staggering back. He looked down and realised, with horror, that he'd just cannoned into the asari he'd met earlier. "Ohmygod I'm so sorry," he stuttered, offering a hand to help her up. "I wasn't looking where I was going, I'm sorry, are you alright?"
The asari gave him an odd look as she pushed herself upright, ignoring his proffered hand. "I'm fine," she said, then her eyes narrowed and she asked sharply, "You! Are you following me?"
"W-what?" Paul said in surprise. "No! I - I just came out of the library - sorry..."
She stared at him suspiciously, before brushing past him and stalking into the library without another glance. Paul ran a hand down his face.
"That," he mumbled to himself, "was awkward."
He set off down the street, heading for the antique store.
Ten minutes later - and half as many wrong turns - he arrived. Glancing up at the dusty, drab exterior, he twisted his lips, wondering how badly he'd get ripped off. Deciding not to worry, he pushed open the door and walked inside.
"Hello, sir," a quiet voice said, and Paul glanced round to see a short, grey-haired man step out of an inner room behind the counter. The man's eyes widened slightly at the sight of Paul's clothes, but to his infinite relief didn't comment.
"Uh, hi," Paul said, walking over to the counter. "I, uh, have some things to sell." He opened his rucksack and pulled out the two books, mentally thanking whatever gods may be for his taste for old books. Who'd have thought they'd come in useful now?
As the man started looking over them, passing an odd device across the books' covers, he started taking out the camera as well, hesitated, then removed the SD card before putting the camera on the counter. No point in letting him see the pictures on here, he thought. He added the camera charger, and then reached in his shirt and pulled out the denarius, placing it on the marble surface with a loud clack. The older man, who'd been examining the camera with a faintly amused look on his face, glanced sharply at the coin. With a swift motion he seized it and, with a perfunctory, "Authenticity check," whisked it off to a machine in the corner. While his back was turned, Paul took the opportunity to remove anything with identification on it from his wallet before adding it to the small pile of things.
The man turned back from the machine with Paul's denarius in his hand.
"Well, sir," he said, a calculating look in his eyes, "this is certainly a valuable coin. Worth, I think, maybe a thousand credits?"
"Only a thousand?" Paul asked, disbelievingly. "A friend of mine, who knows these coins, said it's worth five thousand at least. Said the emperor on the coin, whatshisface, is rarely depicted on any coins from the Roman period." Five thousand pounds, he amended mentally. No knowing what that is now, but bluff and pretend you know what you're talking about.
"Your friend overvalues the coin. If in mint condition, then it certainly would be worth five thousand credits. But," the man replied smoothly, "as you can see, it is rather worn and a bit damaged. That decreases its value. Perhaps you would take two thousand credits?"
Paul hesitated, then said, "Three thousand."
The man's lips curled into a smile. "Two thousand five hundred," he offered.
"Done," Paul acquiesced, suspecting that while he hadn't got the coin's full value, he probably still had got a considerable amount. Thank god for my poker face, he thought. "And this stuff?" he asked, indicating the rest of the things.
"The books, two hundred credits. They're pretty good forgeries, you know."
"What!?" Paul spluttered. "Forgeries? What - "
"Oh, yes," the man cut him off. "Forgeries. Old forgeries, maybe ninety years old or so, but certainly not from the nineteen hundreds. Carbon-14 doesn't lie."
"Well," Paul said slowly, mentally kicking himself. Of course, there was no time passage, I just came here instantly. They're still as old as they were in my time. "Uh, okay then. I never knew that."
"So, two hundred credits?" the man queried, raising an eyebrow. When Paul nodded, he carried on, picking the camera up. "This camera - where did you find it?" the man asked, looking questioningly at Paul.
"Uh, my great-grandfather buried a time capsule thingy, and I opened it last year. It was in there, but I only just got round to selling it."
"Sure," the man said, evidently not really believing him, but Paul didn't mind too much as long as he got something for it. "Two hundred fifty credits, and fifty for the wallet."
"Okay," Paul said, relieved at getting the things off his plate. The man entered the items in his terminal, asked Paul whether he wanted a chit or direct transfer, and handed him a three-thousand credit chit when he indicated the former.
Paul exited the shop with a relatively lighter rucksack and three thousand more credits in his name than when he started, and glanced round. Find the hotel now, he thought, and tried to see if he could find a taxi or something. Failing to see anything, he accosted a passerby and asked where he could find the nearest taxi rank. On his way there, he noticed a large shop that was oddly familiar. In large white letters against a blue background, the sign over the door read, 'Debenhams'. Excellent.
He went in and, after looking round and feeling lost, found the nearest assistant, a beaming creature of indeterminate sex and age. He noted the shoulder-length hair, perfect complexion, shining teeth and flat chest, and marked it down mentally as an androgynous it. The nametag - JOCELYN - didn't help matters either. Who even has names like that any more?
"Excuse me," he said, "but could you help me please?"
"Certainly!" it trilled, in a high-pitched voice that penetrated his ears painfully. "Retro fashion, I see. Would you like to see our range of retro styles?"
"Uh, no thanks," Paul replied quickly. "I'm, uh, bored with this look - I want to find something different but I'm not sure about what best to get...d'you think you could help me pick out something?"
"Of course, sir," Jocelyn answered brightly. "If you'll follow me to the fifth floor, where we have our latest men's fashions, I can get you fitted out in no time."
"Thanks," Paul said weakly. The assistant led him over to a large elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. It began to move, slowly, as music that sounded like glitter studded pink goo played sickeningly softly in the background. Oh, god, Paul groaned mentally, as the assistant began humming along to the music. By the time they reached the fifth floor, he felt just about ready to scream. Give me Garrus and Tali bickering any day, he thought. This is just torture.
A rather painful half-hour later, he emerged from the shop with considerable relief, two new outfits, one of which he was wearing, four hundred credits poorer, and tinnitus. While Jocelyn, after reaching the fifth floor, had handed him on to another assistant, she - Alice, a definite female - had an even higher voice, and a more effusive personality than he had ever met with before. Still, he reflected, it was worth the pain not to stand out any more. In addition, she had given him directions to a charity shop where he could sell his unwanted clothes quite cheaply.
He stood on the pavement outside for a brief moment, before continuing off in search of a taxi rank.
Later, Tuesday 5 June 2181, The Blue Lotus
Paul sat on the bed in his room and looked around. It was a respectably sized room, not large but not small either, with a bed, chair and round table, armchair, TV screen on the wall, and terminal in one corner, complete with omnigloves hanging by a steel cord. On one wall was a door, standing open to reveal a small bathroom - lacking a bath, though. It only had a shower cubicle. Everything in the room was just this side of tatty and revolting, but was at least clean. Cost per night, one hundred credits, meals twenty-five to fifty credits each. Since he had two thousand five hundred credits, that amounted to about twelve days worth of room and board. He sighed. He needed a job - and he wanted to be able to be part of the Normandy's crew. Would be a complete waste if I just was a spectator like everyone else, he mused. Thing is, I'd only be on the Normandy's crew if I was a soldier, or a sailor...well, member of the navy, and then I'd have to be really good at what I do to get on. Or - an interesting idea struck him - I could be a reporter, to provide coverage on humanity's first SPECTRE. But again, I'd have to be really good and be working for the right ... newspaper? Since ME1 is only two years away, give or take, that's no go, he mused, chin resting on his hands. Another idea hit him, this one less agreeable than the last. Reapers, he thought. I know, but no-one else knows...forget spectating, I need to be on the Normandy. I need to be able to help Shepard... he smirked at a mental image of himself introducing himself to a generic Shepard: Hi, I'm Paul Alleyn. Sorry to have to break this to you, but you're a character in a computer game in my world. If you do exactly as I say, you get the chance to sacrifice yourself to save the galaxy from a race of self-perpetuating species-devouring robots. Yeah, he thought sardonically, that'd really work.
He sighed and flopped back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. I'll think of something, he vowed, then yawned so hugely he hurt his jaws. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was only seven-thirty in the evening. He shook himself vigourously and pushed himself off the bed.
"Coffee," he muttered to himself, and left the room in search of some. Five minutes later he returned, holding a large disposable cup of the strongest coffee he could get. Sitting down at the terminal, he took a large draft of it and set it down on the floor beside him. Slipping his hands into the omnigloves, he turned the terminal on, silently offering up a prayer that it would not be as slow as the library one he'd used earlier. Sighing with relief when it proved to be far faster, he began typing in 'careers', then paused. What if Shepard doesn't exist? With a sudden thrill of anxiety, he typed in the name 'Shepard' into the terminal and began his research. He quickly found that he had to be a bit more precise than just 'Shepard', since there were about a million or so different hits. Paul paused for a moment, wondering what Shepard's first name was. In-game you chose your own, he knew, so there was no knowing what it would be. He decided to try the default name - 'John Shepard' - when close on fifty thousand entries came up he further refined the search to 'John Shepard Alliance Military', which came up with five thousand hits, groaned, tried 'Jane Shepard Alliance Military', came up with two thousand hits. He stopped, stumped. For a couple of minutes he sat and thought, then typed in 'Shepard N7'.
The coffee, forgotten on the floor, slowly went cold.
Apparently you can check carbon-14 levels with a handheld device in the MEverse.
Sana will be making her appearance proper next chapter - but it will be different from before and better (fingers crossed).
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! With luck, the next repost should be in a week's time, depending on how fast I can rewrite it. Of course, reviews inspire me to work harder and faster, so review please!