Somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million years away from the Milky way, a ship nears its 614-year long journey, carrying eager explorers ready to start a new life. They were in cryo stasis for most of the travel through dark space, but one of them…was woken early.
He opened his eyes and groan as bright light flood his vision. Ice ran up and down his arms and he started shivering. His lungs heaved without warning and though the warm air rushing inside calmed his lungs, a dry itch started flaring in his throat.
Where am I?
His body curled to cough, but then, his body wouldn't move. This and the thought that he didn't know where he is, much less who he is, caused fear to flow through his veins.
Then hands went under his back, gentle hands, and lifted him to his side to cough.
“Easy, there. We’re here. You’re in safe hands,” a soothing voice said. He looked up and saw a middle aged man bending over him, wearing gloves and dressed in white and red. He squinted at it. He knew it meant something but he couldn’t remember what just now. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a similarly dressed woman beside him, looking at her arm with something glowing over it.
A word suddenly popped in his brain. Omni-tool.
He only knew the word but not what it does and as he racked his head over it, she walked towards them and stopped in front of him. She raised her arm in his face. He drew back slightly.
"Easy there," the man said, gently rubbing his back. He relaxed and she started running the strange glowing thing over him. After a few sweeps, she dropped her arm, apparently satisfied and with her other hand, fiddled with it. “Vital signs’ good,” she said, tapping on it without looking at him. “I’ll inform Dr T’Perro that he’s awake,” she added and then with a nod at his companion, she walked away to the next pod.
“Where am I?” he croaked at his helper. With the woman gone, he paid attention to his surroundings. It seemed he was inside a medium sized room, full of bed and pods like his. The room was silent, except for the soft beeping of machines and the whispered voices of patients like him who seem to be waking from sleep like him, tended to by people like the man beside him.
The man’s face looked washed out by the harsh light but he smiled at him as he handed him a cup of water. “You’re in Andromeda,” he answered. “This is the Initiative, and you’re Scott Ryder, member of our Pathfinding team.”
“Right,” Scott replied. For some reason, his brain cannot comprehend any of that. His head feels heavy as if something had been punching it over and over again. It hurt to think so he sipped at his cup and relieve his parched throat. He drank half of it then put it away.
“Sorry. I can’t remember anything,” he apologized. Then memories start appearing which almost hurt. But even so, he can now remember that the man was wearing a uniform to identify him as part of the medic corps.
“No need to apologize to me about it,” the man replied cheerfully. He opened his omni-tool and scanned him too. “It’s natural to feel disoriented just after cryo. When we first woke up, we felt like we’ve beet hit up the head with a sledgehammer.”
Scott dropped his hand as he finally understood something. “You said we were in Andromeda. As in the galaxy?”
“Yes. We’ve arrived. We’ve reached the outer arms just a year ago and we’re now approaching the Heleus cluster, our new home. We’d be meeting with the Nexus in five days.” The man fiddled with the buttons to let Scott process this. Nexus?
“Imagine the thought of just arriving on a galaxy 2-5 million light years away. Our families descendants back home would like to know that. Also, everyone else who thought we were being stupid in going here. I think we already informed them as soon as we arrived.”
Scott’s brow furrowed. “How? I thought Andromeda is a million light years away. They’d get the message a million years later.”
“Good to know your reasoning skills are active,” the man replied. “But we’re not relying on light to send our messages. We have a Quantum Entanglement Communicator aboard. Rest assured, they’ll know we arrived safely.”
For some reason, their families knowing about their arrival did not cheer him up. “Okay,” he says simply.
The door opened and a humanoid in a med coat walked in. Humanoid, as she is bipedal, of the same height of humans and having the same anatomy of the female sex. But he knew she was an alien because instead of hair, she has a crest made of cartilage growing from her scalp and the strange, striking color of her blue skin.
He racked his brain for the term for her race. Slowly, before she reached them, he remembered. Asari. Asari skin color vary from blue to purple and sometimes green. Also, unlike humans, they do not have two sexes but only one and they reproduce through parthenogenesis.
It seemed his brain was starting to work.
As he thought about his, she looked around and saw his companion waving at her. She smiled and walk towards them.
His nurse closed his omnitool. “That’s it, I think. I’ll hand you over to Dr T’Perro,” he said.
The man walked away to his next patient and Dr T’Perro replaced him by Scott's side. “I’m Dr. Lexi T’Perro. I’m the chief medical specialist for the Pathfinding mission team. How are you feeling, Scott?" she asked, the slight smile stretching the white line between her bottom lip.
"I'm fine. The lady said I'm good," he answered, with a nod at the woman earlier who was now busy with another patient.
"Good. I need to conduct some cursory tests,” she said and held up one finger. “Look here,” she said, moving her hand slowly from side to side as Scott follow her finger. As he did, his eyes fell on the pod near them, where a familiar name was flashing on the small screen. Sara.
A jot of fear ran through him. “What’s happening with Sara?” he asked as he remembered his sister.
Dr Lexi glanced at the pod and the people tending around it, then she went back to her work. “Nothing’s wrong with her. It looks like it’ll take a while for her to come around.“
The worry fell away and he smirked as he looked at the pod. “Yes, well, my sister may have been born earlier but she’s never early after that.”
Dr Lexi smiled. “Even though you won’t see a familiar face, it’s good to know your memories are returning at least.” She seemed satisfied with her readings and so closed her omnitool. “We need to check on your implants. Sam, are you monitoring?”
Scott looked around to see who she was talking to. No one was near to them and none of the others look up at the sound of that name. He turned back to the doctor, puzzled. The doctor waited for a few seconds then raised her head and repeated her instructions. “Sam, are you monitoring?”
“Yes, Dr T’Perro,” an electronic voice answered. “Hello, Dr T’Perro. Hello Scott Ryder.”
“Who’s that?” he asked, looking around. No one looked up from hearing the name Sam.
“That’s SAM, the AI of the Pathfinding team. Your Pathfinding team. SAM is short for Simulated Adaptive Matrix,” she replied.
Scott frowned. He remembered something about AI and had a vague feeling it was bad. “An AI?”
She nodded, paused, then peered closely at him. “Yes.... I think we need to call some of your team to explain,” she decided.
Scott was in the recovery bay where his reflexes were tested. Dr Lexi had already tapped his kneecap and even pointed a laser at his hand when he wasn’t looking. He snatched it away quickly and despite his complaints, she went on with her task. Now she has him gripping rubber balls and recording when the door opened and a black man wearing a sweatshirt and loose pants entered. His bushy hair bobbed as he strode forward. He reached them and seated himself beside him, on the opposite side of Dr Lexi, as if he was a friend and not a stranger.
“Hey, Ryder. You’re awake. I’m Marcus Zola,” the man said, extending a hand. “I’m on the Pathfinding team, like you. Remember me?”
“Yep,” Scott said and shook his hand. He remembered him from the brief training they had together as a Pathfinder team before they slipped into cryo. Earthborn. Former cop. Makes a mean drink.
He put away the datapad he was reading to make himself remember everything about where he was, who these people are and why are they not in the Milky Way.
“Your Dad and your sister is also part of the team. We’re the ones who’s going to secure a home for us here in Andromeda,” Marcus reminded him casually, careful not to overwhelm Scott at once or belittle him for his cryo-induced confusion. His voice flowed like honey, not too low nor too hard. For some reason, Scott thought it as a “Mom” voice. “I heard you had some questions about SAM?”
“No. I remember now. No need to tell me about it.” AI and its research were banned back in Citadel space in the Milky way, where the memories of recent attacks from rogue AI still lingered. Those rogue AI, the geth, were too alien for organics to comprehend. They also never left a reason for their attacks, only devastation. So the fear of AI never abated.
It was also the reason why Scott was here in another galaxy. His father was discovered to be doing illegal research into AI, which caused a scandal so great the Alliance stripped him of honors it bestowed on him for his service as an N7. Not that the Alliance is actually against it; they'd rather have anything that will give humanity an edge over the other races. But the Council's power is great, and they thought it best not to offend them yet.
Alec's disgrace has also ended Scott and Sara’s careers and ensured that they will never be welcome anywhere, so long as the Council rules. And so they decided to make a new start in a new galaxy. Or at least, their father did.
That illegal research was SAM, and because humanity has lesser hang-ups compared to the Citadel species with regards to AI due to not experiencing directly their impact, the Andromeda Initiative allowed its use for the project. The founders thought the AIs are necessary to overcome whatever problems may arise in a new galaxy. It's use is not possible back to the Milky way due to the Citadel's stance on it, but here, out of the Council's watch, they can write their own rules. Only the leadership and the Pathfinding team knew that the AI is unshakled; everyone else thought it as a VI. Only the top people need to know. Only they need to know.
Marcus turned to Dr Lexi. “How’s he doing, Doc?”
“Pretty good, so far. His normal functions are returning as expected.”
“How long before he can go on drills?”
Dr Lexi looked up from her datapad to frown at him. “I think Scott needs to have a day to acclimatize. He’s already been through so much that more of it will make him sick.”
“She’s right, you know,” Scott piped up.
Marcus chuckled. “Aw, you poor little lab rat. Have they been poking you a lot?,” he says, patting him softly on the back. Then he leaned closer to Dr Lexi. “I don’t think we have the time for that, Doc. Orders from high up,” he whispered.
Dr Lexi frowned longer at him. Then she sighed. “He’ll have a little rest after this then I’ll clear him this afternoon,” she conceded.
“What’s going on?” Scott asked. “And where’s Dad?”
Marcus glanced at Dr Lexi who, catching the movement, made a waving motion with her hand. “Pretend I’m not here. It’s covered by patient-doctor confidentiality,” she said, not looking up from her datapad so Marcus turned back to him. “Your dad’s on the bridge. Don’t worry, you’ll see him soon,” he assured him.
That was not reassuring. He cannot not believe his own father would not bother to check personally on the well-being of his own children.
He checked. Maybe this is one of the days again where Dad is working on something really important right now and everyone knows his job is always important? If it is, he's being a hypocrite, since they're both have the same profession.
But whatever. Marcus did not elaborate further. He just nodded at his legs. “So, how’s the legs?”
Scott wiggled his toes. “Amazing. One foot is putting itself over the other.”
Marcus grinned. “You’re one of the lucky ones. Some woke up and saw them gone.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
Marcus snorted. “Of course I’m kidding. Who the fuck steals a pair of feet? Anyway, you’re still lucky because,” he lowers his voice, “You’re going to need them soon.”
“I thought ETA is in five days.”
Marcus looked around them first. “It seems we’re not going to the Nexus but directly to Habitat 7," he said, referring to the forward operating base who was supposed to arrive early in Andromeda to prepare for the arrival of the arks, one of it theirs. "Captain Dunn ordered a course correction yesterday. It seems the Nexus is missing.”
Scott frowned. “The Nexus is missing? How can something so big as that go missing?”
“Not so loud,” Marcus cautioned. “We don’t want to cause a panic. Anyway, finding the Nexus is the next thing we’ll do, right after we settle.”
“Do you think it didn’t arrive?”
“No idea. We only know that they’re not where they were expected to be and our scanners aren’t picking them up. Comm’s just giving us static too. So Captain Dunn and your father agreed that we should head directly to Habitat 7 before we go looking for them.”
They just arrived and there’s already bad news. “So here we are.”
“Yup,” Marcus said and stood up. “So you better get yourself in shape, or you’re going to be left behind.”
Captain Dunn paced the length of the bridge as her officers work on their consoles. A gleam of excitement shone on her phoenix eyes, bright against her flat, brown face and. Her chin length hair bobbed as she walked, infecting her crew, filling them with the same enthusiasm she felt. She had trained and lived for this and she was not going to miss this moment now.
She went to her seat and turned to her helm officer. “Onscreen,” she instructed.
Lani Reed nodded and with a few taps on her console, their screen was filled of the planet that would be their new home. Everyone on the bridge went silent in awe of the world they were to inhabit; a world of soft purple clouds, revealing dark-grey land amidst a blue-green ocean. To finally reach their destination after six hundred years of traveling through dark space…
“I think we had enough look at it,” Captain Dunn said after a few minutes. “Lani, take us in orbit.” Lani, her pilot, complied. Captain Dunn sat back and gazed contentedly at their new home.
Then the ship reeled. Hard.
“Battle Stations!” Captain Dunn yelled from the floor where she was thrown as the klaxon goes off in the bridge. She resumed her seat and strapped herself in. “Report!”
All of them are scrambling to their stations, not expecting the sudden tremors that’s gripping the ship.
“Scanners report intense gravitational and electromagnetic fluctuations, Captain!” the science officer informed them.
“Systems failing! We’re not moving!” Lani yelled, frantically tapping keys.
Dunn tapped at her console. “Engineering report!”
“The drive’s doing everything it can!” the chief engineer replied from the comm. “It isn’t a problem from our end!”
The science officer called her name. “Captain! Hull Breach in Decks 15-26!”
Captain Dunn turned to him, eyes wide. “Hull Breach? Hull Breach? Why the hell are we having a hull breach for? Are our shields up?”
“It's not working. It's as if whatever's out there is passing through it and directly affecting our hull.”
What could possibly have done this?
She puzzled over it for a few seconds then shook her head to clear her mind. Whatever it is, it can wait. She did not have time to wonder about it while her ship's falling apart around her. She punched at her console to call for the section manager. Her fingers almost slipped as her console’s shaking intensified. “Evacuate decks 15-26 and seal it after everyone there’s accounted for!” she ordered him when he came online. She then turned to the officer. “What’s the status of the energy readings?”
“It’s all around us, but mostly wrapped around one of the arms-wait, the sensors picked up something. It’s coming from Habitat 7.”
The screen blinked and then show a vortex of unknown energy swirling on the planet, where in its epicenter, a spot of light blinked. As they watched, the storm gobbled up the planet's surface, raking the land around it.
Around the planet, the star field swirled, arms of space and light emanating from it, stretching and tearing, until it reached their screens and the ark shook again.
The shake brought back Captain Dunn's wits and she snapped at them to start moving. “Get Alec Ryder online!”
The comm specialist’s fingers flew swiftly over buttons. He then yelled that the Pathfinder is online.
"Ryder here," the comm cackled, transmitting the deep, serious voice of their Pathfinder.
“Alec! we need you,” Captain Dunn shouted at him over the static. "Get your Pathfinding Team ready." She gripped her seat hard as the ark shook again,their screams mixing in with the intermittent klaxon. She grimaced after it was over, feeling the pain from her sides where she hit the armrests. "It seems...you have to land in Habitat 7 earlier than expected."