Athena opened her eyes. Fear gripped her heart. It’s happening again. It’s white. The white space.
Why the fuck am I here again?
She cast her eyes around. White, white and more white. Despite it not being her first time here, the emptiness scared her. Her booted feet echoed strangely in the hollow white space. The sound bounced off walls she couldn’t see. The air still and unmoving but yet neither fresh nor stale. The hairs on her arm tingled and stood on their ends. Her chest heaved as the telltale signs of hyper-ventilation started. Athena tried so hard to change how the dream went but she always failed.
Failed like the failure you are.
Nothing she did ever change it. It’s always the same, same, same. Athena clenched her fists and gritted her teeth. She knew what was coming, but it always unnerved her. She walked, at first picking a random direction. The white, the hollowness made it impossible to retain a sense of direction. Her slow walk turned into a jog, then a frantic gasping run as she tried to outrun the white. Her breaths harsh in the empty white. Her pulse thudded in her ears, loud and overwhelming. Her eyes burnt with tears unshed.
Then it came. Her name. Once.
It wasn't loud, it was a gentle call carried on the wind where there was none. The hush whispering of her name was the only solid thing here. And she recognised the voice. She would always recognise that voice anywhere. Her head jerked towards the voice. Her eyes scanned the horizon. There, a good distance away, was a shuttle.
Why? Why didn’t I see it before?
Athena steeled herself for what was to come. It always happened the same way. She refused to read into the symbolism of the dream.
It must be a dream!
Her eyes found her father. Tall, strong, stern and unyielding. He was kitted out in his N7 armour, trademark black carbon fibre plates with red and white stripes. She met his eyes, half expecting the anger, disappointment and resentment she so often saw there. Athena’s hand shot towards her mouth. There was nothing. She was starring at a mannequin.
Then a familiar voice rang out.
Athena’s eyes widened.
Her older sister, her protector, her mentor, her role model. Everything Athena loved and cherished wrapped into a single person. Athena’s breath hitched. Tears pooling in her eyes as she watched. It was all she could do.
Every. Single. Fucking. Time.
Helpless, useless, impotent.
Words failed her as tears stood in her eyes. Inside, she flailed against her brain to say something, to do something. Maybe this time, this time, things would change. She didn’t have to go through this again.
Nothing changed. Athena watched with hands to her mouth. Grace stood next to their father. Their expression stoic and stern, battle ready like the soldiers they were.
The space between them wide and impossible to cross. Her legs refused to move no matter how she begged them. Athena was trapped in the course of the dream, just like the last time, the time before that, and the time before that.
Grace turned away, almost wholly shrouded by the black pall of the shuttle's interior. Athena could only choke on her unspoken words. Grace pressed her back against the side of the shuttle. Her face half turned, her mouth the only thing lighted by the vast white. Athena’s eyes refused to blink, searing every moment into her memories like her life depending on it. Her eyes burnt, how they burnt.
The pressed lips lifted, just a tiny bit. The ends curled upwards at her, for her. A smile, a sad one. It felt final, it felt forever, it felt never again. Athena’s tears wouldn’t stop. They couldn’t. They rolled off her eyes, down her cheeks, falling where they might. Athena didn’t care.
Don’t leave me!
As the shuttle lifted off, her legs trembled slightly but refused to budge an inch. Athena kept her eyes on the shuttle, tears and snot, full-on ugly crying and she didn’t fucking care.
Don’t leave me, Grace!
The shuttle was too small to see anymore, the roar of the engine no longer audible, Athena pressed her hands into her face and sobbed. Her tears were the rivers of her eyes. In the vast white, the sound of utter silence pressing against all sides. It threatened to swallow her whole.
It’s coming. She knew it was coming but every time it did, it stole her breath anyway.
Pain. Red hot and blinding white flashed across her face. The gash that stretched from her forehead, bisecting her face in half, down the side of her nose, split open like it did that time on Habitat 7. Blood, unstoppable and impossibly red, poured out of her face into her hands and onto the floor.
The pain was a brand taken to her face.
Athena's eyes snapped open. This time in reality. She blinked. Her vision blurry and her mind foggy. The scar ached as she pressed a hand against it. Fuck, this dream again.
She looked up at the countless empty booze cups in front of her. Why did I think this was a good idea? She sighed and leaned back against the sofa and closed her eyes. The ache was fast turning into a headache. I don’t need this.
Footsteps shuffled and got closer. It stopped just next to her. Athena could feel the heat radiating from the person. She wished it was Jaal but she knew it wouldn’t be. Jaal hates Kadara. Why the fuck did I come here?
“Ryder,” the voice spoke.
It was honey smooth and so familiar. Athena opened her eyes. “Vidal,” she rasped, her tongue half stuck to the roof of her mouth, her throat parched despite the booze she obviously had consumed. Maybe inspite of? Her brain was fuzzy on that bit.
“What do you want?” she demanded, her headache had chased what usual diplomacy she had away.
“I have some news."
Athena’s eyes flashed to look at him. Vidal returned the look calmly but she could see the tension across his shoulders. Vidal had always been nothing but in control of his words, his actions and his unspoken meanings.
"I think you should be informed.”
Athena’s heart clenched in fear. His eyes was filled with dread and regret.
“Come on,” he said.
Ryder looked at him, a little confuse but with a healthy dose of anger. Reyes looked at all the empty cups on the table. Shit, this isn’t going to go any easier with her half drunk.
He reached out to grab her arm but Ryder slapped his hand away. “What the fuck, Vidal? Keep your hands to yourself,” she growled, her words steady.
Maybe she’s not as intoxicated as I thought? Biotics and their metabolism, I guess.
Reyes sighed inwardly. “Just follow me, this needs a little more privacy.”
A flash of something crossed her eyes, it was too quick for him to catch if he wasn’t already observing her. He shook his head, it was no business of his anyway. Reyes turned and headed to the back of Tartarus.
The door hissed slightly as it closed behind Ryder. He gestured towards the sofa as he sank his favourite spot. Datapads scattered across the low table separating the sofa and the door.
Ryder shook her head and remained standing. Her eyes pinned him in his spot. Reyes straightened slightly from his slouch, the weight of her gaze pressing against him. “I have some news you need to hear,” he started, his mouth suddenly dry.
Why is it so hard to tell her? It’s not like we are friends or anything. This is just business.
“Yes, so you have been saying, but I heard nothing yet,” Ryder spat, “Spit it out.”
Movement by her hands caught his attention. Her hands were balled into fists. Ryder forced her hands to relax when she noticed him looking. Does she know?
“Vidal.” Ryder all but growled his name, her eyes flat and getting more than a little impatient.
“You sure you don’t want to sit?” he countered just to delay a little longer.
Ryder didn’t deign to reply. She glared instead.
“Fine, fine,” he said, holding his hands up in surrender.
He rubbed his hands together and took a deep breath. “There is no good way to say this. Ryder, the Nexus lost all communication with the APEX team your sister was leading a week ago.”
Reyes paused and glanced at Ryder to gauge her response. She was like stone made flesh. A tightening of her jaw and that was it. He swallowed and went on, “Kandros just listed the entire team MIA. But…”
A short, sharp hitch of her breathing interrupted him. His voice trailed off. His brown eyes seeking her grey ones. Her eyes were hidden as her head was slightly bowed, blonde hair falling to cover part of her face.
“Ryder,” he called, wondering if she was going to lash out at him, being the bearer of bad news.
Reyes vaguely wonder if he had Harper’s contact details to seek help if things got out of hand. Ryder lifted her head, her eyes jerked up to meet his. He had to lean back just to handle the intensity of her gaze. If he thought she was stiff, cold and distant before, she was ice now.
“But?” she asked, her voice now quiet and tight, underneath it all, there was something primal just barely under controlled.
“Ahhh…” Reyes’ mind was a blank, he blinked. “Right, sorry.”
He cleared his throat just to get his thoughts together. “My sources say nobody made it. Your sister, Grace didn’t make it.”
There was a flash of white as Ryder bared her teeth. It was so quick if he blinked he would have miss it. Ryder visibly took a deep breath. Maybe she wasn’t as unaffected as she seemed.
Reyes looked at her hands, they were balled up again, trembling slightly from the strength she was clenching them.
“You do not get to speak her name.”
“What?” he asked, Ryder’s voice barely a whisper.
She shook her head. Reyes could almost see the fortifications coming up over her face. “It seems I am due a trip back to the Nexus,” Ryder said as she turned towards the door.
The door hissed open under her palm. With one foot over the threshold, she turned back. “Thank you for telling me.”
With that Ryder walked out. Reyes heaved a sigh of relief at her departure. Somehow, he felt he had unleashed a hurricane.
Jaal was waiting. Athena was later than usual. He didn’t like it when the Tempest docked on Kadara. Athena understood that, so she left the Tempest alone. She’s safe, she is a skilled warrior with biotics. She can take care of herself.
Despite knowing that, seeing her handle herself with both her fast wits and faster biotics, his vision was dimming around the edges with worry. Jaal sighed and forced himself to sit down. He had been pacing the tech lab, the space too small, too confined to contain his anxiety.
“SAM,” he called out.
“Yes Jaal?” The AI replied instantly.
“Is the Pathfinder still on Kadara?”
“Yes, she is.”
Jaal picked up his rifle and started taking it apart to clean it again. His foot tapped against the floor uneasily. Athena's patience was usually on par with the Moshae. Nothing fazed her. Not dealing with all the missions the Nexus handed her, not working with Kandros to dispatch APEX teams. not even untangling the situation between the Outcasts and Collective. But the past week, Athena was different. Dark rings formed around her eyes. Her temper flared and friction between her and the crew increased. Jaal was concerned but Athena insisted nothing was wrong. She even stopped inviting him to spend the night in her quarters.
Maybe I did something to offend her, and she is just too polite to tell me. Maybe she didn't want to take this relationship any further. Maybe being with me wasn't what she wanted. Maybe...
He dragged his thoughts back to the dismantled rifle in front of him. The fog of worry crept deeper into his head. The usual task of cleaning his rifle was usually calming and centring but not today. He had been antsy for the past two hours for no reason he could discern other than Athena being out on Kadara alone.
Jaal found himself cleaning the same part twice when he finally gave up. He stepped out of the tech lab. The lights were dimmed for the night cycle. Everyone had retired to their own space, winding down for the night or already sleeping. Jaal walked towards the gallery thinking to make himself a cup of tea.
Then, his eyes caught movement. He blinked. It was a pair of feet climbing down from the ladder. “Athena?” he called out.
The pair of feet missed a rung and slipped. Jaal was running over as soon as he saw it. Still, he wasn’t fast enough. Athena fell heavily, landing awkwardly on her arm. There was a muffled cry.
“Athena!” he almost yelled as he reached her. “Are you ok?”
She had her face turned away from him. Jaal ran his hands quickly over her arm, she winced and pulled the limb back against her chest. He could tell it was rapidly swelling up. “Let me grab an ice pack,” he said, rising quickly to head to the galley.
As he moved away, he felt a tension on his rofjinn. Jaal turned and found Athena’s pale hand gripping a corner tightly. “Don’t go,” she whimpered, her voice cracking at the second word.
Worry and anxiety raised to new levels, blocking everything else out. Athena was his only concern. She pressed her face against his chest. He could feel his rofjinn getting wet.
Why is she crying?
Jaal gently pushed against her shoulders, trying to get her to look at him. He needed to know what’s wrong so that he could fix it.
Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Is it the arm?
“Athena, please talk to me,” he begged.
Her shoulders started shaking as a chest shuddering sob escaped. “Not here,” she pleaded.
Jaal didn’t hesitate, he slipped an arm under her legs, another against her back. “SAM, please open the door to the Pathfinder’s quarters,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
He must fight his anxiety, he had to be strong for her. She needed him. Athena wrapped her arms around his neck, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed. His rofjinn getting wetter and heavier with her tears. Athena’s tears.
Jaal slid her onto her bed but her arms refused to let him go. Instead they tightened with a desperation that tugged at his heart. “Don’t go,” she whispered.
There was nothing Jaal wouldn’t do to fix this, but he was confused, he was worried. What could have possibly happened on Kadara?
“Are you hurt? Is it your arm? Do you need Lexi?”
Athena shook her head harder and harder with each question.
“Please look at me, Athena,” Jaal begged. “Tell me what’s wrong?”
His voice cracked, tears started streaming down his face too. Athena tensed up in his arms, muscles stiffening. She pushed away from his chest, red-rimmed eyes meeting his. Jaal bit back a gasp. Her face was all ashen, grey like death.
Athena starred at him wordlessly. Tears welling up in her eyes which she dashed away furiously with her hand. Her breaths hitching as she opened her mouth. “My…” her voice cracked before devolving into a sob.
Athena gritted her teeth. Jaal could tell she was trying, trying so hard to tell him but her emotions were washing her words away. Determination knitted her brow together, her hands clenched tight. She squeezed her eyes shut as a growl forced its way through her teeth. Waves upon waves of worry crashed against him, threatening to drown him. Jaal fought it all back. He wrapped his fingers over Athena’s trembling fists. “It’s ok. Feel what you need to feel, it’s ok. It’s normal. Just let them wash over you,” he said.
Athena visibly relaxed a notch, her eyes opened and found his. The grey he found there was a roiling sea to match the one in the pit of his gut.
“My sister is dead,” she managed to force herself to say before slamming her face against his chest sobbing.
Cora eyed Athena. Her face drawn and paler than usual. There was a tension running under the line of her shoulders. Her lips pressed tight in a flat line, those were the only outwards indications that something was wrong. That and her arm. It’s now in a sling.
How did that happened?
Athena didn’t give her any warning. Cora got a message on her omni-tool in the morning regarding the course change to the Nexus. Right after they docked, Athena came to the bio-lab looking for her. Jaal was hovering anxiously in the threshold. The Pathfinder was looking at her, back stiff, shoulders straight.
“Harper, I need you to come with me,” she stated.
It wasn’t quite a command but not a request either. Cora nodded. She could be professional. She didn’t need to be friends with her commanding officer. The pain of being passed over still stung.
Athena turned to head out, fully expecting Cora to follow.
“What is the problem, Ryder?”
Athena stopped at the threshold, Jaal now had one hand protectively on her shoulder. The Pathfinder was the one who spoken just now, the person facing her was Athena. There was no doubt. Cora stared as Athena bit her lower lip. For her, it was a breach of a highest degree. Athena was always controlled both in her words and deeds. Then, she was gone. The Pathfinder stared back at her.
After that everything moved in a kind of blur. Athena and Cora, the Pathfinder and her second cutting through the crowds of the Nexus like a hot knife through butter. Their faces stern and no nonsense, neither taking any shit. Everyone gave them a wide berth.
They boarded the tram to take them to Operations. Athena weaved to avoid bumping her bad arm as she boarded the tram but it was just too crowded. A pair of krogans boarded the already crowded tram forcing everyone to pressing against another.
Athena hissed as the hard plates of a turian pressed against her arm. Her jaw tightened as she braced against Cora’s shoulder. Cora couldn’t even turned Athena to press against her softer flesh instead in the sardine packed tram. Mercifully, the trip was short.
Athena pressed her good hand against the wall as she let the pain ride out. Cora waited, her hand hovering over the Pathfinder’s shoulder to offer her support. Before she could do anything, Athena straightened. The moment of weakness over, the mask was back in place.
They found Kandros poring over datapads in Operations. A couple of APEX team members milling about, poring over their duty rosters. Some of them spotted Athena and started greeting her. Athena ignored all of them. Her focus was only on Kandros and nobody else.
“Nex-Sec leader Kandros,” she called.
Everyone turned to follow the voice. Kandros looked up visibly annoyed at being disturbed. “What is it?” he asked reflexively.
Then his ice-blue eyes found them, flicking between Athena and herself before finally settling on Athena. His mandibles visibly tightened against his face. Cora kept close, arms folded under her chest. This was Athena’s prerogative even though worry and anxiety weigh heavily in her chest as well.
“Has the rescue team been sent out?”
Kandros blinked, confusion flitted across his face. Cora watched him. The tension in the air was almost palpable. “What are you talking about, Ryder?” he asked trying to keep his voice casual.
“Nex-Sec leader Kandros, has the rescue team been sent out?” Athena repeated, her voice calm and professional but there was a bite of ice underlying her words.
Kandros shifted in his chair. “Why are you so formal, we’re friends aren’t we?” he laughed uncomfortably.
The others returned to their work. The three of them were enclosed in a private bubble despite being surrounded by people. Cora shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Athena didn’t reply, she kept her gaze fixed on Kandros. It was relentless and direct. Cora had been on the receiving end many times. The weight of a Ryder’s gaze was quite something.
“Don’t make me repeat myself,” Athena stated swinging her bad hand to punctuate every word.
Cora could see her shoulder tense at the pain but her face remained closed. She placed a hand on Athena’s shoulder and squeezed it. The muscles stiffened for a moment at the contact but relaxed under her touch.
“Kandros, spit it out,” she said, her voice harsh, it wasn’t as controlled as Athena’s.
The turian stood, his mandibles went slack in resignation. He ran his talons over his face and sighed. “Grace’s team missed their check in one week ago. And they have missed their second check in four days ago.”
Kandros looked away unable to continue. Athena made a grunt of frustration. “Fuck, Kandros. It’s one week ago. Why wasn’t I informed?” she asked, her right hand pressed against her bad one as if to remind herself of her injury.
Cora watched Kandros shrank before her eyes. He was a two metre tall turian, he was supposed to loom over them but he was small under Athena’s gaze and questions.
“Why?” Athena hissed. “Why must I find out from Vidal of all people?”
Kandros jerked his head up at the mention of the smuggler. Her grey eyes hard and sharp, cutting anyone who dared to look at her. Kandros sank back to his chair, curling up a little. “I…”
Athena took a deep breath, schooling her voice back to a semblance of calm and control. “Has a search team been sent? It’s been one week. Grace and her team need help. Where was she sent? Do you have mission details? We can help, Kandros. I need to find my sister.”
Kandros looked up, his eyes stricken at the mention of Grace’s name. “Grace,” her name was drawn out on Kandros’ lips, barely a whisper. Then his mandibles snapped tight against his face. Cora recognised it as a turian version of clenching the jaw. “I… failed her.”
Athena’s vein at her temple throbbed at the admission. Her bad arm jerked up for a moment before returning to her chest. Cora watched Kandros. His plates dulled, his eyes tired. Grace’s name was almost a prayer on his lips.
“You love her…” Cora blurted.
Athena stared at her, frowning and perplexed before turning back to Kandros. A harsh breath of air escaped her mouth. “Fuck me.” she whispered. “Fuck you.”
Her good hand ran over her face stopping over her mouth. Cora could see her jaw trembling under her fingers. Control reasserted itself again. “I take it a search team wasn't sent.” she stated flatly.
Kandros just nodded, unable to speak. Cora growled low in her throat. A week, it’s been a week. Any survivors… Grace… She wrenched her thoughts away. Shaking her head, she refused to think about that any further. Grace is an N7 soldier, she can survive anything. Anything.
Athena’s shoulder stiffened under her hand.
The question was flung on the ground like a gauntlet, a challenge.
“Tann is refusing to authorise a second team,” Kandros confessed.
Athena stiffened at the mention of the Nexus Director. She looked down for a moment before turning her eyes back to Kandros.
The apology fell flat on the floor like a stillborn, dead before it even lived. Athena didn’t even bother with it. Her grey eyes were attempting to drill a hole in between Kandros' eyes. Athena didn’t speak, Kandros waited and Cora held her breath. Her jaw set, her lips pressed thin. Nobody moved.
Cora’s fingers tightened, digging into Athena’s shoulders. Finally she blinked and turned.
“Harper, let’s go. We have to pay a visit to Tann,” she growled.
Ryder strode into Tan’s office. Her footsteps thundering against the polished floor. Her blonde hair shrouded half her face like dark clouds. Her eyes flashed with lightning that promised to strike any who stood between her and her target. Though her strides were short, she made up for it with her gait. The air crackled slightly in her wake. She didn’t care if Harper followed, she requested her along as a courtesy to her sister, not that she needed the support.
The spot where Harper placed her hand was still tingling. It was an unfamiliar sensation for Athena.
“Fuck,” she cursed, her thoughts inevitably drifting to Grace. Missing Grace, dream Grace, fucking lost Grace.
Where are you?
Her steps ate up the distance between Operations and Tan’s office. Her palm grazed the holo-lock. It buzzed under her touch. The door slid open but the holo-lock frizzled and died. Athena’s eyes locked on Tann’s assistant. The asari stood up and said, “Do you have an appointment with the Director, Pathfinder?”
“Leave,” Athena replied, without waiting for compliance she walked towards the stairs leading towards Tann’s private office.
She could hear Harper behind her repeating her instructions. Then, a scurry of feet. The door was dead, and it stayed open. Athena took two steps up the stairs and turned around. She lifted her good arm and drew on her biotics. The two halves of the door slammed shut, and she Pushed the assistant’s desk against the door for good measure.
Harper stared at her, her mouth grim, her eyes hard. Her eyes locked onto Athena’s and she gave her a little nod. Athena didn’t bother answering. Her vision was a haze of red, her control fraying with each passing second. Her anger mounted with each step she took towards Tann.
“Who is that?” Tann called out, his voice quivering a little.
The noise must have tipped him off. Athena smirked a little, a little thrill of satisfaction ran down her spine.
“Tann,” she growled as she cleared the stairs.
Her eyes flashing as she glared. Tann flinched.
“Ryder, what is it? Do you know what happened? What was the noise about?” he asked.
Athena’s nostrils flared. “Why didn’t you authorise the search team?” she asked, her voice deceptively quiet again.
She heard Harper’s booted feet thumping as she mounted the stairs. There was a presence just to her left, waiting and radiating tightly controlled frustration. Athena kept her eyes drilled into Tann’s. He blinked. His long fingers flew to his mouth, realising what she was talking about.
Athena’s jaw twitched as she waited for his reply. She wasn’t without reason. There might be a good explanation even though she couldn’t see it right then.
“Ryder, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, after schooling his features back to neutrality.
His arms folded over his chest as he leaned back in a show of false normalcy. “What search team?”
The red haze flared, and it was all she could see. She lifted both arms, pain flared up her left one, but she didn’t care. Blue flames licked up her arms, she Pulled at the loaded crate next to Tann’s desk.
The director’s large black eyes followed the crate as it scrapped across his office, leaving drag marks in its wake. He flinched as the crate came to an abrupt halt, meeting the wall. The metal screamed as Athena Pushed against it, harder and harder. It creaked and gave in as dents formed against its smooth side.
Her eyes never left Tann, her glare hard and furious. The tortured metal groaned as it buckled.
“Stop!” he begged. “Please, Ryder. Please stop.”
It took a bit of effort but Athena reined her biotics in. Her hands still sheathed in blue, biotics held at the ready to continue her work. Tann sighed in relief when the noise stopped. He grabbed a piece of tissue and daped at his face anxiously. His eyes darted towards the stairs. Athena shifted to block his view. Harper flanked her, forming a physical barrier between Tann and the exit.
Tann gulped and sank back against his chair. He sighed in resignation. “Ryder, it’s been a week. Your sister is more likely dead,” he said, his eyes darting over to see how his news was taken.
Athena snapped. She took two steps towards Tann and slammed both hands down on his desk, heedless of the pain that ran up her left arm. She tore the sling off her neck in anger and flung it at Tann. Tann jerked backwards as if it was a bomb. Her arm throbbed in time to her pulse. She used it the pain to fuel her rage. Every single jolt, Athena gathered them like ammo for her fury.
“You. Do. Not. Know. That,” she growled.
Her fury palpable as her fists glowed blue again. Her eyes met Tann’s. “Harper, please…” he pleaded. “Do something, Ryder is out of control!”
Athena cocked her head to the side, prepared to do what she must but Harper didn’t move. She didn’t even stir. A vicious smirk tugged at Athena’s lips. With a conscious effort, Athena pushed off from Tann’s desk, her hands curled into fists. The desk now had a pair of palm prints. Tann glanced at the desk to Athena and back again. He shuddered.
“Ryder, I did not mean to be disrespectful. Your sister is a skilled N7 soldier, if she had survive, if any of her team had survived they would have called in by now,” Tann stammered. “You are needed, Ryder. We are dying here, attacked by the Roekaar, the kett. We are being assailed on all fronts.”
Athena gritted her teeth. Her eyes lowered to the floor. Tann’s words washed over her. What he said was true, they were slowly dying. Picked off one by one, in groups, pressed against all sides. From the far from golden planets to hostile aliens and a nemesis out to exalt every single last one of them.
“This is more important than you, me and even your sister. We need you to concentrate on the bigger picture here. I’m sorry about your sister but you’re our only hope here!”
Athena took a shuddering breath, her hands pressed against his desk. This time it was more to hold herself up than anything else. Her anger raged and burnt hot but it drained her more than anything. She heard Harper stepped up next to her. A warm hand pressed against her shoulder again. It tightened and squeezed. Athena closed her eyes, head bowed as she soaked in the gesture of support.
“I’ll trade you,” she rasped.
Tann was silent. Athena raised her head, straightening her spine. She cleared her throat once. “I’ll trade you,” she repeated. “A search team in exchange for locating the salarian ark as a priority.”
Tann’s already huge eyes widened some more. “Do you have leads?” he asked, his voice quietly hopeful.
“Yes,” Athena lied, her face betraying nothing but Harper’s hand on her shoulder twitched.
The director’s brain was busy making a cost-benefit analysis in his head. It didn’t take long, salarians processed information faster than anyone else. “A search party for your sister and her team after you located the salarian ark,” he countered, his eyes narrowing shrewdly at her.
The bite of command clear. “Now,” she growled.
Tann stared back, finding a fragment of steel in his spine. It was a stalemate. The silence was charged. The tension thick enough to cut with an omni-blade. Harper shifted her weight from one leg to the another, content to wait.
Tann caved. “Fine, but I need time to pull a team together,” he said.
“I’ll tell Kandros myself,” she said turning on her heels to go.
“Ryder,” he called.
Athena stopped but kept her back to Tann. “Please find the salarian ark, my people are there,” he said, his voice lowering down to almost a whisper. “I promise to do what I can for your sister.”
Athena stiffened. She turned to face Tann. He cringed away. “You don’t even know her name, do you?”
The director looked away. It was all the confirmation Athena needed. “Her name is Grace, Grace Ryder. Remember that,” she said. “You better fucking pray she is alive.”
Without waiting for a reply, Athena walked away. A rough gesture and the assistant’s desk slid away. Another one, slammed the doors open.
The silence that Athena left in her wake was loud in her own ears.
You better be fucking alive. This isn’t how it is supposed to go. This isn’t how it’s all fucking supposed to go…
Harper left after they spoke to Kandros. He was torn between apologising and jumping to work. Athena was tired. Once she had done what was needed, she left. Harper was trailing behind like a shadow.
They got to the docks then her footsteps slowed. Harper stepped up to her side. She could feel Harper’s gaze, but she refused to meet Harper’s eyes. Her hand came up again, it pressed against her shoulder one more time. When Harper pulled her hand away, it left a warm imprint on her shoulder.
“I’ll make arrangements for departure and speak to Gil about the kett transponder we've got,” she said.
Athena nodded. Harper hesitated, words hovering on her lips. She could feel it. “I…,” Athena said, “I need some time alone.”
“Of course,” Harper replied quickly. “For what it’s worth, I think Grace is still out there.”
Athena nodded again, her breathing a little harsher than before. Harper didn’t linger. Her footsteps leading towards the Tempest.
Athena was alone now, alone in a sea of people. She was the rock in a flowing stream of people. Her left arm throbbed reminding her of the ill-advised things she did. She didn’t care. The pain had sharpened her mind, it made sure she wasn’t emotional and stupid. Now it just drained her.
Her feet shuffled towards the railing. As gently as she could, she rested her arms against it. Her eyes gazed outwards unfocused, looking at nothing in particular. A piano started playing from somewhere. Her ears sought the music out.
Thought we had the time, had our lives
Now you'll never get older, older
Deep down, Athena knew. She was the Pathfinder. She helped Kandros assigned APEX teams to missions. She was the one who assigned Grace's team to Voeld. Didn't Dad always tell them, a commanding offiece bore both the victories and failures. This was her burden to bear.
Didn't say goodbye, now I'm frozen in time
Getting colder, colder
Her breath hitched as she bit her trembling lips to still them. No, she couldn’t. Not here. Athena jammed her right hand into her mouth and bit down. It’s too public here. It’s not safe for anyone to see her like this. A lump formed in a throat. She couldn’t swallow it. It grew larger and larger. Her tongue tasted something metallic in her mouth.
One last word
One last moment
To ask you why
It was so easy. The decisions she had to make every single day. The lives and deaths she determined every single time. This time, it was her sister's. Her own fucking sister. Athena remembered all it took was a simple tap of her finger. She didn't know it then, but she consigned all of them to their deaths. Her eyes burnt with unshed tears. It was her fault, not Kandros, not Tann but hers. And only hers. Athena gritted her teeth and looked up, praying the tears wouldn't fall.
Then she stopped breathing. In a distance, a familiar figure leaned out from a departing shuttle.
Athena prayed, harder than she ever did. Her eyes squinted, forcing herself to see better, see clearer.
The shuttle was moving away faster and faster. It was impossible to know for certain but her heart leapt in hope, dangerous hope, heart-wrenching hope.
Then, Athena blinked. The familiar figure gone. The shuttle too far away. Her eyes stung and tears welled up.
The song in the background was still playing.
You left me here behind
You said you'd grow old with me
Lyrics taken from You said You’d Grow Old with Me by Michael Schulte