The first time Vetra rides the Relay network is on a school trip to the Citadel. Most kids in her class have been on short hops to other Turian colonies or client planets with their parents just to pull the bandage off, but Vetra’s mom and dad are usually –busy so she sits in a quiet corner of the shuttle and stares at her forearms, waiting to see what (who) will show up.
Her classmates are distracted by the vid screens showing the relay on approach and Vetra expects she’ll be equally entranced on the way back, but her mark is more important. She’s been waiting on this trip for months. She’s ready to have someone all her own.
Vetra’s mom and dad aren’t soulmates. Neither of them really agree with the idea that an extinct race of aliens has any right to dictate who they’re destined to be with. Having seen how well that’s worked out for them, Vetra’s decided to take her chances with the aliens.
A subtle swoosh rocks the shuttle and the vid-screens light up with the blueshift energies of relay transit. A little of that energy appears in front of Vetra and sinks down onto her exposed left arm. She gulps. It feels like her heart is lodged in her crop.
The light settles into odd little patterns that don’t look like any alphabet she knows. It’s not any Turian language she knows at least. She draws her mandibles in tight and closes her fingers over the mark. It feels a little like a gap in her plates; a tiny vulnerable secret she wants to keep safe from everyone.
Vetra’s soulmate is an alien.
It’s intimidating as hell. There are dozens of spacefaring species in Council Space alone. She queues up her omnitool and spends the entire trip researching alien alphabets. It doesn’t do her any good. There are plenty of languages that nobody speaks off their home worlds or are ceremonial or technically extinct yet still in use by like five aesthetics living on a remote mountaintop somewhere with no extranet access.
Researching language becomes a bit of a hobby; something to bury herself in when her parents are at it again (and again and again.) It makes her feel close to her mystery person and far away from the warzone she calls home.
Eventually she’s got Sid to look after when Dad’s not around and that cuts into –well, everything really. Dad’s gone a lot and Mom checked out altogether once Sid came along. Vetra thinks her soulmate would understand. Sid’s cute as hell, tiny, and helpless. It’s only for a little while anyway until Dad gets his troubles worked out or Mom decides to come back.
… only neither of those things happen. Vetra’s life changes overnight when she comes home to find her dad packing them up to leave the planet.
She stops having time to look for her special someone after that. Her life revolves around survival and she doesn’t have money for frivolous extranet access anyway. The only comfort she really gets is her sister’s presence and the fact that her mark is still bright and crisp. Maybe she can’t find them, but wherever they are they are healthy.
Vetra goes back and forth trying to decide if she’s angry with her father for robbing her of her chance at citizenship. On the one hand she does just fine without it and has some complicated feelings about the meritocracy thanks to her mom’s slavish ladder-climbing. On the other, if she can’t find her soulmate then she wants her soulmate to find her. How the hell are they supposed to do that when Vetra’s been deleted from Palaven’s public record?
Vetra picks the search back up when she gets a little older and better established. Sid’s old enough that Vetra’s evenings and mornings aren’t consumed with making sure that she’s fed, dressed, and not late for school. That’s been her life for so long that she feels a little lost without the routine.
Her resources are better than they were when she was fifteen, but her luck sure isn’t. Years pass with no solid leads and Vetra wakes up a few days away from her thirtieth birthday and realizes she’s probably never going to find her person. The odds are that they’re someone who never left their home world, never traveled through the Relays, and never got their mark. They might not even know she’s been waiting for them.
It’s a kinder thought than to think that maybe her person just never bothered themselves with her.
One of her clients, Kesh, has been dropping breadcrumbs of info about some big colonization effort and the Terminus is getting a little too hot for comfort. The idea of starting over somewhere far away looks real good to her.
Of course, the Andromeda Initiative is way more than she expected –but in a good way. Vetra envisions going to sleep and waking up six hundred years into the future with the little mystery on her arm gone. She tells herself it’s a good feeling.
Her gut twists with nausea when she confirms her acceptance for two berths on the Nexus with Garson’s recruitment office and when she gets into her cryopod and when she wakes up in Andromeda with one hand clenched around her left forearm.
She can’t tell if she feels angry or overjoyed when she takes off her vambrace and finds that her mark is still there.
Her soulmate is an alien and part of the Initiative.
So much for her theory that they were some dirt-bound homeworlder. Her soulmate knows her name. They’ve just never looked for her –or couldn’t find her and gave up just like she had. Hard to say which feeling is worse.
Living on the Nexus is like being caught eternally between hope and dread. On the one hand, she has increased the odds that she’ll be able to find her person to one in one hundred thousand, which is better than in the one in trillions chance she’d had before. On the other, people are dropping like flies between the Scourge, mutiny, failed settlements, and the fucking Kett.
She isn’t the only person in the Nexus who wakes every morning to check their mark, but it feels like it’s only a matter of time with every day that passes without an Ark appearing at the docking bay.
The Nexus goes dark as power reserves dwindle. They are operating entirely off the emergency solar arrays and Vetra is making plans to acquire a shuttle to evacuate Sid to Kadara when hope reappears in the form of Ark Hyperion.
Everything changes in the course of a few hours and Vetra races to keep ahead of it all. A Pathfinder has made it to Nexus and that means the Tempest is going to come out of mothballs. Vetra plans to be on it when that happens.
She orders inventory for the Tempest without checking with Kesh, just strides in and takes over like of course she’s part of the crew. It works. Between her, Gil, and Kallo the Tempest is ready to take off the second their Pathfinder sets foot on the docking platform.
Vetra finds it a little hard not to stare. Sara Ryder isn’t what she was expecting. She’d had a vague idea that the human Pathfinder was older and male. Getting the Tempest prepped to go meant she hadn’t been able to stop for gossip.
Sara’s on the short side for a human, which makes her fun-sized to a Turian. It occurs to Vetra in an odd moment that she could pick the Pathfinder up and carry her around if she wanted. It’s jarring how much she likes the idea and wishes she could try it without pulling back a smoking stump.
Later she learns just how lucky she is that her Pathfinder is Sara and not the original Ryder –or even Cora, Ryder Senior’s heir-apparent. Vetra’s habit of asking forgiveness rather than permission wouldn’t fly under their leadership, but Sara trusts her people to get shit done –which is good because the Tempest crew is a bunch of self-motivated weirdoes.
It’s strange. Vetra hasn’t belonged anywhere before. She’s been tolerated and even valued, but finding ‘home’ was as much a lure for her as trying to cut herself free of the soulmate she’d never be able to meet. It’s like there was a space on that ship just waiting for her and no one could ever fill it quite like she does.
Ryder is a good boss. She’s inexperienced, but doesn’t seem too concerned with covering that up and she’s chatty. Vetra never likes to be quizzed on her personal life, but Ryder makes it look cute.
It is possible -just possible, mind you- that Vetra’s nursing a crush.
Hard not to when the object of your affection likes to pick giant bugs and raiders and lizard monsters with a high-powered sniper rifle from over two hundred feet away. Competence is sexy no matter what you’re made of.
Slowly, steadily, things start to turn around for the Initiative. They’ve get a solid foothold on Eos at last and Ryder finds them new locations on Havarl, Voeld, and even a site on fuckin’ Kadara.
Worlds bloom in Ryder’s wake and Vetra… she wants that with a wordless longing she can’t explain even to herself. She isn’t interested in Ryder’s body. Okay, she is a little interested although she has no idea where she’d start if sex ever ended up on offer. What she wants most is Ryder’s attention; all of it. She wants in where no one else can go.
It’s not the healthiest sentiment so she keeps it to herself. Besides, she’s spent her life looking for someone else and it seems silly to give up now that she’s closer than she’s ever been.
Things on the Tempest are kind of casual during FTL. That’s usually when everyone gets their rack time or unwinds. Anything that can get you in FTL travel is going to obliterate you before you can comprehend what’s happening so why worry?
Ryder sleeps through FTL and emerges adorably sleep-rumpled an hour or so out from their arrival zone. The trip from Kadara to Elaaden is no different. Vetra’s making herself some Kav in the kitchen when Ryder emerges from her cocoon in search of coffee.
Vetra drops a pod into the machine for her without being asked.
“Thanks, Vetra.” Ryder shuffles over to the cabinet to scare up a mug and some rations. Vetra tosses a baggy of dehydrated fruit and plant protein pellets at her before she can find a can. The food situation is not awesome and Vetra does what she can, but it never feels like enough. It might be years before there’s a reliable source of food in Heleus. Even the Angara live off this horrific goopy nutrient paste made from spirits only know what.
Lexi nags and sends email reminders and tries to get SAM to enforce Ryder’s diet, but nothing works as well as putting something in her hand before she finds where the MREs have been hidden last. Nothing wrong with the MREs, but according to Lexi they don’t pack enough complex carbohydrates to keep an active biotic going and Ryder was skirting the edge of being underweight before she had to support herself and SAM.
Sure enough, Ryder starts munching through the snack without paying too much attention to what she’s eating and retreats to curl up on the bench around the table. Vetra sits on the urge to slide in next to her.
They’ve been running silent for a while so it’s a little warm throughout the ship and no one is wearing their entire kit. Ryder, who doesn’t seem to own clothes that aren’t Initiative issue aside from her vinyl jacket, is down to a short-sleeved shirt and her uniform trousers. The shirt leaves her forearms bare. Humans are kind of casual about their marks, but Ryder’s usually all buttoned up and nobody’s ever gotten a peek at her mark except maybe Lexi.
Vetra doesn’t think she looked on purpose, but she knows herself too well to really believe that.
Along the inside of Ryder’s left forearm is a line of high ceremonial script, which Vetra hasn’t seen since Mom broke her birth plaque in the middle of a shouting match. Birth plaques were an old-fashioned tradition even before they left the Milky Way and Vetra’s mother had commissioned one before Vetra was ever born, before her marriage turned sour and she fell out of love with the idea of family. Sid never got one at all.
She still remembers the shape of her name in that language; the sharp points and slashes of the characters dating back to a time when Turians wrote by flicking their claws across wax tablets.
It’s the same shape written daintily down the inside of Ryder’s arm.
“Ryder…” Vetra clamps her mouth shut as her Pathfinder glances over. She can’t control her face or the way she keeps looking down at Ryder’s mark and then away again.
Ryder’s look sleepy contentment fades and she tucks her arm under the table, a bit like she’s hiding a soft spot. Vetra’s heart does something complicated and painful. “I’ve already been lectured about it, okay. I don’t need to hear it again.”
Ryder unbends a little. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped.” She sighs. “My mark’s a bit of a sore spot for me. It’s in a kind of sacred script and the times I’ve tried to have it translated… it didn’t go well. The priests I’ve talked to just yell at me and the one academic I found who’d return my calls told me that I’d just ruin my soulmate’s life forever if I ever contacted her. The secular clans who still use that alphabet are pretty xenophobic.”
Vetra clears her throat and fiddles with the catch on her vambrace. “I know a little about that. No one can figure out what language mine’s even in.”
“Yeah?” Ryder drops her defensive hunch. “You want me to take a crack at it? Not to brag, but my background’s only in xenoarchaeology and linguistics.”
Fifteen years of waiting haven’t prepared Vetra at all for what it feels like to bare her mark for her person. Maybe she never had believed she’d find Ryder or like her so much. She turns her arm to show off the odd little curves and bars of her mark.
Ryder’s teasing grin fades as she examines it. “I, uh… that’s Hebrew; modern Hebrew. I’m not surprised no one could identify it for you. Not many people speak that outside of Earth.” She’s turning a brilliant shade of pink as she talks. Vetra’s heard of this ‘blushing’ and she likes it. She likes it a lot. “It says… um… oh fuck it. You know what it says, don’t you?”
“Yeah, pretty sure.” Vetra rasps. She slips around the table and leans in to loom over Ryder. It’s a good feeling. “I can tell you what yours says at least.”
“Better say ‘Vetra Nyx’.” Ryder grumbles and pulls her down for a kiss. Turians don’t kiss, as a general rule. Some, mostly folks out in the Terminus who don’t have strong feelings about the Relay 314 Incident, have picked up the habit. Vetra’s never tried it, but she’s warming up to the idea.
“Well, you missed the ‘property of…’ bit, but yeah. Essentially.” Vetra croons. All her happiness feels like it’s welled up out of her chest and spilled into her vocals. Ryder probably doesn’t understand everything Vetra’s giving away right now, but she’s noticed humans tend to pick up on the big emotions; fear, affection, joy. There’s plenty of that going on in her subharmonics.
“Somehow I guessed that you’d be the possessive type.” Ryder –Sara laughs. “Okay, seriously though. We need to move this into my quarters before…”
The door slides open as Drack clomps inside. He has a partially disassembled assault rifle under one arm and pauses as he takes in the view; Sara’s mussed hair, the way Vetra’s got her bracketed in against the wall, and the abandoned cups on the counter. “C’mon, kids.” He groans and covers one eye with his free hand. “People eat in here.”
Ryder’s blush goes from pink to a fantastic shade of red. She grabs Vetra’s hand and hauls her around the corner and into the Pathfinder’s quarters.
The door closes and locks behind them with a decisive ‘click’ that is probably SAM’s commentary.
“I have to ask, why ‘hee-brew’?” Vetra’s mouth is running while her hands occupy themselves with rumpling her (hers!) soulmate’s clothes. It’s probably a bit soon for actual makeouts. Vetra knows basically fuck-all about interspecies sex except that Levo-Dextro couples can hurt each other badly if they don’t know what they’re doing. She doesn’t want that.
“My mom’s family.” Sara’s hands were equally busy exploring the unfamiliar (to Sara) planes of Vetra’s face and body. “Mom wasn’t religious, but they made my brother and I this photo album with our names on it in Hebrew. Your turn.”
“It was a ceremonial birth plaque my mother had made when she got pregnant with me.” Vetra leaves out what happened to it. It’s 600 years in the dust anyway and in some ways she’s glad her mom made it so easy to leave her behind. “We weren’t a spiritual family. It was just a status thing, I think.”
The good thing about hugging? Hugging is almost universal. Sara pulls her into an embrace and Vetra lifts her up off the floor. It’s exactly as easy as she imagined it.
It only took a few hundred years and a one way trip across dark space, but Vetra’s finally found the place she belongs and the person she belongs with.