It was raining on Kadara.
Sara had never seen it rain in the port before. It wasn't an improvement. Pooling water revealed flaws in construction that could be overlooked on a sunny day, and though the rain carried away the ever-present smell of engine fumes and unwashed outlaws, Sara knew it would all come back the moment the downpour stopped. In short, it made everything seem even more hopeless than it already did.
And that was saying a lot.
She tried to avoid the worst of the rain, but the port's entire population seemed to have crammed themselves into the few covered areas near the docks. Sara had to shove her way through the crowds, trying not to elbow anyone in the ribs too hard. She was angry - and hurt, too - but that wasn't the fault of the damp and smelly spacers. She passed Cora at the elevator to the slums, and the huntress smiled warmly.
"We heading out, Pathfinder?"
Sara shook her head violently, trying to shake the water out of her hair. "Nah, you stay here. I'm heading to Tartarus, but I won't be long."
Cora's face hardened. "He still not answering your emails?"
It was tempting to say a lot more than that; to wallow in the righteous anger and sympathetic fury that only a friend like Cora could offer - but even bitching to her friends couldn't heal this particular hurt. It went deep, this one. It stung.
Vetra had called him a scumbag and a liar. Jaal had agreed that the description was accurate. Peebee had gone with 'two-faced son of a bitch', and Liam had bought Sara a beer. Several beers.
Reyes had probably never paid for a drink in his life.
"I hope you're not planning on going down there dressed like that," Vetra said from somewhere behind a pile of cargo crates.
"Sure I am, mom."
"The big bad Pathfinder doesn't need armour anymore, huh?" Vetra poked her head over the crates, frowning the way that only a turian can. "Taking a gun with you, at least?"
"Sara," Cora began. "Actually, never mind."
"What's up?" Sara busied herself with hiding her pistol inside her jacket. Just in and out, she reminded herself. No need to get caught up in Reyes' world again. No need to get caught up in Reyes again.
Cora continued hesitantly. "Maybe I should go visit instead. I'm sure he's as concerned as we are about Kaetus' raids, just… maybe he can't face you."
Sara shook her head again. "I asked Reyes to let Kaetus go free," she grumbled. "It's my responsibility to clean this up. If I can be an adult about it, he can too."
She still felt guilty about what happened to Sloane and her right-hand turian - and still felt stupid for feeling that way in the first place. She almost wished she'd let Reyes kill Kaetus. That way, she wouldn't owe the Charlatan anything.
She'd always thought that name was stupid - but she got it, now. Charlatan. Pretender. Liar.
"If you're sure," Cora murmured.
"But just so you know," Vetra interjected, "we're coming down to get you if you aren't back in twenty minutes."
"Good to know."
Sara wasn't sure what Vetra was worried about, but she didn't want clarification. Could be that Vetra was worried about the dangers of the slums, but it could be she was worried about Reyes.
Sara understood. The Initiative scientists said the black hole was Heleus' gravitational centre, but those people had never met Reyes Vidal. Sara tried not to think about it as the elevator started to descend. It would be so easy to lock eyes with him and forget all his broken promises; forget all the reasons they couldn't and shouldn't be together. That was what gravity was, right? A pull.
A pull that never went away.
The rain was even less pleasant in the slums. Sara sprinted from the elevator to the relative shelter provided by the prefab catwalks. Even here, where the slums turned almost to a sort of cave system, the rain pounded on the metal like thunder. It was hard to hear anything over the din. A local salarian gave Sara a frightened look as she approached the entrance to Tartarus, then sprinted away like the Charlatan himself was on his heels. Maybe Reyes had told his people to watch out for her.
Sara smiled at the thought - Reyes Vidal, frightened of his ex.
His ex-what? Ex-girlfriend? Ex-fling? Sara didn't even really know.
She paused at the entrance, trying to gather her thoughts. Tartarus' walls couldn't contain it; she could feel the bassline tickling her spine. She'd keep their discussion business-like. Walk in, sit down, and get straight to the point.
Hi, Reyes. Good to see you're still alive. No, really, it's fine that you haven't been answering my emails. I'm busy, too. Really. It's fine.
Listen, I need your help finding some raiders. Thing is, Kaetus is their leader. Yes, I know I asked you to let him live, but that's because I'm a giant sap - and also because I was feeling fragile after you broke my heart.
The intro definitely needed some work. But shit - between the cacophony around her and the cataclysm inside her, Sara could hardly even breathe, let alone think straight. Maybe she should just turn around and let Cora come down here after all. Cora was nothing if not level-headed. She'd get things done, minimum fuss -
Sara almost didn't hear the footsteps behind her, but she did hear them a split second too late. She spun around, reaching for the gun inside her jacket, only to find a barrel already at her forehead. It was the salarian that had run away from her earlier - which might not have been a problem, if not for the bulky human and bulkier krogan at his back.
Probably not Reyes' men, then.
"What do you want?" she hissed.
"Me? Nothing. My client? Don't know, don't care."
Sara hated herself for it, and it left a bad taste in her mouth, but she said it anyway. "You know what the Charlatan will do when he hears about this, right?"
"Pathfinder," SAM said on their private channel. "I have alerted Lieutenant Harper to your situation. Your squad should be here momentarily. Would you like me to contact Mr. Vidal?"
Sara shook her head frantically.
The salarian glanced nervously at his companions. "You bring the Oblivion?"
"Got it right here."
The krogan handed him a syringe, and Sara felt her insides shrivel up the moment she realized what was happening. They clearly weren't going to shoot her, so fuck the gun to her head. She jammed her hand inside her jacket, biotics flaring -
The krogan clocked her in the side of the jaw, and Sara went flying. Her skull hit the wall with a crack; the rest of her hit the floor with a muffled thud. She groaned, her hand going to her head to try to feel out the damage, but one of them stepped on her wrist. She screamed in pain, kicking backwards with her heels and praying someone inside the bar might wonder about the noise, but she could barely hear herself over the drumming of the rain and the pounding of the music. She wanted to tell SAM to forget what she said before; to call for Reyes, even if she'd rather die than have him see her like this, but she couldn't form the words -
Then the salarian stuck the syringe in her neck.
It turned out that Oblivion was pretty fast-acting. Sara's vision went blurry almost immediately. Warmth washed over her, like a waterfall starting from the point of contact with the needle, and her limbs gave way like crumbling dams before a flood. She sighed quietly. Suddenly, the weight on her wrist was nothing. There was blood in her eyes, but that was fine. The pain in her head smoothed out, like a light wave red-shifting to infinity. Everything was fine.
She was lucid enough to wonder if they'd given her a fatal dose - but not lucid enough to feel afraid.
"Pathfinder," she heard SAM say. "You are on the brink of unconsciousness."
"That's okay," Sara murmured into the grate under her cheek.
Behind her, one of the thugs laughed. "She likes it."
"Just hurry the fuck up."
Someone with big arms and terrible body odour lifted Sara up and hoisted her over their shoulder. She dangled limply, her chin bouncing against their armour plating. It should have been painful, but she barely felt it. She was dizzy. So dizzy.
And then she felt nothing at all.
Sara's first sensation on waking up was of being weightless. At first, she put it down to the lingering effects of the Oblivion. Then she bounced off something solid and realized she was weightless.
"What the fuck?"
She opened her eyes - and it hurt. She was floating upside down in…a cage? A room? There were bars on one wall, so she supposed it was a prison, but the rest was made a solid rock. She felt for her gun, but it was gone, and the realization made her stomach fall down through her shoes. Or maybe rise up through her shoes. Either way, it was doing something stomachs were not meant to do.
When she touched her forehead, her fingers found tenderness and dried blood. At least she wasn't still bleeding. There was a bruise on her wrist and a scab on the side of her neck. She was still dizzy. Maybe that was because she was upside down.
"SAM?" Her voice came out croaky. "Are…are we okay?"
"I believe so, Pathfinder." Sara could have collapsed with relief, if collapsing had been possible. "The injuries you sustained during your encounter outside Tartarus were not serious. However, there is still a large amount of Oblivion in your system. I have manipulated your physiological processes to minimize the impact on your system, but you are in need of medical attention."
"Great. Do you know why I'm upside down?"
"You were kidnapped, Pathfinder."
"Thanks, SAM, but that doesn't answer my question."
"The people who abducted you seem to have brought you to a location where local gravity approaches zero. Artificial gravity appears to be in use in the compound around you, but has been switched off within this room."
"Without additional data, I can only speculate."
"Perhaps they wish to disorient you."
"After drugging me?"
"As I said, I can only speculate."
"Okay. So, where are we? Is the crew on their way?"
A moment of silence passed before SAM responded. "The rock in this particular area contains an extremely high percentage of lead and other heavy elements. While the QEC component of your implant allows me to stay in contact with you, the locator chip is unable to transmit your position. Furthermore, as you were unconscious during the journey to this location, I was not able to observe the kidnappers. I cannot be certain why the chip was not functioning before your arrival. It is likely that they employed some form of communications jamming technology."
Sara's mouth was suddenly very dry. "What are you saying, SAM?"
"I do not know where you are, Pathfinder."
Shit. "But the crew knows I'm alive, right?"
"And they are looking, right?"
"Yes, Pathfinder. Both Initiative and Collective forces are conducting a sweep of the systems surrounding Kadara."
"Collective, too?" It was the most irrational feeling Sara had ever had, but she was mortified. "You told Reyes what happened?"
"Mr. Kosta informed Mr. Vidal, Pathfinder. It was not me."
"Great. Great, great, great." Sara was drifting towards the ceiling this time, so she kicked it viciously. She regretted it almost immediately; Newton's Third Law sent her careening backwards into the floor, and she knocked her head painfully. "Great."
"Having a good time in there, Ryder?"
Sara almost leaped out of her skin. Bracing herself on the floor and twisting her wrist to turn herself around, Sara found herself face-to-toes with a turian. His new scars threw her off for a moment - but only for a moment.
"I didn't expect you to remember me." He hunkered down so that he was almost at eye level with her. Sara tried not to shrink away, but the impulse was almost overpowering. She'd never seen someone look quite so hungry. "But I remember you."
Sara lifted her chin. "No surprises there. I'm kind of a big deal."
Kaetus growled low in his throat, and a chill ran up Sara's spine. "Talking big won't help you now," he snarled quietly. "I heard you talking to that AI in your head. It can't find you, can it? And you can't transmit your position."
"Shows what you know," Sara snapped. She was a bad liar at the best of times, but she didn't have a lot of options. "If you let me out now, we'll show mercy. But if you make my crew fly all the way out here, things will get messy."
The turian scoffed, mandibles flexing. Sara was glad that SAM was controlling her heart rate, because otherwise she would have been a wreck. "You're not dealing with some junkie pirate, Ryder. You can't intimidate me."
Sara was losing her patience. "Why did you bring me here?"
"I'm going to kill you."
Sara almost swallowed her tongue. He said it so calmly; so blankly, like cold-blooded murder didn't stir him at all. "So why the theatrics? Oblivion? A shielded prison? Zero-g?"
Kaetus smiled, in the only way that a turian could smile - with a gleam in his eye and a twist to his mandibles. On Vetra, it was cute. On Kaetus, it was terrifying. Sara shuddered.
He stood up and turned to leave. Sara clawed her way over to the cell door and clung to the bars. "Where do you think you're going, Kaetus? We aren't done yet!"
He didn't turn, but he called something over his shoulder. "Believe me, Ryder. You are done."
Sara kicked the bars - and, of course, it sent her flying backwards. She was ready for it this time, bracing herself for impact against the far wall. She floated aimlessly for a while, fuming. What was his game?
"Pathfinder, I believe that Kaetus may intend to keep you here for some time."
"Why do you say that, SAM?"
"A zero-gravity prison serves little purpose for a short-term incarceration. Several hours of weightlessness may disrupt your coordination. It is also likely to cause nausea, lethargy and vertigo. Several weeks, however, will have more severe effects. I may be able to counteract the damage to your immune and cardiovascular systems by adjusting your physiological responses myself. However there is little I can do to combat the accompanying loss of bone density and muscle mass."
"So…what? Kaetus wants me to feel like shit?"
"Perhaps. It is more likely that he hopes you will be unable to fight back when he decides that your time is up."
Sara tried to keep her breathing steady. There was no way she'd be here that long. She was the human Pathfinder, and her team were the best of the best. They'd tear the cluster apart looking for her - surely - and they had SAM to help them. Something was bound to shake loose sooner rather than later.
And then there was Reyes. He was looking for her, too.
"Kaetus is waiting for Reyes, isn't he?"
When SAM spoke, he sounded as hesitant as an AI could. "Without additional data -"
"You can only speculate."
"That is correct."