Ryder eyed Evfra. She sighed, long and hard. “Do you really have to go with us?” she asked again.
Evfra narrowed his eyes at her. Ryder could feel his disapproval having to repeat himself. “Yes,” he replied. “How else am I going to trust the Nexus with anything as important as a formal alliance between our people?”
He stood up and towered over Ryder. She grunted, hating when others use their height in a bid to intimidate her. Nobody seemed to get it, it never worked. However, she realised what Evfra said was true. The Angaras needed to see how the Nexus species operated. It would foster better relations in the long run.
“Fine,” she said, unwilling to admit the logic of Evfra’s words out loud. “Do you need time to pack?”
“I only require an hour,” he said, turning his attention back to the datapads on his desk. “I’ll meet you on your ship.”
Ryder rolled her eyes. She knew a dismissal when she heard one. “Who does he think he is?” she muttered her breath, striding through the market.
Everyone gave the human Pathfinder a wide berth, sensing her ire. “He gives orders and I’m expected to just take it?”
Ryder glanced at her team. “So as you all know, our next mission is to Voeld. We’re there to investigate the increased Kett activity,” she said as she gestured at the map of Voeld on the holo-screen. “We’re hitting this suspected Kett base first before fanning out to investigate.”
The crew nodded. Ryder thanked her lucky stars they didn’t choose to question her every single decision as they usually did. Clearing her throat, she went on, “And we have a special guest coming along for the mission.”
Evfra stepped forward. “I’m Evfra de Tershaav, leader of the Angara Resistance Fighters,” he said. “Think of me as your ace in the hole.”
Ryder fought an urge to roll her eyes. “I think I got that idiom right,” he said, cocking his head at her.
“Yes, you did. Anyway, we are already en route to Voeld. We will be arriving in three hours. Everyone, please see to your gear,” she said.
Ryder’s Mattock bucked in her hands as she fired from behind cover.
“Clear!” Cora’s voice came through the comms.
“Clear!” Vetra said.
“Almost,” she said.
Ryder popped her head out of the cover and sighted that last pesky Chosen. She gathered dark energy and charged, closing 50 metres between her and the Chosen in a blink of an eye. With her omni-blade extended, she punched the blade through the Chosen’s torso. As Ryder deactivated her omni-blade, the Chosen slumped to the ground. “Clear,” she reported.
Ryder panted lightly as she turned to Evfra. “So what do you think?” she asked, trying to wipe the Kett blood from her armour.
Evfra’s eyes raked her from head to toe with a twist in his mouth. “I must say you all have proved to be efficient Kett killing machines,” he said. “Though you, in particular, could use a little more finesse.”
Ryder shook her head. “There’s just no pleasing you is there?”
She tapped against her omni-tool and send the coordinates to the others. “Guys, you have your map and orders. Split off into pairs and check out those locations,” she spoke via the comms.
The others chimed back in a chorus of rogers and acknowledged. Ryder turned to Evfra. “You’re with me. There’s a Remnant vault off that way I want to take a look,” she said.
Evfra grunted and followed, his rifle held loosely in his hands. As much as her armour was trying to compensate for the temperature, it wasn’t enough. It was long before Ryder was slowing down, lagging behind Evfra. He glanced back at her. She didn’t have to look up to know some smart comment about her useless human evolution was on his lips.
It was then Evfra stopped. Ryder almost bumped into his back at the abruptness. “What-“
Evfra held a hand up and pointed off into the distance. Her eyes followed. Ryder nodded. It was a small squad of Kett hiding just behind an outcropping of rocks just west of the vault they were heading towards. If the Kett were to shoot, it would spell trouble for them. They were caught out in the open and there was no cover till they got to the vault.
Ryder jerked her head towards the vault and Evfra nodded. They didn’t need a quiet count of three. Both of them turned and ran at the same time. The Kett started firing as soon as they realised that they had been spotted.
“Go!” Ryder shouted. “I’ll shield you!”
She pulled a barrier just wide enough to cover their backs. Bullets plinked against her barrier. The barrier held steady. Ryder knew she couldn’t keep it up forever. They had to get to cover and soon.
Ryder glanced back at the Kett. They were closing in on them. “Shit,” she cursed as she dragged in breath after breath, her lungs burning with effort.
Strong arms clamped on her arms and they yanked. “What the-“
Ryder fell on her ass before Evfra dragged her behind cover. “You could have just told me!” she hissed at him even as she pulled her rifle from its magnetic holster.
“There was no time, Pathfinder,” he growled.
Ryder sighed and turned her rifle on the Kett. Both of them took turns picking off the Kett and reloading. It wasn’t long before Ryder had to ask, “How many more magazines do you have?”
Evfra shrank back behind cover and patted his hand against his leathers. “Not enough to take them all out,” he replied, knowing what she was really asking.
Ryder handed him her rifle and remaining magazines. “As much as I hate to admit it, you’re the better shot,” she said as she stretched her legs and activated her omni-blade.
“And what are you going to do?” he asked, eyeing her warily. “with no rifle.”
“I’ve biotics, you don’t,” she pointed out.
Evfra shrugged, conceding the point. Ryder threw a shockwave at the largest bunch of Kett before charging in.
Evfra watched the Pathfinder charged right into the fray, heedless of her own safety. Her body a blue streak, her arm sheathed in orange. A rare smile tugged his mouth upwards. “She might not have finesse but she doesn’t need it,” he muttered under his breath, his eyes glued to Ryder as she slashed her way across the battlefield.
“She’s simply breathtaking.”
A bullet plinked against his cover forcing him to shrink back. “Distraction kills,” he chided himself, dragging his attention away from the Pathfinder.
Evfra’s hands felt numb from the kickback of his rifle. He shook them before picking up the Pathfinder’s. “How long can she keep this up?”
His eyes were trained on Ryder. She was flagging, her movements and reactions slower. One of her hands was pressed against the back of her neck as if it pained her. “Path-“
His shout was cut off when a Kett screamed in his ear. “Flanked!” he growled, angry that he was that careless.
Ryder spun at the half yell. Her eyes spent precious seconds searching for Evfra. “Shit!” she cursed, realising he had been flanked. “I should have been more careful!”
She threw a shockwave behind her, not caring if she got anyone. Ryder was just buying herself some time. She charged. Everything moved in slow motion. Evfra was forced towards the Remnant vault. The Kett gave him no choice. The vault was opened but it was a deep drop down into the unknown. Ryder needed speed. She had to finish the Kett before Evfra was forced off the edge.
Ignoring the flare of pain from her amp, Ryder charged again. She turned into a battering ram as she barrelled into the Kett. Her omni-blade slashing indiscriminately.
“Pathfinder!” Evfra shouted.
“Fuck!” She turned only to see him fall.
Ryder slid to the edge like a baseball player, flinging her biotics at Evfra. She pulled with everything she had. Her amp flared hotter than she had ever felt. She winced but smiled as she saw Evfra floating in the air, safe in her biotics. Ryder sighed with relief. “Evfra, you can’t stay out of trouble can you?”
Evfra’s eyes widening was her only warning. Ryder jerked her head back. The Kett she had thought dead loomed behind her. His rifle was trained at her head, his finger tightening around the trigger. There was no choice.
“I hope I don’t regret this,” she growled.
Ryder leapt. Her arms out towards Evfra. Her weight slammed into him, breaking her concentration. They plummeted to the ground at speed. “This is going to hurt,” she warned.
Hastily with the last of her reserves, she pulled a barrier around them. Twisting at the last minute, she put herself under Evfra. “What are you doing?” Evfra shouted.
There was no time for a witty retort. The ground rushed up to meet them. Everything went black.
Evfra groaned as he opened his eyes. He blinked and looked about. “What?” he managed a dry croak.
Painfully, Evfra levered himself into a sitting position. Staring up at the bright light above him, memories came back to him in a rush.
“Ryder!” he gasped as he turned frantically around to search for her.
Evfra spotted parts of her white armour on a higher platform. He scrambled up towards her. As sore as he felt, Evfra was surprised that he had come through the fall unscathed. Filing the power of biotics to the back of his mind, he prayed Ryder fared the same.
“No!” he shouted.
Ryder was lying on her back but blood was pooling around her. Her shoulder was impaled by a Remnant spike. “Ryder!” he called, rushing over to her side.
With clumsy fingers, he managed to unbuckle her helmet. Her skin was pale, too pale. The scent of iron filled the air as he knelt in the growing pool of red. “Ryder,” he called again, trying hard to keep his voice steady.
Evfra tried to recall his cursory read-through of human physiology that the Nexus had sent them. “Ancestors!” he cursed. “I should have actually read the damned thing.”
“Don’t look like that,” Ryder said, her voice strained. “I’m not dead.”
He jerked his head over to her. “Are you all right?” Evfra asked.
Ryder rolled her eyes and rightly so for his stupid question. She looked her left shoulder pointedly and then back at him. Evfra sighed and ran his hand over his face. “Are you all right?” she asked instead.
Evfra frowned at her, shocked at her question but a little warmed nonetheless. How could she still be concerned about another person when she was bleeding all over? “Be concern about yourself,” he chided.
He pulled a small blade from his pocket and attempted to break the spike. Even the slightest bit of vibration through the spike made Ryder groaned. “I do not recommend that,” a foreign voice came from Ryder’s omni-tool.
“Not now, SAM,” Ryder rasped through clenched teeth.
“Remnant material is too tough to be sawed off with a blade. Not even an omni-blade will do the job,” SAM went on.
Ryder groaned louder at his every effort, her eyes squeezed shut. “What do you suggest?” Evfra asked exasperatedly.
SAM didn’t answer. “I don’t like this, SAM,” Ryder said, panting lightly.
“Pathfinder, you already know the answer,” SAM replied.
Ryder sighed. “Fuck!” she cursed. “Fine!”
They had removed all the pieces of armours on her upper body. SAM had advised them that to have the least resistance possible would be the best. That left her shivering in her skin tight undersuit. “You will need medi-gel to staunch the bleeding. The Pathfinder has already lost a significant amount of blood. If she losses more, she will be going into shock,” SAM said.
Evfra nodded. “Yes, so prepare medi-gel, got it.”
Ryder sighed. They were practically talking over her as if she wasn’t here. She might as well be a bag of meat for all that she could contribute.
“Maybe we should cut away the undersuit as well,” Evfra suggested. “It is another layer of resistance.”
“It is best the Pathfinder keeps the undersuit on for now. It is helping her stay warm,” SAM replied, ignoring her objection. “Pathfinder I will attempt to block the pain but it might not be possible to complete numb you.”
“Thank fuck,” she whispered as she shivered, every tiny bit of involuntary movement sending waves of agony across her body.
Evfra bent down and took hold of her shoulder lightly. Even that gentle touch was enough to make her want to scream. Ryder gritted her teeth and simply nodded.
Evfra’s hands tightened over her torn shoulder and pulled. Ryder screamed as she forced herself upright. She could feel it. Flesh slide over sharp black rock. It was like being burnt from the inside out.
“Fuck…” her voice raw from screaming as she felt cold air through her shoulder.
Her legs buckled and darkness dragged her down again.
“Please move quickly!” SAM said urgently.
“I am trying!” Evfra growled.
Blood was bubbling in ebbs and flows, in time with her heartbeat. Her breath was shallower than before. Her skin so pale it looked transparent. Evfra’s heart clenched as he fought to cut her undersuit. “Please pour the medi-gel over her wound.”
His blade made quick work of the undersuit. He pulled the suit down to her waist, baring her chest to the cold air. A shudder ran through her body. “Sorry, sorry,” he muttered, pouring medi-gel into the raw red wound.
Ripping the second pack with his teeth, Evfra pressed against her chest to hold her still while poured again. Ryder stirred under his hands. Evfra froze. Her pain-glazed eyes met his.
She groaned and cursed. “Fuck, will you hurry up, it’s cold!”
Evfra’s hands twitched and quickly poured the remaining medi-gel. She hissed before slowly relaxing. Ryder struggled to sit up with her good arm wrapped around her bare chest, shivering harder than before.
Her skin was rapidly turning blue. Evfra pulled his rofjinn and pulled it over her head. Ryder tried to move out of the way. “It’s going to be stained from my blood,” she warned, shying away from the offering.
“You’re cold, you’re uncomfortable,” he said. “And you’re concern about some cloth?”
Ryder sighed, too tired to argue with him. Evfra knew it didn’t bode well for her condition. She was a fighter. She had been fighting with him every chance she had.
“SAM,” Ryder called. “Have the Tempest been informed?”
“Yes, Pathfinder,” SAM replied. “But they won’t be able to get to you from here. I’ve detected a path that takes you to the surface.”
“All right, you heard the AI,” she said, using her good arm to push herself to her feet.
Ryder wavered on her feet and was listing to one side. SAM had warned him this would happen. Evfra took a quick step towards Ryder and wrapped his hands around her, steadying her. Ryder muttered a word of thanks as the motion made her grimace. Evfra pulled her good arm around his waist, his shoulder being too high for her. His other hand on her hip to support her weight.
Ryder looked up at him. A strange look crossed her face before she looked away. His heart clenched in that strange way again when he saw the state she was really in. The pain seemed to have stripped all professional facade and stoic exterior from Ryder. Leaving only the battered, bruised and tired human underneath. The urge to bundle her up in his arms, to take care of her was almost overwhelming but it was inappropriate he reminded himself. “Come on, Pathfinder,” he said. “We have a path to find.”
Ryder just sighed at his bad joke. Evfra glanced at her in anxiety, her utter lack of energy even for their usual banter was worrying at best.
As they walked, Evfra looked worriedly at the trail of blood they were leaving behind them. Every drop of red liquid spurred Evfra to walk faster. Ryder needed medical attention. The medi-gel wasn’t enough to staunch her bleeding. However, every slight jerk of sudden movement brought a hiss of pain from Ryder. She was barely walking on her own by then, Evfra was hoisting her along. “SAM,” he called. “How much time do we have?”
Evfra found her skin turning clammy and paler than before. “Ryder,” he called, wincing as he shook her slightly.
“Huh, what?” Ryder slurred. “Jaal? What are we doing?”
Evfra’s jaw twitched. “SAM!”
“I apologise I was attempting to compensate for the Pathfinder’s tachycardic heart rate. She is going into shock,” SAM said.
Then, Ryder’s legs gave out.
“Losing consciousness is one of the final stages of shock,” SAM finished.
“Ancestors!” he cursed and lifted Ryder into his arms.
Evfra prayed as he ran.
She couldn’t hear the familiar hum of a mass effect drive. Ryder opened her eyes and blinked, confused as the world snapped back into focus in agonising sluggishness. It wasn’t the bright white ceiling of the Tempest’s med-bay. Her cot was larger than she was used to, her sheet wasn’t the usual plain white but the bright fabrics that Angaras favoured.
The oxygen mask scratched against her face. Ryder moved her arm to pull it off her face but all she succeeded in was to send waves of pain across her chest. She groaned, squeezing her eyes shut.
“Pathfinder,” a low voice rumbled next to her. “You’re awake.”
She grunted as she tried to breathe through the pain. “Do you require more painkillers?” the voice asked.
Ryder shook her head as she felt a gentle touch on her wounded shoulder. She tensed in preparation for being jolted by the movement for none came instead a mild buzz crawled across her skin, numbing the pain.
Ryder sighed and relaxed into the touch. “Thank you,” she whispered, finally opening her eyes to find herself looking at Evfra’s worried ones.
The Angara stopped whatever he was doing and sank into the chair. Ryder felt a little emptier without his hand on her. “So where are we?” she asked. “I know this isn’t the Tempest.”
Evfra straightened in his chair. “Techiix,” he replied. “It’s faster to bring you here than the Tempest.”
Ryder nodded and noticed how rumpled Evfra looked. “How long was I out?”
“Two days,” he replied, weariness clear in his voice.
It was obvious even to Ryder, Evfra had held vigil by her bedside. Ryder was surprised and felt warmed by his gesture. She tried to pull herself into a sitting position, unwilling to have him look down at her like she was some dismal in distress. Evfra jerked into motions when she winced. “Can’t you just stay still?” he asked, worry colouring his words.
Ryder laughed before grimacing. “Staying still does not come naturally to me,” she confessed as she pulled the oxygen mask off her face.
“So tell me, have we succeeded in showing you how trustworthy we are?” Ryder asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice. “Falling into a hole, bleeding all over you and all that?”
Evfra frowned, clearly angry now. Ryder stilled and braced herself for a scolding for their poor performance. “There goes the alliance,” she muttered under her breath.
“How can you ask that?” he demanded. “You protected me with your body and almost lost your life in the attempt.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Ryder hadn’t quite seen it that way. “You’re the special guest,” she blurted. “It’s my job to keep you safe.”
“But at the cost of your life?” Evfra stood, the chair slid noisily behind him. “You almost died, Ryder.”
Ryder’s heart skipped a bit as she heard her name rolling off his tongue. She licked her lips and attempted her usual brand of humour. Rolling her eyes at him, “Evfra,” she said, dragging his name out. “Are you seriously telling me I should have let you fall down a hole?”
Evfra clamped his mouth shut at her question. “How would that be any better? This way, we both survive albeit with an extra hole, less blood outside than in but we’re both alive, isn’t that the point?”
Ryder looked away, a little shock at the strength of her relief to see him safe with her. She sighed and opened her mouth to ask about her crew. Ryder froze. His eyes were wet as he stared at her. “Wh-“
The words fell away as Evfra leaned close to her, grabbing her hands gently. “Do not do that again,” he growled. “You’re not allowed to almost die again.”
He pulled her into his chest and for a moment she was all stiff, then Ryder leaned into his embrace. Everything was still in that instant.
“But dying is allowed?” she asked, couldn’t quite help herself.
He groaned, sending vibration all through her body. “What have I gotten myself into?” he asked but Evfra never loosened his grip on her.