The door hissed open behind Ryder, but she didn’t hear it. She was busy, fingers flying across the keyboard, typing into the terminal. Her face practically pressed against the screen. She sighed and rubbed her eyes and squinted. Something warm pressed against her bare arm and she flinched, her body jerking away in reflex.
Ryder blinked, realising it was Vetra with a mug of hot tea. “No coffee?”
Vetra shook her head, her mandibles fluttering disapprovingly. “It’s late, you should be resting, not working. Don’t we have a mission early tomorrow?”
“But I am almost done,” Ryder pointed out, gesturing at the report she was writing.
“Tann can wait,” Vetra said, moving to shut the terminal down. “Go, bed, now.”
“Yes, madam,” she chuckled, her joints popping as she stood with a grunt. “Please save it, I’ve spent the last three hours accounting how we have been spending our budget. I don’t want to do it all over again.”
Vetra glowered. “Bed.”
Ryder slid into bed, hot mug between her hands, savouring the warmth as she watched Vetra working. She took small sips and felt the heat running down her throat and into her belly. Vetra, the all round ultra competent, tall and spiky operative, ran her talons over the keyboard. She grunted with satisfaction when the terminal powered down.
“What are you looking at?” Vetra asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
Ryder took another sip, watching Vetra over the rim of her cup. “Nothing,” she replied. “Just admiring my beautiful girlfriend saving me from the tyranny of reports.”
“I’m doing nothing of that sort. I’m just making sure you’re not overworking yourself.”
Ryder grinned and patted at the empty half of the bed. Vetra cocked her head. “Are you sure?”
“You’re already dressed for bed,” she said, “and there is one right here.”
Vetra looked at herself in mock surprise. She wasn’t wearing her usual armour but her looser fabric sleepwear. “What do you know, you’re right!”
She pulled the blankets off and took the cup from Ryder. The bed sank a little as Vetra lay down. There was a faint buzz as Vetra powered down her visor and placed it on the nightstand. Ryder sighed as she turned the lights off, pressed her back against Vetra’s chest.
They shouldn’t fit. Hard plates and rough hide couldn’t possibly be a good match for soft and fragile human skin. Three fingers shouldn’t lace as well in a five fingered hand but they did, inexplicably. For that Ryder was always grateful.
Vetra’s arms tightened around Ryder’s waist, her mouth pressed into the brown, verging on purple, locks. Ryder ran a gentle hand over the strong arms that held her. She fell asleep to the hums from Vetra’s dual-flanged throat.
Swishes of fabric rubbing against fabric was the only sound Vetra could hear. She reached out to her side, searching for the warm body that pressed against her the night before. The empty spot she found was warm, not cold. She sighed. At least, Ryder hadn’t been up for long.
There were the swishes again. She opened her hazel eyes and took in the sight before her. Ryder dressed in a loose tank top paired with a pair of yoga pants was in the downward dog pose. Vetra held herself still, not wanting to break Ryder’s concentration. She taking the time to care of herself instead of being hunched over the terminal typing out yet another report requested by Tann was rare.
Her eyes traced the cords of muscles under Ryder’s skin as she transited into the Triangle pose. Ryder was the Pathfinder, her life was busy and pressurising enough, but still she took the time to get to know her and the others. As if dealing with the Kett, Roekaar and Collective wasn’t enough, she helped her out with Sid’s little problem. Vetra’s heart fluttered as she marvelled at the human she shared a bed with. With Ryder by her side, there was nothing she couldn’t face head on. As Ryder straightened, she realised Vetra was up. With a grin plastered on her face, she greeted “Good morning.”
Vetra took a deep breath as she levered herself upright. “Morning.”
Perspiration beaded anew across Ryder’s forehead as she wiped her face with a towel. She checked the time on her omni-tool before grimacing. In that split second, Vetra saw the Pathfinder not Ursula Ryder. A frown creased Ryder’s brow as she exhaled. The relaxation she might have gained from the yoga session was dispelled in an instant. A weight settled solidly across her shoulders. Vetra bit back a sigh.
“Time to get to work?” she asked.
Ryder nodded. “SAM,” she called out.
“Yes, Pathfinder?” came the reply instantly.
“Tell the others to gather at the cargo bay in 30 minutes.”
“Here,” Vetra said as she helped the buckles on Ryder’s suit.
Ryder glanced at the assembled team. Most of them were gearing up for the mission at hand. All of them people who had seen her through thick and thin, stood at her back, supporting her calls. She couldn’t quite believe how far she had come. Habitat-7 was an unmitigated disaster. Her father’s death, her almost death and elevation to the Pathfinder role. The past six months had a whirlwind of failures and triumphs.
A bump against her shoulder jarred her from the thoughts. “Credit for your thoughts?” Vetra asked, her mandibles slack with concern.
Ryder grinned. “Just thinking about how lucky I am to have met you.”
“Such a sap,” she said, but she couldn’t help the spread of her mandibles into a smile. “All right, what’s the mission, Pathfinder?”
The others were looking at her, awaiting their orders. She nodded, consulting her omni-tool briefly before clearing her throat. “So Mayor Tate over at Ditaeon had requested our help to train their militia. I agree with his assessment, relying on Sloane Kelly and her Outcasts for the defence of the outpost would be foolhardy. So I’m assigning Cora and Liam to help with that,” she said before turning to Jaal. “I know you don’t enjoy being on Kadara but I think it would do the colonists much good to learn Angara cultural dos and don’ts from you.”
“Of course, I’ll be happy to share any knowledge they need,” Jaal replied.
She nodded before turning to Drack. “So Vetra, Drack and myself will be investigating the reported Kett outpost out by Draullir.”
“You bring me to all the nice places, kid.” He laughed as he secured his shotgun into its magnetic holster.
“Thought you’ll appreciate it.”
“What about me?” Peebee piped up.
Ryder frowned, craning her neck to find the Asari. She was hidden behind Jaal’s and Drack’s bulk. “Peebee, you’re on Tempest duty today.”
“That means more time to work on Poc! Ryder you’re the best.”
She snorted. “All right, people you have your orders. Let’s get to it.”
“Why do you always get to have all the fun?” Drack groused as the Nomad lurched as Ryder launched them off another rock.
“Cause I’m the Pathfinder.”
“You know there is a perfectly fine road just over there, why are we going over all these rocks?” Vetra pointed out, one hand braced against the frame of the Nomad, glad she hadn’t had a heavy breakfast.
It was inconceivable that a person as logical as Ryder was, would opt to eschew the obvious path for the impossible inclines she insisted on putting the Nomad and in turn all of them through.
“Where is the fun in that?” Drack and Ryder replied in unison, before laughing.
“And that is why I like you, kid.”
“For that single reason only?” Ryder shot back. “I’m sure I’m more lovable than that.”
The playful barbs and banter were slung back and forth. Vetra listened and smiled.
“Well, you bring me Kett hunting, so there’s that.” Drack counted out on his claws.
“That’s just two. Don’t forget I let you cook adhi meat and feed it to us.”
“That’s true. So that’s three.”
Despite her less than ideal style of driving, she was completely confident in Ryder’s ability to see them through any situations. The fate of all Milky Way species weighed heavily across her slim human shoulders, but Vetra was determined to help her carry the burden. Now to actually stop Ryder from trying to make her vomit before they even got to their destination.
“All right, brace yourself,” Ryder warned.
Vetra turned her attention to the windscreen and her guts did an uncomfortable flop. “Spirits, Ryder. No!”
“Yes!” Drack barked at the same time.
Before them was a sheer drop. Somehow she had winded her way up a hill while Vetra was just enjoying the banter between the pair. The glint of mischief in Ryder’s eyes was all the warning Vetra had. The Nomad tipped forward. For a moment it teetered on the edge, neither moving forward nor backwards. The view before her was all brown Kadara rocks, sharp points and hard edges.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Drack asked as he shifted his weight forward.
That did the trick. The Nomad groaned and started rolling forward and more importantly downwards. Vetra clamped her mouth plates shut to keep the hysterical scream that was building in her throat back, while Ryder and Drack were whooping and cheering all the way down. The Nomad rattled and shook as if it was a shuttle re-entering the atmosphere, buffeted by winds and heat. By the time the vehicle levelled out and was once more on flat land, Vetra’s jaw ached. “You will be the death of me!”
Ryder laughed, a sound so light and clear, Vetra forgave her instantly. “Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist.”
“That was the best one yet, kid,” Drack said. “But it is no match to the one I’ve tried while being chased by a couple of Maws on Tuchunka.”
Vetra felt a pressure over her thigh through the layers of armour, she looked down to find Ryder’s hand there. She could read the apology in the touch. Vetra covered Ryder’s hand with her own.
“I call bullshit,” Ryder retorted.
The Nomad glided to a stop smoothly. It was a testament to the work and hours Gil put into the vehicle. Ryder hopped out and patted the Nomad’s door affectionately after closing it. Vetra chuckled at the gesture.
“What?” she asked, she couldn’t help the defensive tone she took.
“Nothing,” Vetra replied innocently.
Ryder shook her head and turned, only to find Drack shotgun in hand, heading towards the cave. He turned around and beckoned. “This isn’t my first rodeo. Come on, kid.”
She sighed and followed while Vetra brought up the rear. With Vetra at her back, she could always forged forward more confidently.
But that was the last thing that went right. It didn’t take long before Ryder how flawed her intel was.