Ryder paced the meeting room, a bitter taste in her mouth. She just had an overwhelming need to spit.
No, let’s be civilised and keep spit inside the mouth.
Instead, she exhaled, loud and audibly. Her eyes searched the team assembled before her. Her team but not quite her team either. A team that was thrown together, inherited from a father who she didn’t know, a team still on shaking foundations. With a shake of her head, she dismissed the thoughts. This wasn’t fucking time for introspection.
“So, a distress call on Eos,” she said, not a question but a statement.
Harper took it as permission to speak. The blonde folded her arms across her chest, her weight rested on one leg, her chin lifted as she flicked her eyes between Ryder and the map of Eos.
“Yes, SAM was able to isolate the distress call two hours ago. I’ve given the order to change course to Eos,” she said. “We will be arriving in an hour.”
Ryder’s eyes narrowed. “You overstep yourself, Harper. I am the Pathfinder here.”
“I am the Pathfinder,” Ryder repeated, her voice hardening with every word, “Is that understood?”
Harper stilled. For a moment, silence reigned. The others shifted uncomfortably. Ryder ignored the lack of acknowledgement and turned to SAM. “This is a distress beacon from a Natanus pod?”
“Yes, Pathfinder,” SAM confirmed.
“It’s not a signal that can be replicated?” Ryder asked.
Nyx started. Ryder’s eyes flicked over at the minute movement. Her mandibles flaring at the insinuation but she kept her mouth shut. Ryder nodded once.
At least she’s smarter than Harper.
“I will not rule out a possibility of the signal being replicated,” SAM went on.
Ryder tapped her finger on the console, her eyes on the map. She manipulated the map with her fingers, zooming into the general vicinity of the source of the signal. “This is Eos. We found most of the ark on Harvarl, not Eos,” she said.
“But the Natanus could be jettisoning pods after being damaged by the Scourge,” Kosta suggested.
“Ryder,” Nyx called, her dual-flanged voice buzzing the still air. “Please, these are my people.”
Ryder’s jaw tightened.
Why do they insist on talking when I’ve not asked a single question? Talk, talk, talk…
She closed her eyes for a moment, shoring the crumbling walls of her tolerance. Exhaling again, the gears of Ryder’s mind began to turn, making plans, discarding many, developing contingencies and adjusted her strategy accordingly.
Ryder pushed off from the console, the taste still souring her mouth. She swallowed the excess saliva. Her eyes flicked up to meet Harper’s. She said, “This is the plan, listen carefully.”
Ryder drove, two teams of six all squeezed into the Nomad. Harper, riding shotgun, was looking at her omni-tool. Her tapping on the tool slightly too forceful to be natural. Ryder frowned but she kept driving. She knew Harper would eventually open her mouth whether she wanted her to listen or not.
A soft inhale. Ryder kept her head facing forward but her eyes darted to look at Harper. The sound was loud inside the Nomad. Nyx, Ama Darav and B'Sayle held their collective breaths, waiting. Drack just snorted, derision filled the noise.
“Ryder,” Harper started.
Ryder ignored her. Her eyes firmly fixed on the road. The blonde paused then her brows twitched, unused to being ignored. Still, a little silence never seemed to deter her.
“We can’t just shoot first and ask questions later,” Harper pressed on. “This is the turian ark, not a kett outpost.”
Silence. The Nomad rumbled on.
"Ryder," Harper called again.
"Ryder, did you hear me?"
“Harper, my word on this plan is final,” Ryder growled finally, fighting the urge to blast the bitch out the Nomad, crew member be damned.
"Lead the second squad, make sure they get to the secondary position and we attack on my mark,” Ryder said, taking her eyes off the road to stare at Harper.
5 metres, 10 metres, 20 metres.
Harper remained stubbornly silent. Nyx, Ama Darav and B'Sayle all found handhold within the cabin and hung on. Drack had the widest grin plastered across his face.
30 metres, 60 metres, 120 metres.
The Nomad kept barreling on, Ryder’s foot on the pedal relentless and steady. Her breathing even and calm but her blue eyes burnt with silent fury. “Ryder, Cora, please!” B'Sayle whined, pointing at the road before them. “I don’t want to die like this.”
“This is just too good,” Drack rumbled.
Harper broke, her eyes darted to the windscreen once, widening in horror. She nodded curtly. “Understood,” Harper spat, “Pathfinder.”
Satisfied, Ryder turned back to the front and went on driving. B'Sayle let out an explosive breath, “Goddess, you bitches are fucking crazy!”
Ryder signalled to Ama Darav and Drack. They nodded and moved out, weapons ready in their arms. Ama Darav covering the rear with his sniper rifle while Drack took point with his shotgun. Ryder took the middle with her rifle.
“Pathfinder,” SAM said. “You are approaching the signal. It seemed to be coming from the deeper within the kett outpost.”
They dropped the second squad east, further away from the outpost. Cora took B'Sayle and Nyx with her without another word exchanged. Ryder knew they were both professionals, she hoped Harper knew how to keep personal separate from professional.
Ryder left the Nomad out of sight behind some outcropping of rocks. Her team would come in from the west. Both teams were to converge on the outpost. With a pincer attack, they would be able to trap whoever in there that’s fucking with her.
It was a slow leapfrogging towards the entrance but they made it without triggering any perimeter defences. The holo-lock was a stubborn red.
That is the first sign.
Ryder jerked her hand at Ama Darav. The angara walked quietly, for a person so big, towards the holo-lock, his omni-tool deployed as he hacked his way through. Drack kept an eye towards their rear as she tapped her omni-tool. “Harper, are you in position?”
One second, two seconds, three seconds. Her brow furrowed. “Harper.”
“Yes, Pathfinder,” Harper replied, sounding a little breathless.
“Are you in position?”
“Almost there,” she replied, movement of limbs obvious in the transmission.
Ryder swallowed her rebuke. “We’re breaching in 60 seconds. Get into position.” Without waiting for an acknowledgement, she dismissed the call.
That is the second sign.
Her gut churned as it attempted to twist itself into knots. The whole thing felt wrong. Ryder had a job to do and she wouldn't let fucking feelings stop her. Ama Darav shifted, his boot crunching sand underfoot. It wrenched her attention back to the mission. The holo-lock now glowed a welcoming green. Her guts coiled tighter. Ryder kept her eyes on her omni-tool, the countdown from 60 seconds was still running.
Three, two, one.
“Breach!” she barked.
Drack swung into action.