"I don't know about this."
After weeks of fighting off Kett, Roekaar, Remnant tech, and whatever else in the galaxy was trying to kill her, it was the steaming water that had Ryder on edge.
"What's the matter, Pathfinder? Worried we'll all laugh at your bathing suit?" Liam chuckled, already submerged partially into this wild idea of his. He was shirtless, which seemed to be a pattern for the man (not that she intended to file a formal complaint against him), and not a half-dead, human popsicle despite all evidence to the contrary.
On the frozen world of Voeld, this should be impossible. Even with the heaters stacked a dozen together cranked up on high, they should all be transforming into fillet of mystery meat steaks found at the back of the freezer. "SAM?" Ryder called out, tenderly reaching her sandaled toe towards what looked like steam rising off the surface, "What temperature is the water?"
"It is 32˚ Centigrade, Pathfinder."
"See," Liam waved his hands through the water, "perfect temperature, perfect water, perfect view." He twisted his head around to gaze at the snowy hills, winds battering the never ending cold back and forth. It wasn't as bad as it had been when they first arrived courtesy of their team and the Remnant vaults, but Voeld wasn't a world you wanted to run around naked on.
"Move yer backsides!" a voice screamed from the door hatch of the Tempest as a blue blur dashed from the freezing cold into the protected bubble. Peebee tucked her knees up high to her chest and then leapt straight on into the water. When she struck, giggling like mad, a great wave splattered against Ryder's robe, warmer than anything she could ever get out of a shower on the ship or the Nexus.
"Whoa!" Liam laughed, "perfect cannonball!"
"Cannon what now?" Peebee asked, rising from the not-icy depths and shaking the water out of her ears. She tipped her head back, as if attempting to free any water that might have gotten trapped between her head tentacles.
"What you did, we call it a cannonball," Liam explained needlessly.
"Asari refer to it as a tea'na," Cora stepped out to join them. "It's a reference to the biotic term for a shockwave." Clutched in her arms was a folded up chair, which she managed to set up with a singe flick of her wrist and placed into the snow.
"Come on, aren't you going to join in on this lovely manmade hot spring?" Liam all but begged her. He'd been planning this for days, scrounging in secret with his contacts on both Aya and Kadara. The fact only Peebee, who'd probably ride a remnant Architect if someone put the idea in her head, took him up on it was clearly chaffing him.
"Nope." Smiling wide, Cora tugged off her robe to reveal what almost looked like a second skin grafted over top of hers, it was so tight. Bright blue with fashionable dots of pink and purple, it reached from her neck down to her thighs. What really made the suit stand out were the diagonal cuts across the hips, the stomach, and an x over the chest. It was hard for Ryder to say if in general the outfit covered or exposed more skin.
Peebee turned away from the horizon to snicker, "Shock of shocks, it's an Asari water suit. I'm amazed you don't paint your skin blue and insist we all call you Cornezhia, or something."
"That is..." Cora stopped in laying back on the deck chair to jerk a finger at Peebee. "I would never do something so disrespectful to the Asari."
"Right, because it might be fun and horror of horrors you'd never want to do that. Could get a terrible rash from enjoying yourself," Peebee laughed before submerging back into the water.
Their doctor stepped down out of the ship, a towel tossed over her shoulder, but she was dressed in her usual scrubs. "I see Peebee is up to her usual tricks. Liam, no signs of hypothermia, yet?"
"Nope, we're all good here, Doc. Just trying to get our illustrious Pathfinder to strip off that robe and leap in."
"It would be rude of me to partake before my wonderful crew's all had a chance. What about it, Doctor?" Ryder glanced over at Lexi who pulled out a data pad to inspect.
"I'm only here to make certain no one dies, Ryder."
"What happened to 'I'll take a break, I promise,'" she asked, honing in on the woman who couldn't let loose for two seconds.
Lexi sighed, "This is a break. I left my med-bay, did I not? Despite there being half of a Kett liver sitting on my dissection tray."
"Half?" Liam piped up. "What happened to the rest of it?"
"I ate it," Drack's grave voice chuckled as the old Krogan stomped out of the ship fully naked. Everyone groaned, their heads twisting up to the snow specked sky and beyond while doing their best to not stare at alien bone plates that didn't cover enough.
Either unaware of any offense, or enjoying it, Drack slid into the hot water. "Shiiit," he sighed in ecstasy, "this is what I needed."
"Work some of the kinks out of the old bones? Pretty smart to whip this up, eh?" Liam asked, all but elbowing Drack for the Krogan to compliment his idea.
"Careful kid, you're liable to throw your shoulder out patting yourself on the back like that. Humans have the weakest shoulders. Arms. Legs. Necks. Pretty much everything, really."
"Do not remain in there too long Drack or your blood pressure may spike. Without the extra hearts to balance the load..."
"Yeah yeah," Drack cut off Lexi's concern, the old Krogan content to soak away his cramps and aches.
Before Ryder could summon up the nerve to drop her robe and slide in, a Turian and Angaran came tramping down the incline. Vetra eyed up the display of so much male flesh bracing against the elements and sighed, "You're gonna cook your own brains in that, Kosta. Assuming you haven't already."
"Come on, surely Turians have to take a nice hot dip every once in awhile." Liam waggled his eyebrows, trying to do what damn near every human did when they meet a Turian -- get them out of that armor. Ever since the First Contact Wars it became a constant hushed question of just what they looked like under there.
But Vetra wasn't about to be fooled. Crossing her arms, she laughed, "Swimming with Drack you're likely to come away suffering from parasites undocumented in either galaxy. I'll stick with the fresh and clean air, thanks."
"Do something nice for your fellow crewmates and what do you get for the effort?" Liam grumbled, before his eyes skirted up to the alienist among them. "What about you, Jaal? Don't tell me Angarans hate water."
"Far from it. We will often engage in bathing rituals together." Their Angaran began to strip and somehow it was nowhere near as unnerving as catching a peek at Drack's quad. He made certain to lay his clothes out carefully, the blue rofjinn getting top honors, before easing down into the water beside their resident Krogan.
After a few breaths, those hauntingly marble-like eyes shut tight in ecstasy. A rumbling that could be both a sigh of contentment or deep intestinal pains broke from their Angaran before Jaal glanced over at her, "What of you, Ryder?"
"Oh for all the, fine! Fine. I think you're all crazy, but..." She untied the knot on her robe and let it drop into the snow.
The Andromeda Initiative provided wear for all potential terrain -- snow, desert, rain, forestry -- but somehow forgot to include anything in the pack should they wind up resting comfortably upon a beach. Or in this case a snowbank someone used a shuttle engine to burn down into a hot spring. That left Ryder with only one option, the complimentary string bikini courtesy of AI marketing. They'd left a stack of the damn things along with some other bits and bobbleheads in crates that made it all the way out to Andromeda because no one wanted to house all that mess back at the Milky Way.
White with the cerulean blue streaking up the sides of her breasts and hips, a giant AI was embroidered right over her left nipple. It was tiny, it was far too revealing, and she had to fight back an urge to rush back into the ship before she blushed her way through the snow. You're the Pathfinder. You can control Remanent tech and save these worlds. Wearing a little bikini is nothing next to walking into a Kett base and yanking the Moshae out from under them.
A whistle caught her attention, and she stared into the pond to find Peebee with her fingers in her mouth and a great grin on her cheeks. That caused a blush to burn on Ryder's in response, but she spotted the same slightly better controlled curious burn in her crew's eyes. All of them save Drack, he was busy trying to dig a bunion off the side of a foot plate.
Doing her best to let confidence take control, Ryder kicked off her sandals and walked towards the water's edge. She dipped a toe into this embracing, enticing heat and her body -- still in the never-ending winter chill -- froze in response. Aware that the AI on her chest was now more pointed than before, and that wasn't something she wanted to proudly display before the crew, she hopped fully into the pond. There was no touchable bottom, Ryder submerging fully as she succumb to the heat. The water was perfect, circling her weary body like a cashmere blanket, or a lover's cuddling arms by a roaring fire.
Paddling to break the surface, Ryder slicked the water off her face and out of her hair and found herself in the middle of the pond. "All right, Kosta, you win this one."
"Ha! See, I knew it'd be what everyone needs. Who doesn't want to tip back and relax in their own hot tub surrounded by friends?"
"Has anyone seen Suvi?" Lexi piped up unexpectedly, finally glancing away from her work for a moment.
"I think she said something about snow mushrooms," Cora said, her hands placed over her eyes as if she was trying to shield them from the sun.
"Goddess," Lexi cursed, "I'd best prep an antitoxin just in case." Ryder wondered if she shouldn't head out to try and find her wayward officer who was often licking things she shouldn't. But the water was far too inviting, and the snow far too cold. Damn, she hadn't considered how she was going to get out of here.
"Do humans often congregate together in water?" Jaal asked.
"We've got whole parks devoted to it," Liam said. "Kids sliding down these huge metal tubes on nothing but their stomachs. There was this one by me growing up that claimed to have an anti-grav water slide. Thing had four loops to it and could hit two G's if you knew what you were doing."
Cora peered up from her Asari sunbathing, "Anti-gravity? How could they keep the water from beading up and flying away?"
"Wasn't really anti-grav, just part of the marketing. Don't miss all that rot much out here. Buy this, you need that, can't have a real life unless you fill it with junk. You know they were starting to stick ads onto the Omni-tools. Ugh."
"Give it time," Ryder chuckled. "We'll have billboards for 'Andromeda Cereal' and 'Toy Adhi' scattered across this quadrant in no time."
"Bring the bad along with the good, eh?"
"It's how you know you've made it, I guess. A real civilization," she sighed, drifting deeper into the water. It was impossible for her to guess how far down he drilled to make this. The bottom was shadowed in navy swirls below her, as impenetrable as Helius had been. Ryder let her chin sink nearer the waterline as her mind drifted back to the monumental task ahead of her. Find golden worlds for everyone, get food growing, discover how to neutralize the Kett, oh -- and when you have the time -- form a proper government instead of letting Tann run everything his way. No pressure. Should be easy as pie. It's a wonder she didn't already have it finished, in fact.
"Growing up on the Citadel, Scott and I would always egg each other on to jump into that giant lake on the Presidium. He'd get cold feet, I'd get a death grip to the railing, or C-sec would come around the corner and we'd rush back home laughing."
"Did you ever do it?" Vetra asked.
"Right before I was supposed to ship out to my first Prothean dig site, Scott took my hand, shook it, and," Ryder smiled wickedly, "I hurled him off the bridge right into the lake."
The Turian laugh was broken up by a, "No way."
"Yup, they had to send for a Hanar to fish him out. Turns out the sides are too slick for anyone to climb up, something about how it makes cleaning easier." Her brother was so mad, shaking both from the cold and fury at having half of C-sec standing around watching him flounder about. But when she hugged him even while he was sopping wet, Scott let it go, whispering that he'd get her back in time. And now he was trapped on the Hyperion in a coma, while she was saddled with saving the galaxy. You win this round, little brother.
"Aya has some beautiful waterfalls," Liam said. He braved the snow circling their oasis by stretching both his arms against the lip of the pond. Turning his head, he honed in on Jaal who glanced up.
"Indeed. We cling to what little beauty the kett have yet to steal from us."
"Do they hold any cultural significance for your people, Jaal?" Ryder twisted around to face him.
He glanced up in thought, and she was struck again by his people's eyes. It was strange to consider, but they sometimes reminded her of earth, of gazing down at their blue marble from space. To find a scrap of home in an alien in an entirely other galaxy sounded far fetched beyond belief and yet...
"No," Jaal said, then a small smile took hold, "though we will often invite someone to view the falls by night when we wish to get them into bed."
"Ah..." Ryder tipped her head back to the sky, doing her best to not laugh at something that seemed to be universal.
She stopped laughing when Jaal, in his deathly serious tone asked point blank, "What of you, Ryder?" Her face snapped down towards the water, a blush taking hold as she was suddenly aware of every single eye on her makeshift crew staring daggers at her.
"What, what of me?"
"Do your people do the same?"
"Uh," she twisted around, catching a snicker from Liam. Peebee was covering her mouth with both hands to try and make the laugh more obvious, which caused the asari to begin to sink. "Some of them," Ryder finished with.
Jaal nodded, finding it interesting, before asking with that almost impish smile, "Do you?"
"Me? Um, that's not really something I..." Ryder twisted around hoping for backup.
"Well, Pathfinder?" Vetra pipped up. "Found any good paths lately?"
"It has been over 600 years," Liam chuckled. "One hell of a long cold streak. That's like some kind of celibate record, right?"
Peebee rose from the surface to shout, "What? Our galaxy crossing, kett fighting, remnant talking hero's getting lonely in that palatial suite of hers?"
"That bed alone could sleep three or four," Cora tacked on.
"Ha," Drack grunted, "don't need a bed. Just a corner, and maybe a rock to get her to slide up onto."
Lexi, even the doctor who was supposed to look out for their well being, turned on her. "It has been shown that companionship and physical connections will often help a person to destress."
Ryder felt the blush cranking up higher against her cheeks. Mutineers, that's what they all were. Traitors to the core. "New rule," she grumbled, her chin bobbing against the surface to mask the red burn, "if you talk about the pathfinder's love life or lack there of in any way, you will be hurled off the ship. Possibly into a sun."
"I mean it, Kosta," she whipped a finger at him and the man shut up instantly. But her threat couldn't wipe the cheeky grin off his face, off any of their faces. Those bastards knew, or had a good suspicion, but would rather toy with her -- the way friends did. They were her bastards. Her crew.
Ryder began to ease up out of her shame dive into the water, when she felt something slide across her leg. About to shake it off as a current, it was Peebee who all but leaped out and shouted, "What the shit! Something's down there! I felt it touch me."
"Me too," Ryder added, the pair sharing a look, when sure as shit a hand landed upon her calf. Instinctively, Ryder moved to kick it, but the creature had enough presence to get out of the way. "Fuck, it's still there."
"It's surfacing!" Peebee shouted, both women swimming towards the side, staring deep into the murky blue water as a darker shadow drew closer.
"Ha," Drack laughed once and aimed a pistol at whatever alien creature could live in the frozen lakes of Voeld. Every swimmer held their breath waiting and watching the shadow drift higher and higher until a pair of great black eyes crested out of the water and blinked rapidly.
"Ah, Ryder," the Salarian twisted his head around, "and the rest, I see you finally made it out to the pool."
"Kallo," Ryder sighed, then waved her hand at Drack to put the weapon away. "How long have you been down there?"
"Not very, a half hour I believe. There are some fascinating rock formations at the bottom. The fissures almost look like circuit boards. No doubt a matter of nature accidentally mimicking science, but anything is possible on this vault controlled world. I was taking a few pictures for Suvi. Did I offend anyone?"
"Nah kid, we got it all under control," Drack laughed, tipping his head back to gaze at the sky.
"An entire half hour under the water?" Cora asked.
Vetra sighed, "The perks of being an amphibian. Kosta, why didn't you warn anyone?"
"I was about to, until the Krogan drew a weapon. Tend to shut my mouth when that happens."
"Hey," Ryder twisted over at Drack; their very naked Krogan, "where did you get that pistol from anyway?"
He snorted and slowly rolled a single reptilian eye at her, "Do you really want the answer to that?"
"No, good point, I'd rather sleep at night."
"All alone," Liam sang song.
"In that giant bed," Cora added in.
"With nothing but the stars for company," Peebee joined in the laugh, before pausing and saying quickly, "Actually, that sounds great. Just my kind of speed, assuming you've got enough fuel to get to the next star system."
Ryder waved her finger at them, "I can get a new crew, you know. Ask Tann, or Kandros to slip in their ringers. Get a ship of nothing but Turians. They won't gossip about their commanding officer's personal life."
At that Vetra snorted, "You don't know Turians very well, Ryder."
"You are kinda a shit example there, Nyx," Drack said to her and she sighed.
"Good point, old man."
"You know," Liam had that about to start something tone in his voice. Instinctively Ryder braced herself for whatever was coming. Sometimes it was a great surprise like a hot tub, others she found herself fighting in zero-grav against space pirates. "On Earth, there were these people who'd soak in hot tubs like these in the middle of frozen winter wonderlands, while skiing and the like, then leap out to roll around into the snow."
"That seems...dangerous," Jaal said.
"A good way to shatter your quad," Drack tacked on, sadly reminding all of them of the look they got at his.
Ryder shuddered, staring around at the snow they'd been fighting in what felt both hours and weeks ago. "You'd have to be completely out of your mind to even think of...what?"
It was Liam's sparkling eyes falling upon her that caused her to freeze. "We've already seen you fall out of shuttles, Pathfinder."
"Activate Remnant tech," Peebee took up the mantle.
"Land a flaming ship on an alien world without starting a war," Jaal said.
"Actually, it was me who landed the ship," Kallo interrupted, "though I was happy to have nothing to do with not starting a war."
"Took down those Kett bastards with just your omni-tool, a single grenade, and your shields fully blown," Drack said, slugging her in the shoulder.
"Which Kett bastards?" Ryder struggled to remember that fight.
"Does it matter? They're all bastards," the Krogan laughed.
"Ryder, Ryder, Ryder," Liam began to chant her name, his fists pumping up and down above the water.
"No," she said right to his face. "No, I'm not..."
"Ryder, Ryder, Ryder," Drack took over, the old man smiling way too much for this.
"If you're so excited about it, you do it," she shot at him, but the Krogan just kept chanting her name.
Jaal was next, his tongue rolling the R's like gravel caught in the Nomad's wheels, "Ryder, Ryder, Ryder." Soon Cora, and even Vetra were doing it.
"If she's doesn't, I am," Peebee said, before joining in with the chanting.
Gritting her teeth, Ryder stared out at the pristine white snow. She only remembered playing in it as a kid a few times before they moved, when she and Scott were at most four or five. Then they were all bundled off to the Citadel, where all weather was temperature controlled. What would it hurt to give it a go?
"I would advise against it, Pathfinder," Lexi spoke up, as if reading the grit in her eyes, "The massive temperature change could cause untold damage, certainly hypothermia is a risk."
"Are you gonna let some Doctor push you around?" Peebee jostled her.
"I am not pushing," Lexi sighed, rolling her eyes back to the pad. "If you suffer from shock, you know where the med-bay is. But do try to not die."
"Once was enough for me, thanks," Ryder laughed. She paddled towards the edge and gripped her fingers into the snow. The cold bit into her tender, pruned flesh. With no armor on, the true power of Voeld battered against the weak human body that wasn't prepared for this. But they were asking people to survive here, to make it a home.
She wouldn't be a Pathfinder, their Pathfinder, if she didn't try it first. Grabbing onto the shore with both hands, Ryder hefted her body straight out of the hot water. It rained down off her skin, exposing it instantly to the cold, but she was already up into the snow. Running, she got one foot, then another down, when SAM chirped up.
"Pathfinder, you are likely to experience great pain if you let your skin touch the surface of the planet."
Crossed a galaxy, left everything behind, became the only hope they had to make it out here. Even before this, she was often leaping from cliffs to get to the dig sites before anyone else. Ryders were not the kind to sit on their hands and wait for the way to be safe. If they didn't find a path, they forged it themselves.
"Noted," she called out loud, then leapt stomach first into the frozen snow. It was so cold it burned, melting in an instant to ice at her hot flesh as she rolled through it like those old skiers would.
"Pathfinder," SAM chirped again in her head, its voice sounding more concerned, "I am reading..."
She hobbled up to her feet and dashed back towards the promise of heat. Locking her arms in over her head, Ryder dived straight into the hot pond as if she was entering a pool, or finally leaping from the bridge into the Presidium lake. The heat washed over her body, scattering any clinging snow or ice and swaddling her back into comfort. Even under the water, in her head she could hear SAM almost sigh, "Readings are returning to normal."
Gently, Ryder crested back to the surface, her hands cupping along her face to try and wipe away the water in her eyes. "Whew!" she laughed, "that was bracing." As she opened her eyes she watched as first Liam, then Vetra, Cora, and all the rest began to clap. A few whistled, shouting their congratulations.
The instigator laughed, "I never thought you'd do it."
"Don't bet against a Ryder," she said, sticking out her chin.
"The entire Helius cluster is learning that," Jaal spoke up. Ryder turned to him and tipped her head in a modest bow. It was nice to hear a compliment every now and again. Whether he understood it or not, Jaal smiled in response.
"My turn," Peebee shouted, already scrabbling out of the water and running towards the snow.
"Peebee, asari resistance to cold is even worse than humans. You should not..." Lexi began, when Peebee turned and shot her tongue out at her. "Why do I bother?"
Around the corner came Suvi, dressed in winter wear and supported by Gil. He shouted, "I was checking on some patchwork jobs on the hull and spotted her passed out in the snow."
"It's nothing. A minor rush of blood to the head. It's bound to happen to anyone," Suvi tried to laugh it off while Lexi took the patient off his arms. She tried to smile an apology at their doctor, but Lexi only sighed.
Gil paused at the edge and folded his arms, "Why wasn't I invited to your little hot tub party?"
"There's plenty of room still," Ryder waved towards a small patch of real estate between Kallo and Jaal. At that moment, Peebee's blue body streaked through the air, the splash great enough to strike at their engineer.
He was sent scattering back, scowling at the wet mess splattered against his jacket while Liam shouted, "That's an even better cannonball."
"Tea'an," Cora interrupted.
"An Asari kiss ass says what?" Peebee shouted quickly causing Cora to frown but not take the bait.
It was Jaal who turned to her to ask, "What does an Asari kiss ass say?"
"Hopefully whoever brought the booze to this party, cause unless Ryder or the crazy one freezes to death, this is getting pretty dull," Drack moaned.
"Nonsense," Kallo answered him, "there are in fact over five different shades of kelp that Liam defrosted below us."
"Are you going to write a poem about it, Salarian?"
"I might," Jaal spoke up, "if he does not mind."
Liam groaned, "I'm all for cross species sharing, but count me out of the kelp poetry night."
"Ditto," Vetra added.
As they all fell to arguing over who could write the best poetry about kelp or other seaweeds, Ryder glanced up at the stars. Night was a few more hours away, but she could imagine them out there. They crossed a million light years, six centuries left behind, to all wind up here together on this alien, hostile world shooting the shit. None of this was planned for. They couldn't have predicted the Scourge, the Kett, or any of the other obstacles tossed in their way. But as the people, her people, clashed and came back together stronger for it, Ryder couldn't stop smiling at one thought.
"What are you thinking, Pathfinder?" the Angaran, the man she'd never have met if she remained in the Milky Way asked.
Ryder turned from the stars to gaze at the humans, the turian, krogan, salarian, asari, all working as a team, all becoming greater than what they once were back in that other galaxy. "That we're going to pull this off. That we're going to finally have a home."
"Here here!" Liam jerked his hand up as if raising a toast.
It was Drack who groaned, "Ah, this shit's getting to corny for me. We need something fun to do."
"Well..." Peebee smirked, her eyes sparkling in mischief, "there is that giant Pathfinder bed no one's using."
"I am using it, thank you very much," Ryder tried to wave her away, but it was too late.
"What are you thinking?" Vetra turned to the asari, both of them falling into a secret communication.
Peebee smacked her hands together and rubbed them, "I've always wanted to jump around on a human bed."
"What?" Ryder blinked.
The asari cackled and as quickly as she leapt towards the snow, she flew out of the pond, running towards the hatch, "Last one there's a vorcha!"
"Oh, you are on!" Liam followed suit, Drack stumbling up to join him with a bit of assistance out of the water courtesy of their engineer.
"No...what are you doing?" Ryder flipped around, trying to make sense as her crew abandoned her.
"This is most exciting," Jaal emerged from the pond, barely bothered by the chill. "What is this vorcha? It sounds spicy."
"You are not jumping on my bed!"
Vetra shrugged, "Sorry, Ryder," and turned to abandon her, same as the rest of her traitorous crew. Even Kallo and Cora stumbled up to their feet, curious to watch an asari, a krogan, a human, and no doubt angaran all bounce around on her bed. It wasn't going to survive Drack climbing on it.
Sputtering in rage, Ryder slapped her hand on the water, "Anyone who jumps on my bed will be thrown in the brig for a month!"
"What's that?" Liam held a hand up to his ear. "Can't hear you over these strong Voeld winds."
"Two months, a year! And...your rations will be cut down to nothing but canned jellied seaweed!"
"That stuff ain't half bad," Drack muttered. "If you take it with some of that Kett liver."
Jaal leaned closer to Vetra to ask, "Does the Tempest have access to this brig?"
"Not really. She'd probably make us all sit in the bathroom or something."
"Oh, that is not much of a punishment then. Good day, Ryder!" he waved, all of them cheerfully stomping off to her room to ransack it.
Burning with anger, Ryder snarled, "SAM..."
"Get me Kandros on the Nexus and put in a requisition order for a new crew, one that'll actually listen to their damn Pathfinder."