Her finger rapped against the terminal. The cursor blinked as Ryder narrowed her eyes at the screen. The blank screen stared back. She sighed.
Why is this so damn fucking hard?
She chewed on her lower lip. Her left hand brushing against the white bandage around her right arm. She had gotten her omni-tool implant damaged during the mission. T'Perro had to remove it surgically earlier. Once the tissue damage was mostly healed, she’d get a replacement. Meanwhile, she had to make do with a cuff-model omni-tool. The bulky cuff was sitting on the table among the other datapads she had scattered across her table.
Ryder sighed again. Fingers tapped against the keyboard. Words rolled across the screen.
Vault on Havarl activated. Planet no longer dying. Mission successful.
It looked like the perfect report to her, short, to the point and concise. But she could already hear Tann’s complaints in her head. “How did it happen? I need more details. Who was involved in the mission? What’s the location of the Vault? These are all vital intel,” she mimicked Tann’s nasal voice in a mocking tone.
“Nothing is ever enough.” She made a noise of disgust.
Hunched over the terminal like a gargoyle as she typed, the frown across her brow matched the tension across her shoulders. Her head bobbed at a steady beat to the music playing in her room. Big electronic sounds soared and weaved around her. Sparse lyrics blended with the atmospheric music.
This is M83, it is a good band.
The door hissed open, she ignored it, but the crashes and bangs that followed made her turn to check. Her eyes narrowed.
“What are you doing here, old man?”
“Kid,” Drack grinned, he took a long pull from a bottle. “You need to try this. It’s good.”
He thrusted the bottle in her face. Ryder stood and accepted it. Putting lips to bottle, she tipped the liquid down her throat. It was heavy, bitter and it burnt, but it was surprisingly good. The headache she nursed from biotic overuse eased a little.
“There!” Drack declared. “Fixed your problem.”
Ryder turned back to the terminal to find him bent over it. “What the fuck did you do?”
The screen blinked with a triumphant message. “Mail successfully sent to Director Tann.”
Drack grinned. “Come on, you’ve activated the Vault. The natives are happy, the crew is happy. Now you need to celebrate.”
She sighed, staring at the screen for a moment. “Fuck it,” she said, draining the bottle. “You’re right. Mission accomplished after all.”
With Drack leading the way, she exited the Tempest via the ramp. Havarl was resplendent in hues of indigo and azure. Bio-luminous floral and fauna lit up the darkened landscape. Among the shades of ultramarine and blue danced the angaras. A solid thump of bass slammed against her chest as strange sounds of string, wind and percussion instruments of angara origins filled the air. The celebration was in full swing.
She cast her eye about. Her crew mingled among the natives. B’Sayle chatting away with one scientist who studied the Remnant. Harper and Kosta in an engaging discussion with a bunch of Resistance fighters. Brodie and Jath were as far away as possible from each other drinking and laughing, seperately. Everyone was occupied and socialising. None of it interested her. Ryder was just looking for some instant gratification.
Drack nudged her. His claw pointing into the distance. Her eyes lit up when she saw her quarry. More of that angara booze.
“Come on. Let’s go wild.”
The latest bottle joined the others in a small pile at her feet. Her biotic metabolism worked against her. Getting the least bit tipsy took hard work. Shouts and cheers came from the distance. She could spot Drack in an arm wrestling competition with one of the largest angara she had seen. The krogan looked at her through the crowd and made a rude gesture at his opponent. She grinned and gave him a mock salute.
A human male was approaching. Her stomach sinking. She hoped it wasn’t more work. “Yes?” she replied warily.
“Congratulations on a successful mission,” he said.
She looked at him. Bright orange hair, so bright it almost glowed against the blue Havarl night sky. Clad in the Initiative militia uniform, he had a tattoo that ran from forehead to chin. But the most striking thing about him were his eyes. The left was a tawny yellow while the right a pale blue.
She blinked. “Thank you.”
“My eyes right?”
“Yeah how did you guess?”
“Everyone stares. The Pathfinder is no different, I guess.”
She snorted. He shuffled a little awkwardly while she tried to place him. With his unique features, she couldn’t help feel there was something familiar about him.
“Here,” he said as he offered her another bottle of angara alcohol. “For a job well done.”
Ryder accepted. People had been offering her bottle after bottle of booze the entire night. What was one more? It saved her the trouble of getting off her butt for more. Ryder reasoned as the vanguard of the Nexus’ diplomatic arm, she couldn’t possibly refuse, could she?
She tipped the bottle in his direction with a nod as he watched. His gaze a little too intense, a little unnerving. Though her skin crawled, she took two big gulps of the alcohol. She grimaced. It tasted off.
“It’s one of the home brew ones,” he explained.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Rhys,” he replied.
Ryder nodded. “Rhys, Let’s just say this home brew is a fail.”
He laughed, it was a little forced. “Anyway, it’s good seeing you again, Pathfinder. Finish the booze though. The angaras will be sad if you don’t.”
Ryder shrugged and drained the bottle as Rhys beat a hasty retreat. The bottle joined the others on the ground.
The night went swimmingly. With a bottle of booze in her hand, the cool breeze playing through her blonde ponytail, a job well done and the pressing worries of survival forgotten for the night, Ryder could almost relax. She tipped her head back against the stacked crates she was leaning on, eyes closed. Her bones felt liquid, she suspected it was thanks overusing her biotics to escape the Vault’s death cloud. But it was fine, things were peaceful, and she was among professionals if nothing else.
She groaned, opening her eyes to look. There wasn’t anyone around. Angaras and Milky Way species were busy making merry in whatever way they could.
“Pathfinder,” the voice repeated.
Ryder realised the voice was coming from inside her head. It was disconcerting at best to have a voice in her head. It was one of the hardest things for her to get used to.
“The alcohol you’re consuming...”
“This?” she asked as she drained another bottle.
“Yes, Pathfinder, I’m detecting...”
“SAM, it’s a celebration. Booze is a part of it. I’ll be fine.”
“That’s the end of it, SAM,” she barked, it rang with the bite of command.
SAM was silent.
Just as she was about to relax again, her stomach clenched painfully. She grimaced. “Fuck, I think I shouldn’t have mixed Ryncol and this angara booze.”
Ryder levered herself upright and was alarmed to find her limbs loose and soft like jelly. Alcohol had never affected her this way before. “What the fuck was in the booze?”
A shock of orange hair slipped through the crowd and was immediately by her side. A strong hand at her waist, the other pulling her arm over his shoulder. She frowned.
What the hell does he think he is doing?
Some other revellers had noticed her difficulties and were coming over. Rhys smiled and waved them back. “I got this. The Pathfinder just had a little too much to drink.”
Ryder looked at the small pile at the crate. It didn’t look that much to her. And she was merely lightly buzzed. She shouldn’t be feeling this way. Her guts clenched painfully again. It was like her insides were coated with acid and lit on fire. She grunted, shuddering as her skin broke out in cold sweat.
“I’ve got you. Come on, let’s get you to the toilet to freshen up,” Rhys coaxed.
Her tongue was too thick to form words and could only moan and struggle feebly. Her eyes darted around seeking Drack. She trusted nobody else to handle this. But the krogan was nowhere in sight. Harper was nearby though her hazel eyes met her in the distance, Ryder saw nothing but contempt. She would be pissed if she wasn’t also trying to gain control of her limbs. It was to no avail. The toilet was close by, but Rhys steered her deeper into the daar, further away from the party.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you.”
Her head pounded, her pulse reverberated like bass inside her skull. She peeled her eyes open. When did I lose consciousness? What the fuck is in that fucking drink?
Ryder blinked, squinting against the play of blues streaming past her face. She realised, she was strapped onto a hover-bike, one that traversed across the Havarl landscape more easily than the Nomad ever could. Her wrists were secured together with a pair of omni-cuffs, her legs and body lashed haphazardly with some rope. Ryder wriggled and found no play in them. She wasn’t going anywhere.
“Pathfinder my ass, she is just fucking with all our lives,” Rhys growled over the purr of the hover-bike.
Ryder stilled. Her ears perking up to listen.
“She cares nothing of the people. She toys with people’s lives. I might end up being as old as Mom when she gets out of cryo. When I drop this bitch off with Ival, she will regret ever siding with the Nexus.”
It struck her. Rhys was one of the protesters that took the hydroponics hostage. She spoke to him and others, she listened and considered both sides. Anger boiled in her guts. It wasn’t a decision she made lightly. She chose the option that allowed greater chance of success in the long term. Rhys and the rest of the protestors were just looking at things in the short term.
She bit back a growl of frustration. Everyone, not just the Nexus Leadership, saw the Pathfinder they lost, her father. Nobody saw that she lost him too, her less than stellar relationship with him notwithstanding. But she was all the Pathfinder Heleus got, everyone better fucking make do.
Ryder put her mind to the problem at hand. She might be restrained, but she wasn’t powerless, she was a biotic, a walking weapon. Reaching inwards, towards the core of power that ran through her body. The ever present subtle buzz under her skin, the electric thrill that reached her limbs, powering her faster, hitting harder. It always came when called. But this time, there was nothing.
Rhys stiffened, sensing movement. She quickly closed her eyes, allowing her head to loll and pretended to be out. Fear made her heart stuttered, a bitter taste in her mouth as she fought to stay calm. He had somehow messed with her biotics. This made her feel violated in a way stripping her naked wouldn’t.
Fear made some cower, some hide, but Ryder reacted to fear differently. She hit back, harder. Fear was merely a thing to be plummeted into submission as with everything else that stood in her way.
“SAM,” she said through her private channel. “Do you have our location?”
“No, I wasn’t able to track your position while you were unconscious. The alcohol you drank was drugged.”
“No kidding,” she replied wryly, rolling her eyes carefully.
“I was trying to warn you before.”
The silence from SAM felt like reproach. She took a deep breath and took stock. The only thing she had left in her control was her mouth. It wasn’t gagged.
I can work with that.
“Hey!” she shouted into Rhys’ ear.
He flinched and the hover-bike swerved as he narrowly missed hitting a tree.
Shit, foiled by reflexes.
“Do not do that again!” he growled.
Ryder shifted as much as the ropes allowed and started rocking back and forth. The hover-bike wobbled dangerously. “This?” she laughed.
It was a calculated risk. Neither of them were wearing helmets of any kind. The hover-bike was going at speed. The ground was a blur underneath her feet, but there was no way she was about to let Rhys take her to wherever he intended to. Whoever Ival was, Ryder was sure she had no wish to meet them.
“Stop!” he shouted, his voice pitched high with alarm. “I can’t keep the bike balanced!”
“That’s the point,” she barked, rocking harder.
With a grunt, she twisted her body, and it did the trick. Rhys screamed and jumped off the hover-bike as it wobbled out of control. He landed among some bushes. She had no such luck, she was tied to the bike and come hell or high water she was doomed to see this through to the end. Ryder wasn’t in armour. She was only in her Initiative uniform, a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Sighing, she muttered, “This is going to fucking hurt.”
Muscles tensed, she braced for impact. Her world went black with a crash.
Ryder groaned. The pounding in her head had intensified. Something wet coated her head and dripping down her face. She tested her limbs, starting from her fingers and toes to her arms and legs. Everything ached but nothing seemed broken.
“Ok, good,” she muttered.
Gingerly she pressed a hand against the wet spot on her head. It came away red and wet.
“Head wound, shit. Not so good.”
The crash had loosened the ropes. Her hands quickly unknotted them. Thankfully, the omni-cuff didn’t survive the impact. The hover-bike’s mini mass effect core hummed and flickered as it went through its death throes. The noise would attract predators both of the gun carrying variety and not.
She winced, biting down on her lower lip to hold back a cry of pain as she levered herself to her feet. Her right ankle throbbed horribly.
“Time to get away from here.”
Ryder picked a direction at random and stumbled away. Pressing a ripped portion of her pants against her head to stanch the bleeding. She slipped into the Havarl forest around her as silently as she could.
The bleeding had stopped, but the throbbing hadn’t. Her vision was no longer as blurry though the edges remained dark. Every step sent a spike of agony up her swollen ankle. It wasn’t broken, but it was probably badly sprained. Still that would not be the reason she stuck around waiting for Rhys.
She panted, her breath puffing against the cool Havarl air. Her awkward stumbling and walking sounded like an elephant trying to thrash its way out of a plastic bag. Ryder wasn’t trained for stealth. She was a sniper, a mechanic. Neither of those things taught her how to move through a forest without making a ton of noises.
She grimaced as she stepped on another twig. It hit her. There was no noise beyond her own breathing. Eyes narrowing as she glanced about her. “SAM, she whispered. “Any life signs around me?”
Eyes scanning her surrounding but finding nothing out of place. In the distance there were rustling, but she couldn’t tell which direction they were coming from. Ryder never felt more naked. Here in the middle of Havarl at who knew where, without her Black Widow or even a pistol and her biotics. She had nothing but her omni-blade.
“I have an omni-tool,” she hissed, cursing herself for forgetting about it. The crash must have rattled her brain more than she had expected.
Quickly, she tapped her omni-tool and put a call directly to Drack. She moved again as she allowed the call to ring on. “Is it Rhys?” she asked, voice hush.
“Negative. The heat signatures are small and approaching fast.”
“Shit, Havarl fauna?”
“Wild adhi,” SAM confirmed.
With a growl, she terminated the call to Drack. Hopefully, he would see the notification and call her back. She was surrounded by trees and the funky glowing mushrooms that seem to pop up all over the place. Ryder would climb the fucking trees if she could but with her ankle this way, she was better of seeking shelter elsewhere.
“Which direction are they coming from?”
“Ok, ok,” she panted as she hobbled along, omni-blade ready.
Her pace would not keep her ahead of the wild adhi. The creatures snarled and yipped behind her. Shadows streaked ahead of her. Ryder knew she was being herded but what choice did she have?
“SAM, do you know where you fuck are we?” she panted.
“You are here,” he replied, a point on the map on her omni-tool lit up.
The adhi were getting bold and she was in no shape to outrun them before she crashed. After, she had no chance.
“Cliff ahead,” SAM warned.
Ryder put the brakes on. She stumbled and fell heavily. Bits of rock and soil slithered down the cliff. A yelp of pain ripped from her throat. The pack growled and danced warily around her. Her back to a hundred metres drop with nothing but her omni-blade for defence wasn’t how she saw her day going when she woke up this morning.
Her chest raised and fell quickly as she tried to catch her breath. Sweat mingled with dried blood, streaking down her face and dribbling down her white uniform. Ryder was sure she looked like a crazed cave woman. All she needed now was a club to complete the look.
Her omni-tool chirped once and vibrated. It was the tone of an incoming call. One glance told her it was from Drack.
Ryder didn’t have the luxury to split her attention. She counted heads. There were five adhi arrayed in a vague semi-cicle before her, hemming her against the cliff effectively. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself upright. The adhi snapped their jaws, eyes all trained watchfully on her. Her foot inched forward slowly, shifting as close as she dared towards the adhi. She snarled, baring her teeth as she activated her omni-blade, the pack shrank back. She grinned.
Fucking bring it on.
It might have happened at the same time, Ryder couldn’t say. The omni-blade hummed as she swung it. The air sizzled as if electrified by the energy slicing through it. The adhi launched themselves at her. Not all five, but enough that she wasn’t able to fend them all off.
The first one caught the blade, it cut through hide, flesh and muscles. Blood sprayed across the dark grass. It fell heavily onto the ground and tried to drag itself away. Its pack mates fell upon on it viciously without mercy.
Meat is meat, even if it meant cannibalism.
The second leapt, but Ryder wasn’t fast enough. Fangs and claws latched onto the left side of her chest and shoulder. She roared. Omni-blade jabbing and stabbing, but the angle was awkward. Warmth, liquid and heavy trickled down her chest and back. Every movement made the adhi tightened its jaw. She had no chance to dislodge it before the third and fourth sprang at her. The third fell to her blade while she grazed the fourth across one of its limbs. The fifth loitered just out of sight.
Pain was the creeping darkness at the edges of her vision. Her omni-blade eventually punctured something vital and the adhi’s jaw loosened. With a growl, she sheared the animal in half. Blood, entrails and excrement from a dead beast trailed down her body. Grimacing, she broke the embedded fangs and claws off as best she could. Her left shoulder was completely ruined, three large gashes ran down from shoulder to chest. Fangs and claws still stuck in her flesh.
Her legs wavered and she fell to one knee. She had no medi-gel to staunch the bleeding. There was too big a wound for mere pressure. But she couldn’t risk tending to it, not with two more adhi growling at her.
“Pathfinder, you are losing a lot of blood.”
“Not now SAM.”
She wasn’t going to get any stronger. If she was to fight, it had to be now, not later. Ryder pushed herself back onto her feet, her limbs trembled from the effort, her ankle screamed its protest. Regardless, she locked her jaw and snarled. The pair of adhi took a couple of steps back, suddenly deciding that she was no longer worth the effort and disappeared into the forest.
Ryder chuckled, not quite believing her luck.
“Ok, time to head back to the Tempest.”
Ryder dragged herself along the dirt, past caring about how pitiful and pathetic she looked. She was tired, her heart labouring to pump blood through her body only to let it all trickle out the multiple wounds she had.
With a thump, she sagged against one of Havarl’s giant glowing mushroom. Her pulse was loud in her ears. She sighed, looking up at the gills of the mushroom. Ryder could almost pretend she was drugged up to the high heavens in the worse rave party she had ever been. With her headache serving as the bass line and the glowing mushrooms for the lights. She chuckled. The blood loss was probably getting to her.
She looked at her omni-tool again. There were over 30 messages and missed calls from Drack. The number blinked an angry red. In her flight, she hadn’t had a chance to read or reply them. The effort to move a finger felt impossible now.
“I just need a little rest,” she whispered to nobody in particular. “Then I’ll answer them.”
Eyelids slid shut as she sank into the darkness.
Ryder had no concept of time’s passage. Voices drifted in and out of her consciousness. She couldn’t be sure if she was dreaming, or if they were real. She groaned, her body too heavy, too exhausted to claw her way back to full consciousness.
Rustling of leaves, a snap of a twig, squelches from boots fighting against the mud. She counted. Her mind couldn’t help itself. There were more than one pair of legs. Eyes snapped open in an instant. The light from the mushroom was killing her night vision. Wincing, she pushed herself upright and staggered away, trying to make as little noise as she could.
“The tracker says she is here,” a familiar voice growled.
Ryder stiffened. Rhys.
“Vesagara, do not lie,” another replied, their voice pitched higher. The accent was unmistakably angara.
“Do not call me that, Ival.”
So that’s Ival.
Ryder’s eyes narrowed and squinted into the darkness. There were twin red lines sweeping against the blue of Havarl’s landscape. Laser sights seeking her. Teeth gritted, she shuffled away.
“You do not get to make demands until you deliver, vesagara,” Ival barked, a harsh laugh followed. “You betray your own kind, your fabled Pathfinder for a little bit of credits, you are the lowest of the low. I debase myself working with you.”
Rhys snorted. “You’re Roekaar, Ival. Even Akkusul do not work with us. Your own people think little of-“
“Silence!” Ival hissed. “What I do is my business.”
The silence between them stretched, awkward and heavy. Ryder held her breath. Their footsteps were coming closer. She was only partially hidden among the foliage. If they had any kind of night vision goggles, they would have spotted her easily.
Is Ival working alone? Ival is working without Akkusul’s sanction. A rift within the Roekaar?
“She is near,” Rhys said. “She doesn’t know I’ve put the tracker in her omni-tool. She will never escape me.”
A wave of hot embarrassment rushed over RYder. She hadn’t checked. When she looked at Rhys, all she saw was a petty man who wanted revenge for being thwarted. He had skills, he was successful in drugging and kidnapping her. She shunted the chagrin aside and focused on making her escape. Her temporary omni-tool was one of the cuff models that wrapped around her wrist and forearm. It was her only weapon and means of communication, to abandon it now left a bitter taste in her mouth.
But there was no choice. Ryder froze.
Was there really no choice? I could take them by surprise. They know I am here, anyway. I could take their weapons, that would give me a better chance.
Gritting her teeth, she dropped the omni-tool onto the mud. Step by careful step she circled around the pair, no longer the hunted but the hunter. And the pair didn’t know the tables had been flipped. She grinned. Pain and exhaustion forgotten as she planned and plotted despite the dizziness from blood loss.
She caught sight of the pair between vegetation. Rhys’ orange hair was a beacon even in the dim Havarl light. He had nothing but a pistol in his hand. Ival, on the other hand, was dressed in full angara armour. She had a rifle in her hand and a firaan strapped to her thigh. Ryder considered her options. Ival was clearly the threat here, the rifle would be deadly in the arms of anyone trained. But she had the firaan, in place of Ryder’s omni-blade, that was the next best thing. Plus, she didn’t think she could wrestle the pistol from Rhys in her condition now.
Stealth is key. Just the thing I wasn’t train in.
She grinned, teeth gleaming in the dark. Blonde hair and white uniform streaked with blood and gore, stark against the night. Ryder was an avenging angel out for the kill.
Rhys took point since he had the tracker on his omni-tool while Ival took the rear. Ryder stalked ahead, shadowing their steps. Pursuit invigorated her like nothing but sex could.
The laser sight danced left to right and back again. “Vesagara, where is the promised prize?” she hissed, the rifle’s safety flicked off menacingly.
“Close,” Rhys replied.
Ryder heard the waver in his voice and she smiled.
“And I say stop calling me that!” he spat turning around to face Ival.
It was almost comical. His eyes widened, pistol aimed in Ival’s direction but really at Ryder who was behind her. Ival took offence, her rifle was instantly up, barrel pointed at Rhys’ chest, thinking he had turned on her. Ryder bared her teeth in a feral smirk. Her hand darted out and pulled the firaan from Ival’s thigh holster.
Rhys shouted, “She is behind you!”
His pistol bucked as he fired. Ival, taken by surprise, spun to look. But Ryder pushed her into the line of fire. The bullets didn’t penetrate her armour, but it took down her shields. That was when she thrusted the firaan forward and upwards. Ival shuddered as the blade found the seams between her armour. Blue trickled out as Ryder withdrew the blade. A cry of pain forced its way through her mouth. As Ival fell to her knees, her rifle was coming up, barrel aimed at Ryder.
Time to go.
The rifle bucked as slugs peppered the spot she just occupied. In Ryder’s haste to get away, she fell. Pain was like an electric shock that ran from her shoulder to her core. She bit down on her lip so hard she tasted iron. She forced herself back up and stumbled through the trees. Rhys crashed on after her.
Branches slapped against her, Ryder winced as a couple dug furrows across her cheeks. As long as she could move, she would. Lying down and giving up wasn’t in her bones. It wasn’t something she could ever do.
Rhys was past caring about subtleties. His pistol boomed as he fired round after round. Bullets clipped past Ryder as she bobbed and weaved as well as she could. Agony ran like fire up her ankle to her hip. But her luck had to run out, eventually. Her ankle finally gave out.
Hands were immediately on her. Pressing her face into the mud, she choked and coughed. All she managed was to inhale dirt as she struggled.
“Don’t move,” Rhys growled, “if you don’t want a new hole in your head.”
The cold metal pressed against the back of her head. It sent a chill down her spine. Ryder fought to keep herself still, allowing Rhys to haul her back to her feet. As weight came to rest on her feet again, she cried out. Her ankle had doubled in size and there would be no way to get her foot out of the boot unless they were cutting it off. She couldn’t imagine the shape of the ligaments after all the abuse she put it through.
“Think you can get away from me?” Rhys sneered, lips curling, an ugly split cut across his face.
He slammed Ryder against a mushroom a million times bigger than the varieties she had seen on earth. The impact ran up its stem and spores showered down on them.
“Bitch, the Roekaar will know what to do with you.”
She grimaced as he tightened his grip on her neck. The pistol now pressed against her forehead. That’s going to left an indentation. Anger coiled like a snake in her guts ready to strike but she had to play it smart. She had to get rid of Rhys and get back to safety. “Poor boy, are you worried that you will be alone? Are you feeling lonely without your mummy?”
Rhys bristled as she knew he would. Spittle flew as he shouted. “What do you know about family? You have a crew at your back, you have the Leadership at your beck and call. You are the fucking Pathfinder. You have everything!”
He was an amateur. He hadn’t bothered disarming her, thinking the pistol was enough to keep her in check. Ryder had a good grip on the firaan. Now all she needed was a distraction.
A roar, earth sundering and sky shattering, rippled out. The surrounding forest went still as if holding its breath. Rhys stiffened, spinning around to see where the sound had came from. That was what Ryder needed. Even as something heavy and fast crashed through juggle, she acted. Firaan singing as she swung it upwards. Rhys fired reflexively. Ryder winced as the noise turned her world into a deafening silence.
The flat of the firaan clashed against the barrel, pushing it upwards, the round discharged harmlessly into the air. Ryder twisted the pistol out of Rhys’ grip and she fired it into his foot. He howled, but she heard a mere far away echo of it. Rhys fell to the ground, clutching his foot.
Ryder could choose to go but something told her not to. Though she couldn’t hear well, she could feel the ground shaking. Whatever it was, was heading towards them. As the creature crashed through the vegetation, scattering leaves and branches, her heart sank.
An eiroch emerged, bellowing its displeasure at her. Ryder wavered where she stood, armed with only a pistol and a firaan. She snarled back, shouting her defiance.
“Kid!” a familiar voice broke through her ringing ears.
She jerked. Pistol tracking the noise.
Drack glowered at her. “You look like shit.”
Ryder grinned. “You should have been the other guy.”
“This one?” he asked, pointing his shotgun at Rhys.
“Yeah but there is another one too.”
“Life is never boring around you,” he laughed, tossing a familiar weapon towards her.
She caught it one handed, her bad shoulder too tender and sore to move. The weight made her staggered backwards. “You brought my Widow along?” she blurted, surprised.
“I’d figured you’ll need it.”
She grinned. A crashing came through the forest from behind her only to reveal Kosta stumbling clumsily out. “You found her?”
Ryder rolled her eyes at Drack. He shrugged. “He was the most sober one I found.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I’m here,” she said.
The eiroach growled, looking put out at being ignored. Rhys had scooted on his bum to shelter behind the three. Kosta frowned, looking at the odd situation before him. “You’re hurt,” he said.
“You know,” Ryder replied sarcastically. “I’ve not noticed.”
He laughed. Drack turned towards the eiroach. “Let’s get this settled, then we can get the kid some medical attention.”
Kosta nodded, tossing Ryder a medi-gel injector from his suit. “Let’s do this.”
The pair fanned out and flanked the eiroach. Ryder ripped the medi-gel injector out of its sterile packaging with her teeth. Without hesitation she stabbed the needle into her chest and depressed the plunger. She hissed as the thin metal slid into her skin but relief was sweet. Medi-gel coursed through her muscle and bloodstream, numbing the area and providing some much-needed analgesic effects.
Rhys moaned pitifully on the ground but could do nothing except crawled towards cover. She spared him not a single glance as she headed for higher ground. Ryder trusted Drack and Kosta to keep the eiroach busy.
It wasn’t long before her Black Widow was slamming into her good shoulder at regular intervals. The kickback was familiar and comforting. It meant control, it meant power, it meant not being helpless. Round after round found a home in the eiroach’s toughened hide. It bellowed its displeasure, but it wasn’t able to get at her while Drack and Kosta peppered it with grenades and shotgun shells.
Blood coated the beast’s hide. However, it made no move to retreat. Ryder gritted her teeth, her good shoulder wasn’t going to remain good for much longer. Without her armour to protect her, the kickback was taking its toll. Eyes narrowing, she wanted to finish the fight as soon as possible. The red laser crosshair danced across the eiroach’s head. But she was searching for a smaller target. Breathing in and out, in and out, she calmed her trembling muscles. Crosshairs lined up with her target, she squeezed the trigger gently. The Black Widow wasn’t tender. Its slug split the air at supersonic speed. Metal met flesh not hide this time. It buried itself into the eiroach’s eye, rattling around inside its skull.
Ryder stood, leaning on the Black Widow like a crutch and waited. The eiroach didn’t roar, it merely groaned and slumped onto the ground. Drack turned back to look at her, a frown creasing his brow. “Why must you always get the kill shot?”
“Are you complaining?”
“Yes, I’m lodging an official complaint,” he laughed. “You’re always hogging the good stuff.”
Ryder laughed, wincing a little, the effects of the medi-gel was wearing off. Gingerly, she made her way back down. Kosta knelt next to Rhys, ready to administer first aid.
“Stop,” she said.
Kosta looked up, confused.
“He is the fucker that drugged and kidnapped me.”
Kosta instantly was back on his feet, training his rifle at Rhys. Ryder smirked. “The bitch will learn her lesson? This bitch already learnt it long before Andromeda. Never gloat before the mission is done.”
Rhys stared at her, tears streaming down his face. “Please, I didn’t mean what I said.”
She snorted, not quite believing her ears, suddenly feeling exhausted.
“Are we going to arrest him?” Kosta asked, pulling out a pair of omni-cuffs.
Drack growled, “Kill him and be done.”
“No, he is an employee of the Initiative. He should have due process. We are not outlaws, dispensing justice as we see fit,” Kosta protested. “We represent the Initiative.”
Ryder sighed. The argument was grating on her ears as they slung words back and forth. Her strength was ebbing. She squeezed her eyes closed for a second, marshalling her tattered will.
A sharp shout startled her.
Rhys launched himself at her, teeth bared. He had nothing but his hands and they were balled up in fists. Ryder took a step backwards, pain lancing up her bad ankle. It buckled, finally giving up the ghost. She cried as she fell.
As he swung his fist at her face, she instinctively reached for her biotics. The drugs seemed to have worn off when the familiar buzzing surged to the surface. A blue bolt ran down her hands and shot through Rhys. Ryder didn’t aim, she acted. The light blinded her for a second.
Rhys stared at her, eyes dulled and glazed over. His forehead spotting a hole that took the top half of his skull off. It was a perfect circle above his eyes, scorched skin and boiled blood. He was dead and his body was just catching on to the fact.
As he fell face first, Ryder rolled out of the way.