My eyes snapped open.
I struggled to distinguish any shape in front of me, looking up in the darkness of the room. I slowly pulled myself upright out of the glowing, neon blue pool I lay in. The cold water dripped down my face and off my hair, each droplet seeming to still hold a radiance of its own. I breathed out as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, seeing my breath materialize as a turbulent haze in front of me.
I lifted my legs over the edge of the sarcophagus and touched my feet to the floor, slipping a little. The hard metal eagerly absorbed what little warmth I had left in them, although the difference was hard to notice.
I breathed out again, sluggishly. My head throbbed with a dull, repetitive pulse. I had gotten used to the feeling by now, but I had also come to accept that it shouldn’t be ignored. I decided not to try walking yet.
A soft clank of footsteps echoed from the side and I slowly turned my head to look. A black silhouette approached, emerging out into the light of my sarcophagus. It was a woman that walked with the caution of a serpent, but the warmth of a caretaker, a protector. Her pure white coat shone vividly, contrasting with her darker features. She smiled as she sat down next to me.
“Hello, Three. How do you feel?” she whispered.
“Not the best.”
She paused and looked into my eyes, like she wanted me to continue, but my mind still throbbed. I blinked lethargically.
“How did you die? Did it kill you?” she finally asked.
She sighed, shaking her head. “Then we’ll need to move again.” She got up and stood in front of me, being careful to avoid the puddle I had created earlier. She reached out towards me with an outstretched hand, the soft pastel coloration of her fingers masking the mechanical nature inside.
“Hold still,” she said. There was a sound of soft servos whirring, and her fingers stretched and bent gently as they attached to contact points on my head. “We can analyze the information later. Hopefully traces of its mind will still be left in yours.”
“Yes, Shepard,” I said, and closed my eyes. There was a sound of a spark, and a flood of images flashed before me, too quick for my mind to distinguish. It only took a moment for it to complete. My memories—or at least, memories of someone like me—were pulled out and sealed in the Tower’s data banks. My mind went dark again, and I opened my eyes.
She pulled her hand away, and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Three. This will be valuable. It always is.”
A faint glow appeared behind her, which she also quickly noticed. Several other sarcophagi, until now nothing more than dark shapes in the room, had begun to radiate with a neon blue hue. The others were waking up.
She looked back at me and nodded. “Take a break, Three. Stretch your legs while I tend to everyone else.”
“Yes, my Shepard,” I said as she turned and began walking towards the next awoken.
For a time, I remained where I was, stretching my neck and solidifying my senses. My headache was gone now, and my vision more acute. I stepped carefully onto the metallic floor, this time feeling the biting cold more sharply. I pushed myself off and stood in the still-quiet room.
I stepped along the wide walkway, railings on both sides. The room was still dark, despite the new light from the sarcophagi. I instinctively peered over the edge, looking down into the depths of the Tower, but I only saw unending blackness. I continued walking until I reached the edge of the room—an observatory to the outside.
The window stretched from the floor to the ceiling, giving a wide panoramic view. I placed my hand on it, my still-wet fingers squeaking on the glass. Outside, the towers and lights of the city shimmered in the darkness. Bright neon signs contrasted with the black spires. And beyond it, past the edge of the city, I could see the glimmer of majestic stars and exquisite nebulae, beckoning from afar as the city drifted through space.
It was beautiful. And the Tower, from which I gazed out, was the centerpiece of it all.
I looked up, far above the city’s spires, and saw a large, bright spiral shape looming overhead—the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. I had made it a point to greet it the last few times I had awoken, but it was much larger and brighter now than before. The latest jump had moved us farther than I had expected. And now, we’d have to make yet another jump, before it found us.
It’s because I failed again.
I frowned as the thought appeared in my mind.
Everyone did, I reminded myself. Its shape was different this time. It moved differently, too. We weren’t prepared. We’re never really prepared. I shuddered as I remembered the images of it, the cruel memories of its gaze.
But I would not be crushed by it, not for good. I would learn, I would change, I would repeat. Even if I had to go back and die a thousand more times.
I would win.
A voice called from behind me, and I smiled. It was time again. I hurried back, and saw the Shepard waiting. She nodded solemnly.
“Once more,” she simply said.
“Yes, Shepard. I’m ready.”
I stepped back into the shallow, glowing water and lay down into the tight space of the sarcophagus. The Shepard watched over me as the glass doors sealed me in. I crossed my arms over my shoulders and looked up at her as she spoke the oath.
“The city is our church. The cycle is our dream. May we break Annihilation.”
“May we break Annihilation,” I repeated.
I closed my eyes as cold water began to fill the chamber. It covered me, my sense of feeling going numb. I breathed out a final breath, and my mind drifted away into sleep, leaving to struggle, die, and learn in the other world.