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I sit down with Mark Valkanet, a survivor from the colony of Tiptree. We speak at his new home on the colony of Sirona, over a glass of sweet tea. Here, it's easy to forget that a war for the galaxy had just came to an end. Mark Valkanet is telling me about when the Reapers landed on his colony. The sun had just began to rise on the colony of Tiptree. The beautiful colony was home to over four million colonist. Its lush green fields, unique and beautiful sunsets and it's perfect atmospheric conditions could draw in almost anyone. For a Human colony, it was the next best thing to Eden Prime. After the attack of 2183, it truly was the best that humanity could offer. As the sun began to rise, so was Mark Valkanet. He had arisen to say his daily prayers to his Lord, as he has done for as long as he could remember.
"'Blessed be your name Lord, for granting me another day to give praise and thanks to you. Amen.' That was my prayer. Same prayer, every morning. It was automatic almost, but not meaningless to me. Don't get that twisted." He reaches down for his glass, taking a drink from it. "Out there, I was free. My father always persecuted me for my faith. I thought it was such an odd time we had lived in. A father, punishing his child for believing in Jesus Christ. From what I understood, it was always the rebellious child who wouldn't take the teachings of their parent's God. "
"There's a lot of Atheist about today, many people lost their faith after the discovery of alien life."
"That never made any sense to me. God made the whole universe, it says it - right there in the Bible. He could've just made aliens too."
"I suppose a lot of people assumed that he only made in his image."
"Then how do you explain snakes? Pigs, dogs, all the insects on our Earth. They're all weird and alien looking. I'm not surprised that he made other things like us that just look differently." He sits back, bringing his right leg up onto his left knee. "But the morning was normal, for the most part. I said my prayers, made breakfast, said my thanks, and ate. Normal stuff. I worked as an lead architect for a company known as Koria Emption. I made mostly smaller buildings, you know? Houses, little farms and ranches. Most of Tiptree was like that, anyways. There was only one big city on the whole colony, and to be honest, it was the least impressive thing. What got people about Tiptree was the openness, the rare beauty you barely saw on Earth anymore. People missed that type of thing, I guess. I know I sure did." He brings his foot back down, switching it out with his left leg now. "Was working on a project for a new floral shop. Before I could get dressed for work, my omnitool started blowing up with alerts. I mean, it was crazy. I usually ignore those type of things when I'm getting ready to work, but this was out of the world. I opened it up - man - I still don't know how to describe what I felt."
He laughs uneasily with his last statement. There is a few moments of silence until I break it.
"These were the reports about Earth?"
He nods a few times slowly before letting out a loud exhale. "Yeah, footage and all. I'm telling you, I thought it was fake. I don't know, it just didn't make any sense. Before I could even put it together, the ground shook, a Reaper had already landed in my colony. I looked out the window, he was massive. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. I -- I was terrified, truly."
Another moment of silence. I speak again to break it.
"If any of this is too difficult to talk about..."
He shakes his head, "No, no. I just haven't talked about it since, really." He clears his throat. "For my entire life, I was waiting for my Lord to come back and take me to Heaven. I was waiting for the Rapture. I thought I had a ticket to Heaven and a personal invite from Jesus himself. But -- when I saw these monsters landing -- I thought 'No, what did I do wrong? Why did God leave me? Why am I unworthy?'. I fell on my knees, then and there. I wept uncontrollably, screaming for repentance and for forgiveness. I must have lost myself in how long I was there, because when the tears were wiped from my eyes and I could see again, the Reaper had already flattened half the city, and now, he was looking at me. I could see the beam activating, it fired it directly at me. I closed my eyes, for I was a sinner, and I was worthy of nothing but death at that point."
"How did you survive, then?"
He shakes his head slowly, shrugging at the start of his sentence. "I guess it just missed a little bit. I was on one of those elevated houses, the ones that are on stilts on the side of cliffs. He hit the support beams and the whole house went crumbling down. I think a piece of debris hit me over the head and knocked me out. It's probably the only reason why I survived. If I would have went down with that house alive and stiff as a rock, I surely would've broken every bone and torn every muscle I had." He sits there for a moment, thinking to himself. I take the moment to take a drink from my glass of sweet tea.
"I woke up hours later. I was alone, the only thing I could see was that Reaper. It was facing the opposite way now, still firing its beam of destruction into who knows what. As soon as I woke, I began praying furiously. I kept praying until something grabbed me. I yelled in utter fear until I saw one of the colonial soldiers. When I came to, I hugged him tightly, thanking God for sending me someone in this chaos. His name was Private Rantee. He told me that his squad had been wiped out, and he was moving to find the rest of his platoon. I guess he just stumbled across me. He told me I could come with, and we could get out of Tiptree alive. I followed him, of course. We walked among the debris, the destruction, and the dead. I reached up and held my necklace tightly. It was a cross. It made me feel safe, even in this time when I felt forsaken. The Reaper never let up. He seemed to never stop firing. I was lost in its design, in its thirst for death. I almost didn't hear Rantee scream out for contact. That was the first time I saw them, husks. Those terrible abominations. There were three of them, they began to rush us without hesitation. Rantee raised his rifle and fired off his entire thermal clip into them. Once they fell, he grabbed me by the arm and began rushing me. He told me we were close, and had to move. Just when I thought we might make it out, I heard her."
"Who is her, Mark?"
He doesn't respond to me. I repeat my question, thinking perhaps I spoke too lowly. Still, no response. I lean forward in my seat.
He looks up to me. "The Banshee. Her scream still sends shivers down my spine. When I heard it, we both had the same reaction. Paralyzed by fear, by the unknown." He leans forward to me, pointing. "I waited thirty seven years for the Rapture, and now my God had left me behind. I was ready for death, but not like this." He returns to his normal position. "It simply teleported in front of us. It grabbed Rantee, picking him up like nothing. I grabbed Rantee's rifle, firing the entire thermal clip into that demon. It just stuck its hand through Rantee's chest, killing him like he was nothing. It killed him with no hesitation, it killed him with no regard for his life, his family, his friends, nothing. It tossed him to the side and looked towards me. I grabbed what remained of the gear that fell of Rantee and sprinted for my life. I didn't stop running for what seemed like forever."
"I spent most of my life in Tiptree. Crossing the colony was probably the hardest experience of my life. I passed by the old park I grew up playing in. My school, my first job, my first party. All of it. I passed by Boution, the restaurant where I first fell in love. At some point, I simply collapsed from exhaustion. I crawled my way into a ditch in the street. I was surrounded by nothing but dead and rubble. I was alone. I prayed for my God to send me help. He did not respond."
"I stayed there. I was paralyzed in fear. It must have been two days I stayed in that ditch. I was hungry, starving. It wasn't until another soldier grabbed me and pulled me out of the trench. At that point, I was too weak to resist. I would have, if I could. I thought he was a husk for a while, until I had enough strength to look up. Next thing I knew, I was tossed onto a Kodiak, and I was sent offworld then and there."
He finishes his sweet tea. I lean in and ask him a question.
"Where were you sent?"
He looks to me and quickly responds. "Salarian colonies. It was a good place, but it wouldn't last. I was relocated dozens more times during the war. It was like it never stopped."
"Well, the war is over now Mark."
"For you it is."
I give him a confused look.
"For me, I never left that ditch. I died there with my God. What they pulled out of that ditch isn't so far from the things that were chasing me." He sits back, looking directly at me. "Death of my brother, fallen angel my sister." he seems to stare intensely at me now. "Like I said. I don't think I ever left that ditch. I don't think I ever will."
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