This is not the end, Eric Lewellyn
Eric heaved a sigh internally. It was dark. The stars were gone. Helios was gone. The cockpit was gone. There was nothing, absolute void, as far as he could perceive. He felt a deep exhaustion. Feeling… how could he be feeling anything? He was dead. He was quite literally nothing.
Is that what you want?
He almost cried out no but found the word heavy. Isn’t an end to all of it what he had wanted? Isn’t that why he had gone out into space to find? Isn’t that why he had betrayed his friends when Meg had come to fetch him? A chance to end it all, to escape?
Escape… what? Escape what? Eric tried to focus himself and found the task monumentally draining. The reality he now found himself in was confounding his perception of things, thoughts passing like smoke in the wind, unable to grasp their form before the twisted out of reach.
Reality? Who said this is reality? I’ll ask again, is this what you want?
That comment brought Eric around. The topic gave him a purchase to cling to, a point of reference to guide on. Things were still blurring passed in and through him, but he had an anchor now. Basic process took over. First principle sprang into Eric’s mind. He was thinking, therefore he still was. And if he still was, then he could still perceive.
Take your time. Come to it gradually.
The voice gave him a second anchor, this time a point other than himself. A perception other than self perception, a glimpse of that which was outside of him. A stimuli to react and interact with. He was still foundering in this dark void but if he could concentrate… The surface was just there, if he could just reach.
“I choose… to exist.”
The light of realization burst in on Eric, giving him form in the darkness. His senses coalesced behind eyes and ears. His voice emerged from a throat as he gave a startled cry at the rapidity of sensation returning to him. He could reach out with hands, walk with feet, and turn a body that he had thought lost. The first thing he noticed was that the void was not entirely gone. He floated above it as images flowed past him. He found himself undisturbed, almost completely at ease with the situation. He alighted on the surface of it, his feet finding purchase as silver ripples spread over the inky blackness... With concentration he found he could move, though to call it walking would have been imprecise. It felt more like… gliding.
You came to that faster than last time.
The voice still reached out to him. It felt distant, yet familiar. He wasn’t necessarily comforted by it. Neither was he afraid. It just… was. Like everything else here. The images darted around him, wrapped around him, swooped passed in imperceptible blurs. Wait… what had the voice just said?
“What do you mean, last time?” Eric’s voice finally emerged, no longer stifled.
From your perception, if you can remember, this will have been your third time here, Eric Lewellyn.
He couldn’t place it. This was all new to him. And the sheer ridiculousness of that statement… “Third time?”
Perhaps you are not here again.
Eric shook his head in frustration. “How can I not be here?”
Silence greeted him. Eric instinctively knew that whomever he was communicating with was not going to be forthcoming. So instead Eric turned to the sights around him. “What are these?”
Possibilities. Some realized, others not. Can you perceive them?
Eric’s brow furrowed at the question. “What does that mean?”
The voice laughed lightly. I suppose if you can see just those, I might be able to try something…
Eric became aware of a warm light by his side. It stretched roughly to his height, bathing him in its glow. Within the nimbus he could perceive a vaguely human form but the details kept sliding out of focus. He did have an initial impression of familiarity, but it passed quickly. The figure did a quick look around and it waved finger and hands in front of it. “So, this is how you see me… I was right, you still aren’t here fully.”
The figure held up a pausing hand. “Not important right now. Only your understanding is of importance.”
Eric cocked his head slightly to the right. The hitherto androgynous voice had taken on a feminine inflection. This confused him. “My understanding of what?”
“Of why you are here. Of what you need to see and what you still need to do.”
“Still need to do?” Eric felt exasperated. “I’m dead. Little hard to do anything.”
The figure eyed Eric. After a long pause, she asked “do you accept it?”
Again, Eric thought he had an obvious answer. When he went to deliver it he felt the words die before he ever vocalized them. What could he do? He was fairly certain of the shot that had ripped his valkyrie apart and of the energy being ripped out of him by the enemy. Yet the alternative of where he found himself now didn’t exactly appeal to him. To exist in the oblivion…
“This isn’t oblivion.”
Eric looked at the figure inquisitively. “How did you…”
A warm hand came to his face and caressed his cheek. “You are always an easy read, Eric Lewellyn. I think that’s one of your endearing qualities.”
“Probably got me into more trouble than I was aware of.”
“Only for those that knew what to look for. It does make you vulnerable.” Eric turned his head away from the hand. At that moment his eyes settled on one of the manic windows that had been swirling around. It had slowed to a crawl, letting him actually view the scene contained within.
A enormous empty room stretched out in front of him. He felt himself step inside. He was both in the room and still watching from outside. It smelled sterile and lifeless, sanitized on purpose. A single tube, grossly out of scale with the enormity of the room that contained it, sat against the back wall. A figure was contained inside, but at this distance Eric could not make out any features. There was a door large enough to admit mecha through it, with a smaller human sized door inlaid at its base. Eric felt a presence land beside him, and turned to see the Figure.
“This is not pleasant, Eric. Are you sure you want to see it?”
Words escaped Eric again as he drank in this new scene. He walked closer to the tank, recognizing it for the second stage of a sizing chamber. Odd that the first stage maclone chamber was missing. The fluid inside was slowly circulating, creating obscuring bubbles throughout its volume. The body inside was hooked up to a dozen monitors and probes, a breathing tube feeding him air. Eric recognized it as a male form as he closed the distance to the tank. He couldn’t shake the sense of déjà vu.
“I’ve… been here… before?” he asked quizzically, not taking his eyes off the chamber.
“Yes.” The Figure said, a twinge of sadness edging into her voice.
Eric walked up to the clone tank and noticed the frost along the edges of the glass. Whoever it was they had been frozen in mid process. Eric shuddered as he remembered that conscious hell he had endured on the Zentreadi ship years ago. His sympathies went out to the poor soul locked in that chamber.
Vertigo hit Eric as his vision suddenly doubled. He was seeing through other eyes. Seeing… him. He collapsed to the floor as shock took the legs out from under him. He was dimly aware of the twin sound of him hitting the deck, the second part far more muffled. He saw/felt the Figure move to his side, draping an arm around his shoulder. “Are you alright?” spoke a doubled voice. It was at the point that Eric became aware of more noises, the familiar sound of energy beams and high explosives. Impacts could be felt. Eric turned/glanced up to see a large scythe like blade pierce the upper corner of the larger door. The metal frame peeled back as a monstrous looking mecha, one Eric had never seen before, shoved its way into the room. Eric could see the destruction the pilot had wrought in the background, dead guard and broken destroids strewn about like a child’s playthings. The mecha cleared the width of the room in two strides and stopped. The sickle blades on its shoulder locked back into a resting position as it righted itself. Eric’s gaze tracked into its chest, where a hatch hissed open. The pilot stepped out into the opening, his foot bracing on the edge of the cockpit. Even with the strain of the doubled vision Eric could recognize the features. They were far younger than Eric could ever remember them, but they definitely belonged to a familiar face.
“The figure shook her head. “Not Ryu.”
The boy couldn’t have been much older than 16, but the sheer look of hatred on his face spoke of a lifetime of hate and disgust for the form in the tube. Eric turned his gaze back as recognition hit him a second time. The bubbles pulled away enough to warrant a close examination of the occupant. It was Eric himself. The him in the tank locked eyes with the him on the floor, and Eric was aware of the dimmest connection between the two. Then the figure on the tank moved sluggishly and removed the breathing mask as he raised his head to the Ryu in the mecha.
And he smiled.
Not a taunting smirk or a sarcastic grin, but a warm smile of understanding. Whatever the case, it was too much for the young pilot. What had been obvious hate turned into fiery rage as the cockpit shut tight. The scythes sprang out into their attack positions and fell once, twice, and thrice as young Ryu vented his anger into its source. The first blow, by dint of sheer mass, pulverized tank Eric’s body even as it bisected him. The subsequent blows rendered what remained into an almost unrecognizable mess. Eric on the floor rolled away from the carnage, his head much more clear without the doubled vision. If the mecha had registered him the pilot didn’t seem to have noticed, so consumed with his mission. Eric mentally recoiled as young Ryu’s emotions, his pain, his joy, his release at obliterating tank Eric drowned nearly all other sensations in Eric. Everything blurred into a burning white nova.
The scene was gone. Eric was back on the outside of the image. It flittered off into the distance as Eric stepped back, aghast. The Figure stared at him, compassionately he thought.
“That was the second time” she almost whispered.
Eric inhaled deeply as the remnants of the emotional overload leaked away from him. “What…when…when did that happen?”
The Figure flinched, seemingly unable to answer. The frustration gripped Eric again, accompanied equally by confusion and anger. “TELL ME! When did that happen?! What is this place?!?”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet, you slow piece of shit?” An all too familiar, all too sinister voice called from Eric’s left. Eric felt dread as he recognized the voice. He had hoped never to see its owner again.
/Eric/ stood there, a cocky Cheshire grin adorning his face. “Welcome home, fucker.”