Ryder secured the helmet via the double D rings under her chin. She turned and checked her blind spot. Her left hand kept the clutch at the biting spot while the right twisted the throttle. Her vintage Yamaha moped roared to life. I'll never be tired of this sound. Muscle memory took over and she shifted to a higher gear with her left foot. Letting go of clutch, she pushed her helmet’s visor down. The road was clear and straight. The breeze streaming into her helmet via the vents on the top, tickling her hair and scalp. Laughter burst from her lungs, unbidden. It's been too long
Fossil fuel driven vehicles are rare but this is one she brought to life with her own hands before she enlisted in the Alliance. She had few chances to enjoy the joy of the ride since signing up. Now that her Alliance career is over, discharged after being posting from one backwater planet to another she has the time to indulge in riding. Who knows if I’ll be able to bring this baby to Heleus.
Ryder blinked, What's that on the road?
A shadow darted across her vision and instinctively her right hand and foot jerked, she squeezed and stomping on the brakes. The front wheel locked. Shit, shit, shit! Ryder felt her body lift from the seat as the motorcycle did a forward flip. Her hands were ripped from the handle bar and suddenly she just hung in the air, immobilised. This isn’t right...
The Archon's face was instantly before her. A sharp pain shot down her spine as the needle plunged into the back of her neck. Is he taking something or leaving something behind? The haze of pain dispelled any notion of thought. She could feel cold hands on her face as the ugly green mug stared into her eyes. "No amount of struggle is going to help now," the Archon declared, "You are mine!"
Then the world turned black and cold. A black so utter and overwhelming, a black that felt eternal and permanent.
Ryder sat bolt upright on the bed. A pain flared like fire across her abdomen. She hissed as her body reminded her of her bruised ribs. "Ryder, are you all right?" Lexi's voice broke the blind panic that she was in.
"Pathfinder, I advise you take deep breaths. Your accelerated heart rate is not advisable after your ordeal on the Archon's flagship," SAM said.
"A dream, it was a dream," she whispered to herself as she took deep breaths to get her heart rate down.
Ryder flinched as she felt Lexi's hand on her shoulder. For a moment the touch reminded her of the Archon's hand. Lexi withdrew her hand as if burnt. "I'm sorry, I thought.... sorry."
"You have nothing to apologise for, Ryder," Lexi said "What you've just been through is traumatising to put it lightly.“
Ryder opened her mouth to explain. She frowned, she seemed to remember explaining the situation to Lexi when she returned to the Tempest. Then, Lexi did she usually does and insisted she spend the night at the med-bay for observation.
Lexi waved her silent and pushed Ryder down back to the bed. "You need to rest, what your heart went through today is...," started Lexi.
Ryder nodded as she took a shuddering breath to calm her racing heart. Lexi lifted her shirt to make sure the leads are all in place. The machine that monitored her heart rate beeped happily along. “I’ve spoke to SAM, I don’t think there is any lasting effects from the ill advised procedure.”
Ryder wasn’t listening, she had her eyes squeezed close as she tried to banish the Archon’s face from behind her eyelids.I died again today. Again. The corners of Lexi's lips turned up to give her a smile.
“Yes, Mom,” Ryder smiled as she opened her eyes and turned her gaze at Lexi.
If the look of concern was any indication, her smile wasn’t the least bit convincing as she tried to sound. She sighed and tried to make herself comfortable. The wireless leads on her bare chest wasn’t helping matters. Closing her eyes again, Ryder’s breath hitched as a surge of panic threatens to overwhelm her. “Do you need a mild sedative to sleep?” Lexi asked.
Am I that transparent? Ryder shook her head. Sleeping is a simple matter, I shouldn’t need any medication just to sleep.She willed her muscles to relax and allow the darkness to claim her once more.
Ryder grunted. “Are you all right, Ryder?”, Jaal asked, his blue eyes gazing at her with the concern.
“Yeah, I’m totally great,” she replied, brushing off the tightness in her chest. Turning her attention to Kallo, “Set a course to the Nexus, we need to check in with Tann and gang.”
“Aye, aye, Ryder,” Kallo acknowledged.
The visor that Jaal wore told him a different story, as his gaze lingered over Ryder. Her heart rate is elevated. Nothing dangerous but definitely unusual. He bit his tongue. It has only been a few months but he had learn that these aliens especially humans were very secretively with their emotions. Even if something was apparently to all, it was sometimes still frowned upon to speak of them. Even without his visor, he could tell the line of her shoulder spoke of weariness. It’s probably the stress from the months of being the only Pathfinder. All the hopes and dreams of all Milky Way species, both the awoke and sleeping were all pin on her slender shoulders. It’s a wonder, she hadn’t crumbled under the pressure. Humans not large creatures when compared to the Angarians. Jaal smiled as he remembered the first time meeting Ryder. She didn’t even flinched being flanked by the Resistance’s soldiers. She was breath taking, in more ways than one, the moment I laid eyes on her. Even after months with the crew on the Tempest, my view of her hadn’t changed. Her confidence and earnestness is now tempered with experience, she has done a great job considering the circumstances.
Ryder walked past him, heading into the research room with a slight hunch in her shoulders. A slight chink in her Pathfinder amour, perhaps? She wears the persona like it was her final line of defence. It’s his job to observe and report to Evfra, so far the human Pathfinder had been more than impressive. She was a warrior who fought her battles with weapons and compassion in equal measures. The way she danced with a blue glow in battle was more graceful than anything he had seen. However as impressive that was, Jaal found himself with his breath taken away with the compassion she showed the Roekaar and even the Charlatan. I’ll never be as forgiving.
It was only recently that they found Avitus and Sarissa. It’s only a stroke of luck that Raeka was found in the previous mission. Jaal shuddered as he remembered how still Ryder was on the ground. Seconds felt like hours as SAM tried to restart her heart. I thought I’ve lost her forever, something as precious as Ryder, something that I’ve just found. He shook his head and put the thought from his head. Both SAM and Lexi found no lasting ill effects from that particular event. She is fine. Ryder will be fine.
Ryder’s hands made fists when she remembered making the call to sacrifice the Krogan scouts to a fate worse than death. The look that Drack gave her spoke volumes, it cut her more than the shouting he directed at her. Is one life worth more than others? The shouting she could handle, it’s nothing she didn’t expect but the look he had given her. It wasn’t anger, it was disappointment, it was betrayal.
The door leading to the research room hissed open. I should really speak to Drack. If nothing else to apologise. Her eyes fell on Drack who was standing next to the research console. Their eyes met for a moment before Ryder had to look away. She heard Jaal’s footsteps behind her as the door hissed close. Jaal placed a hand on her shoulder. She shrank back from his touch. Ryder knew the touch was meant to be comforting but she could only feel how much she doesn’t deserve even this. Consigning the scouts to being exalted to save the life of the Salarian Pathfinder, did I really did the right thing? Ryder was sure that it was the right thing. It was the cold calculations of war. It might not look like the Initiative was at war with the Kett but look at the Angarians, they have been at this for years. Ryder looked over to Jaal. His confusion clear in his eyes at her reaction. Ryder shook her head and said, “I’ll talk to you later?”
Jaal nodded. His eyes moving over to Drack who was almost glaring at the exchange. She turned her attention back to Drack as Jaal left, leaving them alone in the room. Raeka is just one person but she stands for much more than a person. She will be the hope to finding a home for the Salarians. Given the chance to do it all over again, I’d probably choose the same. And betray Drack all over again. Ryder squared her shoulders and took a deep breath, as if preparing to take a blow to her gut. This is my burden to bear. My decisions, their deaths, (ha… if it was only that simple), are on my hands.
Ryder almost took a step back at his reply. He has never called me that so this is the price I have to pay? A friendship, lost. “Wasn’t enough to save the whole damn ark? You had to grab a few more on the way out?”, Drack growled.
“It’s isn’t that simple, it’s…”
“Complicated?” Drack interrupted. “It’s not. You choose the Salarian over the Krogans. Leaving them behind is worse than killing them outright.”
Ryder dipped her head in acknowledgement to the truth - the cold hard fact. A fate worse than death. “Drack, I’m…”
Drack didn’t wait for Ryder to finish speaking before striding out of the room. “…sorry.”
She took another deep breath and pressed her hand over her chest. The tightness in her chest has been bothering her since her second death (oh my god, how many deaths can a person have?) on the Archon’s ship. “It’s was a difficult decision to make,” SAM spoke. “But the Archon has been dealt a great blow, your father would have been proud.”
“SAM, thank you for the vote of confidence but I just wish we had time to save them all.” Ryder replied in a quiet voice, her arms on the research console as she leaned her weight on them. “SAM, could you do a check on my vitals?”
“Sure, Pathfinder but I do not detect any abnormalities at this moment. Your heart and breathing rate all within acceptable range.”
Ryder shrugged. I guess it’s just probably some muscle tightness then. Nothing unusual. She stretched her arm out horizontally and arched her back, hoping to rid herself of the uncomfortable tightness. It was too much to hope that it would be fixed with a simple stretch. “Thank you, SAM.”
No, no, no. That’s all they say. Can’t they see there is no point establishing more outposts if the Kett is coming and exalted everything if we leave him to head to Meridian unchecked? Ryder sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose with her hand. “How did it go?” Liam asked as she approached the Tempest.
Ryder just looked at him balefully. “That good huh?”
She settled for a grunt to encompass all her frustration with the Initiative leadership and her helplessness in the face of their inaction. “So we are just going to leave the way open for the Archon?” Liam asked.
At least that was one thing Ryder was clear about. If the Initiative is not going to take action, she would have to take matters into her own hands. “I have a meeting with the other Pathfinders later today to discuss this very matter, hopefully they have a better idea,” she said. “At least, Tann thanked me for finding the Salarian Ark.”
“Small mercies,” Liam snorted.
She returned to her quarters to sort out the stack of data pads she had all over the bed and desk. If she is to have any chance to convince the other Pathfinders it is with facts and data. I just need to find more to convince them. “Pathfinder, you have an urgent message from Dr. Carlyle. Patching him through now.” SAM said.
Ryder sat up, her worries forgotten instantly. “Harry, is Scott all right?” she asked, intuiting that it was the only reason for Harry to contact her.
“Sara, Scott is awake.”
She didn’t remember how she got to the Cryo bay. One moment she was in her room hearing the words she had been hopping for and the next she was at his bedside. “Hi sis,” Scott said as he sat propped up on a bed.
Two words, just two simple words, the Pathfinder shattered to reveal the worried sister within. The tough exterior she built by burying herself in work, collecting of data and bottling up unvoiced doubts crumbled. She smiled, tears formed in her eyes. “Hey yourself, sleepy head.”
She pulled him into an embrace so tight that Scott coughed. “Easy there,” Scott complained in a chocked voice.
Ryder forced herself to leave go. “Shit, Dad…”
“I know, Sara. I know,” Scott sighed. “I remembered the conversation we had while I was still in a coma.”
Harry watched as the Ryder siblings hugged and cried in turns. Alec, you would have been proud. Your kids are strong and now that they are whole again, they will be stronger for it. He didn’t want to interrupt the much yearned for reunion but he had to keep his patient’s well being as his priority. “Sara, I think Scott should be resting. He just woke up and his body isn’t used to so much so soon.”
Ryder nodded though disappointment was plain on her face. “Hey, doc. I slept for more than 600 years, I think I should be all filled up on sleep,” Scott protested.
“Listen to Harry, little bro. I see you tomorrow?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Harry.
“Tomorrow is fine.”
She looked down at her Omni-tool. “Damn it, I have to get to a meeting,” she cursed as she realised the them. “See you tomorrow, Scott. Harry, thank you for the care you provide him.”
The meeting with the other Pathfinders was much better than the one with the Initiative leadership. There is a plan now. It might be difficult to execute but at least there is a plan now. “Ryder, you look better today,” Jaal commented while she was woofing down her ration bars in the galley.
“I feel better, Jaal. My brother is awake. We have a plan to stop the Archon. What more can I ask for?” she said, smiling in a way that is brighter and more real than the other smiles she had showed in weeks. “I could use more time though but I don’t think time is something we have much of even if the Initiative doesn’t.”
She frowned at that thought. Jaal cursed himself internally for switching her thoughts down a darker path. “Take our victories where we can find it,” he advised. “Tea?”
Ryder nodded. “I probably need more than a cup to see my way through all this.”
With a steaming cup of tea in her hand, Ryder felt like she could face down all the Kett and hell, even the Archon himself. She felt Jaal’s hand on her shoulder again. She hummed in pleasure. His bio-electricity leaving a line of goose bumps across her shoulders in its wake. “You shouldn’t do that. I have too much work to do,” she said with just a hint of cheekiness.
She was getting back at reading Jaal’s bio-electricity. For a long time, he kept his hands gloved whenever he was working with them. However after much trial and error and fumbling, Ryder broke through his reserve and outwardly calm disposition. “But do that one more time,” Ryder said, with a breathiness that betrayed her words earlier.
Jaal smiled and obliged her. “You shouldn’t work so hard. All work and no play, makes Sara a dull girl. Isn’t that how one of your human idioms go?” he teased, tracing his hand across her shoulders. ”I’ve got your back,” his fingers said.
She hummed with pleasure, then she placed her hand on his. Flaring her biotics just slightly in a rough approximation of I know. Jaal’s eyes widen. “Where did you learn that?”
“A girl’s got to keep her secrets.”
“This sucks!” Ryder complained as she sprinted to cover, panting. Gunfire pinging off the crate she took cover behind. Why would Kett bother manufacturing their crates strong enough to withstand gunfire and biotic charges, I have no clue but I am fucking glad they did.
It took a while but Drack began talking to her again. He even went as far as to ask her a favour. There was no way in hell Ryder was going to let him down. She turned her head and signalled to Drack. He nodded and rushed out from cover and charged the raiders. She took the opportunity while they were distracted to Charge and throwing the lot on their feet with a Shockwave. Drack came in with his shotgun blazing. Within 60 seconds, their tag team one two combo made short work of the raiders. Drack gave her a roar of approval and Ryder grinned, her smile couldn’t get any wider.
“Hey, you two need to leave some for me!” Vetra complained.
Ryder turned and flashed her a predatory smile, “You got to keep up with us, Vetra.”
Before Vetra could retort, Ryder’s smile changed to a look of shock. Before she could turn to see what Ryder was looking at, she watched the Pathfinder took a round straight in the chest. It lifted her off her feet and back at least ten metres if not more. Ryder landed on her back and crashed into a bunch of crates. For a second nobody moved. “Ryder!” Vetra screamed.
“Hydras! Take cover!” Drack warned.
Before she could moved towards the motionless Pathfinder, the Hydra launched another round forcing her to take cover. “Damn it!” she cursed before turning her attention to the mechs heading their way.
Pain. So much pain. Ryder’s eyes snapped open. “How long was I out?” she asked SAM.
“1 minutes and 13s,” came the instant reply.
She could hear the fight was still going on. Rise and shine. It took considerable effort and much cursing to sit up as pain seared across her upper body. “Pathfinder, joining the fight is unadvisable. You have just taken a rocket round to your chest,” SAM warned.
“I know, I know but we are not out of the woods yet. Vetra and Drack need my backup,” she replied, getting to her feet.
Her eyes scanned the battlefield before her. One of the Hydra was down while the other is still active. She could hear Aroane’s voice from the other mech taunting Drack. Using the sound of the gunfire and explosions to guide her, Ryder Charged to join the fray.
“Ryder!” Vetra shouted when Ryder threw up a Barrier around the both of them. “Are you all right?”
“That teaches me to mouth off before the fight is done, huh,” Ryder said with a pained smile.
She winced slightly as the bullets impacted her Barrier. “Ryder, I thought you were done for,” Drack shouted as his hands pumped a couple of shotgun rounds in the direction of the mech.
“It takes more than a rocket to put me down, old man.”
“Ha! Are you ready to finish this? I’ve softened up the mech for you.”
“I was born ready,” Ryder snorted, gritting her teeth against the pain. “Let’s do this. Vetra, flank this asshole once Drack and I distract him.”
All it took was a glance to convey everything., acknowledgement of the order and eagerness to see it done. I love my team. Ryder thought with a fierceness that surprised even her. It’s times like this she felt almost as if they were all linked in both body and mind.
Drack charged towards the mech, shotgun unloading shot after shot. He took cover when he needed to but allowed his shields to handle most of the damage. Ryder dropped the Barrier and shot at the mech with her trusty M-96 Mattock, throwing in a couple of Singularity for good measure. Vetra shuffled around to the side using the crates as her cover. It’s as if Ryder had a sixth sense, Vetra found Ryder meeting her eyes when she was in position. Their eyes met for a split second and Ryder Charged the mech and dropped a Shockwave at its feet. Vetra raised her assault rifle to her shoulder and send a concussive round right in the wake of Ryder’s Shockwave. The combination took down the mech instantly.
Drack raced in and pulled Aroane from the cockpit. “Not so tough without your toys anymore huh,” Drack growled as he shook the man.
Ryder dropped to her knees as she tried to catch her breath. “Pathfinder, you have overtaxed your body, your blood pressure is low. You should sit down,” SAM advised over their private channel.
She shook her head and stood instead. “The battlefield is no place to show weakness, especially in front of enemies,” she replied.
“Vorn, are you all right?” Vetra asked.
“Yes, I am fine. Thank you,” the botanist replied as he emerged from behind his cover, walking over to join them on the platform.
“Time to take out the trash,” Drack announced as he dragged a struggling Aroane by the leg.
Ryder knelt beside Aroane while Drack dangling him over the platform. “No, no! Don’t let me go,” he pleaded. “You can’t do this.”
“I can do whatever I want.”
“I’m inclined to agree with Drack. So what will it be?” Ryder asked, craning up to look at Drack.
The old man had such a dirty smile plastered across his face. Without warning, Drack let go and Aroane screamed all the way down. “Feel better?” Vetra asked.
“Oh yeah, best feeling ever.” he laughed.
“Let’s get the seed vault and Vorn back to where they belong,” Ryder said, as she stood up…
…a little too quickly. Her vision grew dark around the edges and she stumbled to her knees. Ryder panted, her breaths coming ragged and quick. “Ryder!” Vetra rushed towards her. “Are you ok? SAM, what’s going on?”
Ryder could only concentrate on breathing. She didn’t have any breath to spare to explain. “The Pathfinder’s blood pressure is dangerously low and her heart rate is too fast. I think the rocket she took to the chest has done more damage than expected,” SAM said. “I advise we get the Pathfinder to Dr. T’Perro as soon as possible.”