It was ten months since Landing Day, and Sara Ryder was ready to get to work in her new galaxy. It should have had come to no one's surprise that it involved her climbing along an alien canyon, hunting for a rogue sniper.
The mental scarring left from forced integration into Meridian left by that bastard were fresh, but she scars healed, they would leave a mark, but at the end of the day life had to go on. This was especially the case, considering all the work ahead for a System after finally starting to find its footing after decades of war against the kett. This new state of affairs meant one thing which the scientifically oriented Initiative had seemingly not planned fully upon: a proper military presence.
Sure, some rudimentary military aspects ended up adopted into the Initiative (especially from the turians who bled military) but it was not prepared anything of serious offensive capability. They thought they would come to a new galaxy that would just welcome them unconditionally or something. It was damn foolish in hindsight.
Yet, Sara bought the dream hook line and sinker like the rest of them. The idea that all the species could just… relax and never have to worry about armed conflict again was almost laughable. That dream now like a seductive drug so many now regretted long after the damage had been done.
Here they were, fighting a war for the first years of their arrival to Andromeda. Now this peaceful attempt at galactic colonization needed to be able to force project against the Kett; and more important than that in the short term, there needed to be a way that could protect what was being built from each other thanks to the decision to exile people. Banding together to fight a common enemy did not mean that everything was just going to be find from then on out.
Pathfinders were the tip of the spear into Heleus cluster. Chopping through the proverbial jungle, blazing the trail for others to follow in their wake; but the Pathfinders were just that: Pathfinders. Their whole deal was to move on ever further into unexplored space. For them, they were on their near constant quest of searching for more worlds, better worlds to spread the people of the Milky Way and now the angaran's across the stars. They did have time to stop and occupy the regions they tamed for the fragile civilizations that cautiously crept after them.
No. Pathfinders never got into that murkiness of garrisoning and policing in a galaxy without a proper institution of law and order or even basic defense set up yet. Whether they liked it or not, they had effectively become the first Spectre agents of this galaxy – coming and going as they pleased for the betterment of all.
This was not a knock against the institution. They were far more compassionate then the shadowy organization which was left in the Milky Way. They seemed much more… well, they strove for peaceful contact, but were more than ready to bring the hammer down if need be. Besides, she had a brother for a Pathfinder. She had to find some good in them.
…and holy shit did her brother bring the hammer down on the Kett…
The angaran resistance could not be a reliable defender of these worlds either. The Moshae was very nice about it, but at the end of the day, every party knew that the angaran war on the kett were their primary focus. Even if they could help, they were feeling the pressure build upon themselves. The alien hating Roekaar movement flared back to life, but the anger was now also directing back to the angaran people who did not hate the Milky Way settlers. Collaborators were targeted and it had the potential to reach a bloody all-out fight which was the last thing the angaran's needed these days.
There was, of course, APEX; but this was a stopgap unit built with quick strikes; and it was too small to do all the lifting until a government was established and a proper military was trained. With the extensive threats left behind in the wake of the Archons death, there needed to be more combat units patrolling and protecting the young outposts. People with the training had to be the ones to step up and maintain the delicate peace and to drive off those who would threaten it.
Enter Sara Ryder. Although this was entirely the decision making of the interim leaders at the Nexus and the Angaran Moshae, it would be up to Sara to begin serving as the first of the AIR –Andromeda Initiative Rangers. Surprisingly, she was given a ship a refurbished and freshly commissioned the Andromeda Initiative Survey Ship Vortex and a skeleton crew. Before she could even check out her room, she received a pile of dossiers collected by Kandros, others pathfinders (each of them nice enough to provide a congratulations for her commissioning). She even got a message from the angaran resistance leader Evfra de Tershaav, who threw her a couple names her way on condition she was not to be as big a pain in his ass as Scott had been.
This brought her back to the reason why she was scaling a Cliffside hunting for a possibly deranged hunter of men.
She was chasing a lead given to her by her inevitable future sister-in-law. Vetra Nyx sent her a rumour from Elaaden. There were piles of dead raiders that were showing up across the wastelands. On top of that came several firsthand accounts from raider victims that some lone shooter of sorts would ambush the attackers. The sniper never revealed their identity, never broke cover. They just hung back a ways off and shot the outlaws dead. There was no extortion or threats; the saved people got left behind to pick the bodies clean while the sniper moved on. Occasionally people left offerings at the places the sniper seemed to frequent: usually in the form of munitions.
Thus the Legend of The Angel of Elaaden legend was born
"To anyone getting this, this is Transport shuttle Parvoa. I am stranded and in need of assistance over!
"Anything yet?" Sara grunted as hefted her leg up and placed it in the next section of the crevasse. It rather reminded her of scaling the Grand Canyon back him, only without the safeties. Well… she did have a thrust pack, but it was not exactly quiet. Using it would paint a target on her back the moment it roared to life, and if there was a sniper here, the sniper would not be forgiving to anyone attempting to sneak upon their position.
"No, not yet Ryder… although there is something strange happening," Naeka returned as Sara pulled herself onto a ledge and glance back down on the shuttle as well as the encroaching bandits. "It seems move broadcast is getting boosted from that rock incline. Someone has set up a booster somewhere."
Sara nodded to herself and continued her careful scaling. Her jetpacks remained unused in case. The Sniper probably set up a relay to boost the transmission range to New Tuchanka. The sniper did not intervene directly to help persons in distress, but instead seemed to be hanging around to provide support until someone would.
This time however no one would come from the colony. Both the krogan's and Nexus colonies were up to date with the plan, and would not send a response team to answer. Instead, the signal was to be used to lure the two parties. There were the bandits, who would serve as the prey, and the hunter, who would come to cull the pack.
The bandits were here already. By her count, they were twelve strong. Now all they had to do now was to wait for the sniper to make the first move… or not. God, she hoped the rumours were right. It was not so much out of fear, but annoyance. They had been chasing this one down for three days.
"LOOKIE HERE!" Sara heard one the maniacs shout over the channel open between the human and the salarian. "LOOKS LIKE SALARIAN IS ON THE MENU BOYS AND GIRLS!"
The apprent xeno-cannibals cheered heartily at the call of their leader... or cook. If it was anyone else, Sara would probably come running, but she had seen enough on Elaaden to know that Naeka was well equipped to handle anything these raiders could throw at her if worse came to worse.
"Ryder, please let it be on the record that I am so against this façade right now," Naeka complained, her voice whispered and strained from sounds of Raiders now banging on the hull of the shuttle.
Okay… so maybe the salarian could handle it, but she sure wasn't pleased about it. It was only natural.
"Noted, give the scavengers a few minutes to start spreading out," Sara replied as she turned off her holo-magnification eyepiece. "If the sniper is not here… well, you do the shooting and we'll call it the day. I'll buy you a drink; your choice where."
There was a pause and a small hum, like her comrade needed a moment to think it over. It was a pause purely for theatrics. The two of them knew what answer Naeka Hasley would give.
"You'll buy me a drink at Vortex," Naeka chirped back, sounding a little more elated for the free drinks coming her way. "Right… Okay…Understood, boss. Damsel-in-Distress mode engaged!"
As Sara pulled herself onto a ridgeline big enough for a sniper to use as a nest for observing the region, she heard the deafening roar of a rifle ripping over her head. A second shot rang out only a second or two later. She knew two people were dead, but she could not help but feel elation rise in her heart. All her hard work was finally paying off.
Now all she had to do was convince the sniper not to shoot her on the spot. Easy… if her brother could do something like that, then Sara Ryder was going to do it, and going to do it better. It was her time to shine after all.
Another shot ripped out over her head and Sara could heard the scream of the victim from up here.
Well… maybe it was better she should have Scott on stand-by to talk. Just to be safe…
"Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit," Naeka exclaimed over the comm. "Ryder are you seeing this?! Holy hell, look at all that blood!"
She was, but she was seeing it from a very different angle now.
There, lying on the ground in a dusty improvised desert ghillie suit was the sniper. The sniper appeared to be a Turian judging by the quick look Sara took before ducking behind some cover just in case. It was much too broad to be quarian, and was too thin to be an angaran. All it left was turian, and considering how… through and unemotional about the killing it was engaging in,
Yeah… that was a turian all right.
She looked out and examined that what was in between the sniper's claws was a Black Widow Anti-Material Rifle. The weapon wrapped tightly in netting camouflage as well. It was a rifle built to knock out light vehicles and shuttles. Here it was deployed against common crazies wearing rusted out body armour; God what fucking mess the turian could make with it.
Perhaps that was the point: punching fist-sized holes through marauders had a way to drive a message across about fucking with the Angel of Elaaden.
"I see the shooter," Sara whispered to her decoy/bait. "Stay put, radio silence here on out."
Naeka's silence confirmed she got the message. So with that, Sara crept forward a little further, her eyes locked on the back of the sniper, who fired another round. It was a crack if heard from where the people getting shot were listening; here it was a devastating roar. Next to sniper seemed to be a spotter scope the turian was using, probably to watch things several kilometres off from its position.
It would help the turian evade detection if she knew all the activity in the area before the shooting started. Gave her a heads up that was for sure-
A small rapidly increasing beeping made Ryder's heart stop. She looked down and noticed the small laser trip mine she had fucking forgot to check for. Her suit and reflexes kicked in, immediately launching herself backwards to avoid the small explosion that erupted, kicking up dirt and rock.
Dazed, Sarah banged the back of her head behind the rock formation she took cover behind and chastised herself. God, she was so happy her stupid brother did not see her make an amateur mistake like that. Not that he did not do bone headed shit too. Being a Ryder meant being high risk, high reward after all. What was a single trip-mine she stumbled over in the grand scheme of things?
Still, the competition was fierce and the teasing even worse. She did not want to give him any more ammunition to use. Scott was a terrible tease and even more terrible sense of humour.
"Sara?" Naeka's voice chattered right into her ear. It was half exited, half worried. "Sara are you okay?!"
Sara coughed out a mouthful of dirt and salvia and drew out her Avenger. As she peered around the corner, she found the sniper had vacated, thankfully leaving her rifle at her sniper perch. Carefully she stood back up and shimmied closer in a slow defensive posture. Her ears were ringing terribly
"I'm fine…" she muttered, ignoring the taste of blood building up on her tongue "I just got kicked in the ass…"
"Oh, so just another typical day," the salarian scout hummed as in the background as the sounds of panicked raiders dying outside. "Do not worry, I will not tell the Pathfinder!"
Sara pursed her lips together.
"Appreciate that," she sardonically replied to Naeka. "Our angel is a turian. Sniper has relocated and left the gun behind. Deal with whose left and get over here, I need back up here, right now-"
Sara did not get to finish the order as a concussion round blasted her off her feet. The sniper had scrambled out of cover, armed with a personal defense weapon. Before she knew it, the ripping of a light submachine gun started chipping away at what remained of her shields. She scampered behind the nearest cover she could find, managing to fire off three quick bursts that connected with the turian and kicked the sniper back into cover. It was just enough of a respite to give Sara a little breathing room.
The two of them exchanged fire but to Sara, there was something… off about it. She had her reasons why she did not want to kill the sniper. However, it seemed as though the sniper was not taking this as seriously as someone should be in a firefight. The sniper seemed to be toying with her, trying to break down Sara for whatever reason the turian had.
As she swung out to fire once again, the turian was quicker, or rather, used the home field advantage. The submachine gun in the sniper's hands shot the rifle from out of hers, leaving her in a precariously under-armed. She had an emergency Predator sidearm, and yes back up was on its way, but what she needed right now was a stop to the fight before the escalation came calling. Naeka was sort of a shoot first ask questions later type of salarian.
So above all else, Sara needed a plan.
Lo and Behold, the Goddess of War granted Sara Ryder just that.
Exhaling a dramatic 'final' breath, Sara slumped over, allowing her arm to be exposed to the turian fire.
"That can't possibly work, Ryder!" she heard Naeka whispered furiously into her ear, no doubt watching her camera feed from inside the shuttle.
Okay… so it was not a great plan, but it was something.
Yet it did seem to work. The turian did not fire at her exposed limb. Instead, the sniper paused and silently watched her. Sara stared ahead and listened to the encroaching footsteps of the turian. She glanced down at the pistol on her thigh magnetic strip. Let the turian get in close, enough to get to close for the gun in the turian's hands.
Sara closed her eyes as the turian appeared around the corner. She decided against the pistol chose the primitive route. Before the turian could react, Sara grabbed a rock and swung it wide and hard on where the turian's faceplate ought to be. The attacked worked, the turian staggered and whimpered and with that, Sara barrelled hard into the turian, knocking the sniper on the ground, batting the submachine gun out of its claws.
With the turian underneath her, Sara was not entirely certain if she could strangle a turian into submission and she was not willing to break her hand punching the turian. With that in mind, she reached down pulled her Predator up and ripped off the ghillie suit headpiece, revealing a beaten and bleeding turian female.
The turian woman was glaring up at her with wide, rageful eyes. To Sara, it seemed like she was too dazed to do anything but glare.
At least that was what she thought until the turian head butted her, Sara's nose a bloodied mess. The turian ripped the Predator pistol away from her and staggered away, collapsing for a moment giving Sara – now fuelled on pain and adrenaline – to dive out and grab her fallen Avenger rifle. She round back, rifle aimed at the woman, who was back on her feet.
"I'M NOT HERE TO FIGHT YOU; I'M HERE TO TALK TO YOU!" Sara shouted at the turian, hoping to God that the turian's translator was not broken or something.
The turian did not react, but she did not shoot at her either. The two of them stood there, weapons raised at one another. The turian was bleeding profusely now. If it was Sara, she was not certain she would not be standing still. Then again, she did not have natural plating like this turian had.
Sighing as the turian remained alert, Sara checked her nose to see if there was a break. Fortunately for her there was none. She was still supposed to go easy on herself.
As she pulled her hand away from her nose, Sara's eyes flickered to the camp the turian had set up. Next to her sniper's nest was two metal water canisters wrapped in some sort of rubber; enough for several days if rationed well. Too much for the turian to need judging from this position as there were several smaller containers kicking around.
She squinted at them briefly before she turned back to the turian, standing there proudly. She refused to let herself end up caught in a weak moment with the Initiative member standing there.
"How were you going to deliver those?" Sara inquired to the turian, gesturing to the canisters. "Throw them down to the shuttle or something?"
The turian did not verbalize anything. Instead, she just repositioned her feet and held her hard stare on Sara. She was ready to carry on the fight at any moment.
"Do you know who I am?" Sara asked her after a moment.
The question once again went unanswered, so Sara did what Scott did. She took a leap of faith. She lowered her rifle. The turian's mandibles flared slightly and seemed surprised by it. Reluctantly, the turian nodded at her. She remained silent, but at least she was aware of her.
"Then you know why I am here as well," Sara spoke softly, doing her best to ignore her pain. "For formalities sake, my name is Sara Ryder, I'm a Ranger for the Initiative and I'm searching for special individuals such as you to form my ground team."
The sniper shifted uncomfortably. Turians did not like a lot of praise; but that was going to what she would be getting. A little charm went a long way. At least enough charm so that the sniper would not use Sara's own pistol on her. It really would be embarrassing.
"I know what you have been doing out here. All the fear you have inspired, and all the love you have gotten even," Sara pressed on, taking a step or two close to the turian. "You know they have shrines to you at the Trading Post? All those caravans of Exiles coming to settle in New Tuchanka you have been protecting… there are so many people alive because of your work out here. You're a hero."
The turian was, as predicted, extremely uncomfortable. It was good that watching her interactions between her sibling and Vetra Nyx were paying off. The turian gave a small frown and threw the Predator pistol to Sara's feet. It seemed as though the turian was ready to talk to her at the very least.
"I'm not an angel… I'm just… doing my part… nothing more…" she replied quietly, her vibrating tone a little gravelly. She seemed a little… overwhelmed by what Sara had told her.
Sara nodded and smiled as she snorted out a little blood.
"Well, it's a good part to play," Sara said as she inched a little closer. "But you can't just do it on your own. I want to help you. I want to help you do good for others, but I want to help you do good at an even larger scale then just caravans. I'm talking entire colonies out there that need people like us."
The turian shook her head and turned away from Sara.
"And what exactly what do you hope to achieve?" the turian asked as she pulled off her sniper suit, revealing a patchwork combat armour pieced together from parts probably scavenged from turians she made dead over her months of patrolling the deserts.
"Peace, security. Just the basics." was Sara's immediate short hand answer, but the look on the turian's face was clearly unimpressed by the answer, so she added. "Pathfinders can only do so much, and without a proper defense network in place… it's up to us. What the settlements need are frontier peacekeepers to maintain it. That is what I've been tasked to do. Nexus, Angaran… exile… if you can lend a hand, you're exactly what I need out here."
The turian remained silent as she examined Sara for any sort of second meaning to her words.
"Do you decide punishment for criminal acts for these colonies?" the turian asked. "Out here, I shoot people who plan to do harm or have harmed, but I'm not about to shoot them in the head if I see someone steal food or water from the colony to survive. I won't kill people who don't want to be under the boot of some Nexus asshole."
Sara shook her head.
"I'm not interested in little things," Sara informed the wasteland sniper. "What happens inside the settlements can and should be settled by local militia and justices. Our mission is focus to the bigger things: search and destroy external threats to the colonies: kett, roekaar, pirates, raiders, Remnant tech gone array or just track down fleeing criminals if need be. Does not matter what it is, if it represents a significant threat against the colonies or the Angaran settlements, we stop it cold. Sometimes we press forward though and support the Pathfinders. Even the Pathfinder teams need support, and APEX is only one unit."
"I guess you would have skin in the game."
Sara turned around drawing her pistol instinctively at the human male standing behind her. Like the turian in front of her, he too was tall, and he was thin in an underfed sort of way, like the turian, his armour was also a mixture of salvage. His hair was short and sandblasted and his skin tanned from the Elaaden sun. There was a face wrap and goggles resting low around his neck, In his hands a turian phaeston rifle, but it remained slung low.
Seeing quickly that he presented no immediate threat, slowly, Sara lowered her own rifle. She glanced back to the turian to find there was a smug look which flashed on her face.
God, it was no fucking wonder why the snipers gave back the gun.
"The Angel business is fucking nonsense from half crazed desert scavengers and idiots we saved," the turian spoke up, shaking her head dismissively. "My name is Avarai Kalinos, and this is my part time spotter, part time field operator Alec Grayson."
His first name startled her, but just for a moment. A flash of melancholy sent a shiver up Ryder's spine. These little things brought back her father from the dead. They reminded her of just how much she missed him.
Field operator?" Sara repeated, looking from turian back to human.
The man named Alec shrugged mildly.
"Yeah," Alec said as he approached, slinging his rifle onto shoulder with a makeshift sling. "Sometimes we have to get in close and personal when we just have to neutralize camps. A sweep and clear mission works well with eyes watching from a distance and boots on the ground."
He paused and inspected the turian a little closer.
"You're hurt," Alec pointed out the obvious. "It been awhile since I saw you bleed. Not sure if I should help or laugh."
The turian gave the human searching his side pouch a small shove. All it did was widen the grin growing on his face. There casualness was a good sign so far.
"You're a dick. Ryder hit me with a rock…" she muttered as she let herself be inspected by her partner. "I think it must have been an ancestral instinct further down the evolutionary line."
The male emitted a short sarcastic laugh at Avarai's little dig as carefully applied a bundle of linen against the wound. They could have asked for medi-gel, but the two of them had too much pride to ask total strangers for help. Considering what they spent months doing on this wasteland of a planet, it was sort of funny.
Quietly the turian and the human stood there, Alec with a hand around the back of Avarai's head, tilting it upwards slightly as he applied pressure. Avarai remained in his arms, her claws having reached out and grabbed tight to the neck lining on Alec's chest piece. As the two of them stood there and spoke quietly to one another, Sara felt she should not be watching this strange intimate affection between the two of them and…
Oh. Oh wow.
Sara turned away as Alec pecked Avarai on her unblemished mandible. As the turian pushed the human back playfully, Sara focused on the approaching shuttle Naeka was flying to them and pretended whatever was happening between the two desert roamers was not happening.
"Yeah, well I think she should invite us back to New Tuchanka for a drink and sort out the details," Avarai spoke to Alec a little louder to catch Sara's attention. "We still have… reasons to stay here."
Sara could figure out what the unfinished business was, and if helping them eliminate wherever it was these raiders had dug in to was what they wanted in exchange, then she was at least willing to hear what they wanted. Elaaden might have had dangers the krogan reviled in; but it wasn't the krogan that the bandits were targeting. It was everyone else, and the amusements of the krogan people could not override the safety of everyone else.
Elaaden had to be a relatively safe world for everyone living there, whether the krogan liked it or not. Besides, there were plenty of predatory animals for the Krogan to battle against; they did not need more targets to shoot.
The shuttle borrowed from the colony hovered close to the three of them gathered along the Cliffside. The side door opened and revealed Naeka Halsey. She was soaked in human blood and clinging to her submachine gun. There was a goofy smile on her face. It appeared that she really had fun with what remained of the bandits.
"Everything fine up here?" she asked her commander.
Sara gave her a short nod.
"We're all good," she assured the salarian. "Naeka Halsey, this is Avarai Kalinos and Alec Grayson, the Angels of Elaaden,"
Naeka looked at the Avarai and Alec carefully.
"Hmm, an army of two… or will it be four soon?" she asked, a little coyly.
Alec and Avarai finally broke their intense focus on one another. Alec cracked a half appraising smile at the salarian before he reached back into his belt pouch to retrieve a bottle of primitive medical supplies.
"I watched you on my climb up. You fought well," he returned as he turned back to Avarai, dabbing her injuries with disinfectant by the looks of it. "I cannot really complement on skill just yet because you're shooting a bunch of xeno-cannibals hopped up on Oblivion. Are you former STG or something?"
"Oh, nothing so glamorous," Naeka said as she collapsed and put away her Hurricane. "I would love to hear your stories as well… but I guess it's something to talk about if you sign up with us!"
Avarai remained unmoved, but neither was she disinterested. Alec, as it was, seemed far more thrilled at the prospect of learning something new. The two of them broke apart and together, they went to work stripping down the encampment, leaving Ryder alone with the salarian and the shuttle on auto pilot.
Giving them their space, Sara stepped onto the hovering shuttle and joined Naeka. In spite of the calm, Sara remained on high alert. It was probably because being shot with a concussion round, or maybe the ringing in her ear reminding her of the mine had not done much to instill a lot of trust. At least Naeka seemed thrilled.
"What do you think of them?" Sara asked the salarian, who was rested her hands on her hips as they watched the team… couple… whatever they were, gather up their supplies.
"I think I need to get out of the sun before I dry up, and you need to see Calisa," Naeka commented idly. "…and I need a bath… a shower at least. Actually scratch that, I think they need a shower first."
Sara chuckled and turned to slump into bench seat opposite of her. That they did.
With the series apparently abandoned, I will get to play with a speculative future plot without a lot of worry. The chapters will probably be shorter than this introduction on average.
One step at a time though.