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The Song

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ONGOING MEDICAL PROFILE: PATHFINDER SARA ELLEN RYDER

FROM THE FILES OF TEMPEST PHYSICIAN DR. LEXI T'PERRO.

PHYSICAL EVAL:

CLASS: Vanguard (Biotic/Combat Specialist)
AGE: 22
HEIGHT: 5’7
WEIGHT: 130 lbs
HAIR: Black
EYES: Blue

- Ryder has a scar down her right eye but refuses to tell me the cause of injury.

- Implants are functioning properly.

- Keeping in excellent physical condition, vitals and reflexes are strong. However I am concerned about her eating habits and she consumes way too much caffeine...this needs improvement.

- Ryder's brain was unable to handle the transfer of SAM. She had a seizure as a result but everything seems normal now. Keeping a watchful eye on brain activity.

UPDATE: SAM is now physically connected to Ryder, but I am having a hard time understanding in what ways. Losing him could potentially kill her.

UPDATE: Ryder is having trouble sleeping and has reported nightmares and stress being the leading cause. Working with SAM to see how this issue can be resolved.

PSYCH EVAL:

- Ryder has some serious emotional scars that she hasn't taken time to process.

UPDATE: Ryder is getting weekly injections for anxiety and to ease reported headaches. I have requested she meet with me for counseling at least twice a week.

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Jaal placed Dr. T’Perro’s datapad back on her desk. The medbay was dark with the sound of machines beeping as if in constant annoying song. The lab smelled overly sterilized and the chemical scent burned Jaal’s senses.

He wasn’t sure how he felt yet about these aliens. He was hoping doing a little investigating, while the asari was asleep in the crew's quarters, could lead to information that proved valuable for the Resistance. He was curious as to what these supposed “Biotics” were. Perhaps alien weaponry of some kind? His eyes narrowed at the thought. If these aliens proved hostile to his people, then they would have to develop new defenses.

Though with what resources he didn’t know. They were hardly defending themselves against the kett.

It was part of why he volunteered himself to join this “Pathfinder” on her Tempest. He had to admit she commanded quite the ship. He had never seen anything like it before and it's engine core was very impressive for such a small vessel. He was surprised the Pathfinder was so willing to give him a full tour. However he found the rest of the ships layout...confusing.

Copying the data from Dr. T’Perro’s datapad about his new 'crewmate,' he then cloaked himself and began walking quietly back towards his newly claimed space in the tech lab. It was quiet and nobody on the ship ever seemed to go in there. They were alien...just like the kett. He couldn't trust them and preferred not to be disturbed.

Padded footsteps interrupted his thoughts however before he was even able to reach the ladder. The door to the Pathfinder's quarters slid open and there she stood, barefoot and frailer looking than any of the other species he had seen on the ship. Jaal noticed that she was obviously exhausted, being just inches away from him, as she yawned and began walking out of her room and towards the kitchen.

‘Nightmares?’ Jaal thought to himself. Most of the ship's crew was asleep with the exception of Kallo and whoever was still awake in the cargo bay. The Tempest was headed to Voeld so that Ryder could prove both herself and her people's intention to be allies. An act of mercy that many on Aya didn't agree with. After decades of war and despair with the kett, many Angara felt these Milky Way aliens should have been killed on sight. The entire galaxy would be watching her, so why was Ryder out of bed?

“Doing some recon Jaal?” she stoped in front of the kitchen door. Turning over her shoulder and practically staring him down with a smile that made his heart stop.

‘What?!...how did she...?’

His eyes grew large but he quickly regained his composure and appeared before her. He observed, eyes narrowed as she took in his form with a small smile then continued her way into the kitchen, expecting him to follow. He almost didn't, but curiosity got the better of him. He half expected her to try and stop him, maybe even attempt to kill him. Her reaction had been so...casual.

When he walked into the kitchen to join her, she was already pouring herself some form of dark liquid with a fairly strong, yet pleasant scent and then placing a few small strange grain like white cubes into the mug.

"Sugar cubes" she said tiredly. She had been watching him out of the corner of her eye. "Don't tell Lexi...that goes for you too SAM" she looked up as if arguing with a voice in her head.

Oh right...the AI was physically part of her.

Fascinating. Jaal watched with heavy curiosity as long ebony strands of hair, tucked behind the human's ear, fell forwards as she looked back down at her mug to stir the liquid inside it. He was at a loss for words...she was so strange, but beautiful and calm. She was the same way when she had first landed on Aya, even though her ship was on fire and guns were pointed at her head.

He noticed however that the dark paint she had on her face earlier was now gone. Her eyelids were no longer dark in color. Her bright blue eyes were now shiny like glass, but dark and puffy underneath. Her lips instead of a dark glossy red were now a subtle dark pink hue that matched the warmth of her cheeks. Even her hair was different. On Aya she had it tied back in a strange tail behind her head. Now it all hung loosely down her back and around her face, partially over one eye, hiding the scar he noticed upon first meeting her.

"How?" was all he managed to get out. Though he wished he had been more specific.

"SAM mentioned you were snooping around in the Medbay. I would have done the same thing, though honestly all you had to do was ask me. I'd have told you anything you wanted to know." She held the mug with both hands now and raised it towards her face, inhaling it's sweet aroma before taking a small sip.

"Then...may I ask you a few questions?" Why was she being so calm about this? He uncrossed his arms and his expression changed from forced indifference to wonder. Angara were never really very good at hiding their feelings.

"Of course...um...would you like a cup?" she raised her mug and he looked at it questionably.

Realizing he probably had no idea if he could even drink it, Ryder smirked and walked over to him so he could examine it with his newly issued omni-tool. "It's called coffee, I'm sure you read Lexi complaining about it in..." Her voice trailed off when she took notice of the modifications made to his device as a ball of light emerged from his wrist.

Jaal instantly felt a small sense of pride. "Indeed I did. Clearly you still need improvement." He tilted his head to the side in curiosity after reading the brew was non-toxic. "I'd like to try some...though, please, no sugar cubes." He was hoping he pronounced it correctly.

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It wasn't often that Sara was asked about her biotics. Normally everyone she spoke with knew what they were, if not how to harness them. She could go on and on about how even to this day, people were still afraid of them and how it was that very fear that clouded people's minds. Biotics had helped advance nearly every race in the Milky Way Galaxy. Often however, it had come at a cost.

There was so much history, so many ways she could explain the magnificent forms of dark energy and it's capabilities, that she honestly had a hard time figuring out how to break it down so that Jaal would be able to understand. She decided it would be easier to just show him.

Jaal was watching her with curiously as she took her now empty coffee mug and placed it only slightly farther away from her person, giving herself a better angle to work with.

Taking a deep breath, Sara lifted her hand and forced her mind and body to focus. The familiar chill of dark energy coursed through her as blue and purple light blazed in her eyes and coursed through her hand before enveloping itself around the mug. Gently, she focused on raising the mug to lift off the table, and into the air.

Upon hearing Jaal catch his breath, Sara painfully hoped that he wasn't afraid of her now. She looked over at him in worry, suddenly in awe as small amounts of static electricity danced across his physique.

'A reaction to my biotics maybe?'

He was sitting across from her. Even so, something about his EM ability felt...exhilarating. Even at their weakest states, both Jaal and Sara's energies seemed desperate to synchronize.

Sara regrettably placed the mug back down, the cold energy dissipating from her hand, afraid that now maybe she had made her new guest uncomfortable. Alien or not, maybe his opinion of her would be the same as everyone else. He would see her as nothing but a freak. "Sorry." She placed a concerned hand on his. "Are you alright?"

----------

Jaal couldn't help but stare at the back of the human's palm. Her hand seemed almost cool to the touch, even over the sleek and leather like cloth of his glove, despite the warm mug she had been holding only minutes before. He studied the shape and lines of her unusual amount of five fingers, her fairly short and neatly cut claws shiny and black, but chipped in some places and a much lighter color underneath.

These 'Biotics,' what she had just shown him were truly fascinating. But the moment her ability had manifested, waves of emotions flooded through Jaal that were not his own. Her energy seemed to spark his electromagnetics in a way he didn't quite understand.

Words eluded him as he struggled to compose himself upon her query "No- I mean there is nothing to be sorry about- these..." He struggled to find the right words. "Biotics of yours, they are biological?"

'Stars....what was that?'

Ryder, for some reason, looked surprised by his question. "In a way yes, technically. But not all humans, or Milky Way species for that matter, have the ability."

Realizing he was waiting for more of an explanation she sighed and broke eye contact. A look of defeat washed over her pale features. "I assume you know about my mother..."

It was more of a statement than a question.

"Your medical file just listed her as...deceased." He felt guilty just mentioning her death. He still didn't trust Ryder or her alien companions, but somehow making her relive the death of her mother and seeing the sorrow in her eyes at the memory still seemed monstrous.

'Skkut'

Ryder nodded her head and stared back into her mug, holding it as if it were full again. She fell silent for a few moments before her eyes, reminding him of Aya's waterfalls, locked onto his own with newfound seriousness and dread as she spoke.

"Have you ever heard of Element Zero?"

Chapter Text

'Suvi wasn't kidding about the cold.' Sara thought to herself, shivering, as both she and Jaal walked down the ramp of the Tempest. The harsh blizzard felt like a blade that was cutting right through her father's repurposed armor, formed and fitted to her body's shape. Sara could always hear him in the back of her mind. She was constantly asking herself what he would do during each mission. By now he would probably be telling her to quit complaining and just get the job done.

She hated not being allowed to bring the Nomad, but Resistance High Command had made things pretty clear: No alien vehicles, no crew members.

Per Evfra's request, only Sara was allowed to set foot on Voeld. She was a Pathfinder and therefore her actions would speak for her people. No pressure. Even so, Jaal Ama Darav, Evfra's highest ranking Lieutenant, was to keep an eye on her at all times. If she fell out of line or proved herself a threat to the angara, his orders were to kill her on sight.

'Charming.'

Of course, the rest of the Tempest crew wasn't thrilled at this insane idea of their Pathfinder going out into alien territory alone...with no backup. But the truth was Sara didn't really have a choice. The angara were native to Heleus and the Initiative needed help to survive. Both of them had a mutual enemy with the kett and needed each other as allies. Her hands were tied.

Besides, if there was one thing Sara could always fall back on, it was her instincts. For now, they were telling her that she could trust Jaal.

Though he obviously didn't fully trust her, or anyone else in her crew, but why would he? The last time his people trusted outsiders, they were betrayed and thrown into war across the galaxy.

Sara stared at his broad shoulders now as she followed close behind him. He was such a mystery. The angara were such an emotional species. It was tragic what war had done to them.

Jaal seemed so eager to figure out what made the universe around him tick. He was kind, brilliant and held a strong sense of pride for his people. When they first met, he was extremely intimidating. However she got to see the softer side of him as well. The conversation they had the previous night over coffee still left Sara eager to learn more about him.

"Hmm. What does it feel like? Does it hurt?"

Really? After everything she had just explained about Element Zero, that was his question?

"Biotics?" Sara pondered how to explain. "Well, when you really let loose, I guess you could say it's like a massive, deadly sneeze."

Jaal's eyes grew large with wonderment and awe. "Oh, amazing. What's a sneeze?"

Sara giggled.

He was so thirsty for knowledge. Although now also confused with what she found so funny. The cold façade he was holding onto before seemed to have subsided, making him now look almost innocent and pure.

She had to admit, seeing him like this was downright adorable...minus the part where he could kill her if he wanted to.

Not knowing how to answer his question and feeling a bit guilty about her reaction, Sara decided it best to maybe just change the topic. "That EM ability of yours..."

"Hmm?" Jaal raised what one could only assume was an Angaran eyebrow. "We all have it. It's useful, but not as exciting."

"Are you kidding?" She scoffed. "SAM says your people make art with it, fight with it, can even blow up electronics!"

Seeing an alien so animated about an ability he took for granted caused the corners of Jaal's mouth to raise as he chuckled. "Well, when you put it that way, I suppose it does have it's beauty."

'It does.' Sara agreed silently.

Her smile faltered as she looked back down into her coffee mug. Having special abilities and feeling like you were just normal like everyone else? The angara were lucky. Sure she had Cora, but with Scott in a coma and now both their parents dead, Sara had never felt more alone.

Jaal seemed to notice the change of attitude. "Is something wrong?" Why should he care?

Sara sighed, she wasn't being a good example of her people. "It's hard when you're young. When 'biotics' means what happens if you get angry at Mom or Dad? Scott and I often only had each other growing up. Most people were afraid of us."

"All parents train our skills like they teach us to dress ourselves. You didn't have help?" Jaal's features softened. "Hmm. I feel sad for that child."

She peeked up at him then, surprised at his reaction, but also needing to end the pity party. "Hey, it's not all bad, and things are still better than they were." She forced a weak smile. "Besides, who knows what human biotics will look like in another century or two?"

Did she really just say that?

The fate of the Initiative rested on her shoulders. It had killed her father and it was very possible it would kill her too. She was afraid what it would do to Scott. To the Initiative she was replaceable. But to Scott...she was all that he had left.

She cleared her throat, pushing the thought out of her mind as she stood up and grabbed their coffee mugs to bring them to the sink. Jaal's cup was empty. He wasn't thrilled with the temperature but seemed to have consumed the coffee pretty fast. Sara sighed again. "Assuming we survive all this...that is."

'Bleak.'

Jaal watched Sara closely, either absorbing everything she had just told him or attempting to figure her out. No doubt he was going to inform Evfra immediately of his new findings. But then, to her surprise, Sara turned and found an expression she didn't quite recognize. Was it pity? Confusion? Or even perhaps even remorse?

"And that implant amplifies your natural biotic potential?"

"Yeah... my mother created it."

'Then died.'

Jaal placed a hand to his chin, his index finger resting on his lower lip, as his mind raced to find all the answers. "It must act on neural electrical impulses, but that seems risky. What sort of transistor does it use?"

Sara cocked an eyebrow, "Uh, I don't know. I've never been asked that before." She made a mental note to have Lexi send all her information on biotic implants to Jaal later.

"Listen...thanks for the talk." She walked back over to him, meeting his gaze as he watched her approach. "But I should try and get some sleep. You should too. I'll be lost on Voeld without you." She smiled, holding out her hand for a handshake.

He took it, questionably, but didn't seem to know what to do next.

"It's a handshake." She shook his hand slowly so he would understand the gesture. "My people use it as friendly greeting, or to thank a friend."

"Friend..." Jaal said the word cautiously, almost as if he were expecting it to be a trap.

But Sara meant what she said. She hadn't been able to open up to anyone like this in a long time. Perhaps she was flirting with death? Though if she died anyway or Jaal killed her, what would it matter?

In a few hours, she might find out.

----------

Bumping into his held up arm seemed to push the alien out of whatever benign fantasy she was in.

Jaal was halting her before stepping off the ramp so he could warn her of the dangers ahead on the planet's surface. "Watch your step, ice and darkness, deadly combination."

He looked out at the frozen ice world in front of them. Reflecting back to the times he had been here previously and what paths his cell strategically took to avoid Resistance laid traps. One wrong step could easily lead to losing a limb, if the hidden ice didn't break your neck. It was all risky for the Resistance too of course, but served as a great defense mechanism against the kett, while the storms kept Voeld's Resistance base securely hidden away.

Stepping off the ramp, Jaal's body navigated the tundra hidden paths reflexively, leading Ryder towards their destination. They would need to speak to the commander when they arrived.

The snow veiled entrance through the mountain was lit only by a single heat lamp and a few red lights. Occasionally Jaal made sure to look over his shoulder to check that Ryder was following his footsteps exactly. He mused to himself how clumsy humans appeared to be. Despite being the Pathfinder, Ryder was certainly no exception.

----------

Sara stayed close behind. Doing everything in her power not to show Jaal just how miserable she was in this wretched blizzard. Her face was frozen, her body ached, all while SAM was attempting to simultaneously do something about her body temperature and the heat built into her father's suit. No easy task.

This planet was officially going to be her own personal Hell. Nothing was ever simple in Heleus was it?

She huffed, forcing her body to keep going.

"You know back in the Milky Way, the Initiative labeled Voeld as Habitat 6, a potential 'golden world' capable of sustaining life..." she hopped over a patch of ice. "...and listed as a temperate garden world. To see it like this is..."

Jaal grunted. "We are a strong people, who are only temporarily burdened." He jumped and began maneuvering his way up a small ledge. "The Scourge affected Voeld's orbit, triggering a minor ice age for the planet." He turned to help her up. "My people were forced to withdraw to a few urban centers, with the rest of us scattered in small settlements. We refer to them as 'Daar.'"

Jaal then leaped over a large gap in their path. One wrong step and either one of them could fall from the mountain and to their ultimate demise. He turned to make sure that Ryder would make the jump, but found her instead standing in front of the heat lamp shivering with her hands held out in front of her.

"Seriously?" he asked. Though she couldn't tell from the shadow of his hood if it was in amusement or annoyance. Perhaps it was best she didn't know.

Busted.

"H-humans don't do well in these conditions...j-just give me a moment and I'll be fine."

'I'm so screwed!'

Jaal sighed impatiently.

Not wanting to annoy him further, Sara begrudgingly took a deep breath and sprang over the gap. Jaal's hands moving quickly to catch her as she landed, just in case.

"Thanks..." she mumbled. He only nodded and pushed on ahead, leading her through the entrance tunnel and removing his hood so it lay flat on his back against the rest of his cape. The closer they got to the main center of operations, the louder the hum of Angaran ships and chatter of Resistance fighters could be heard.

Taking in her surroundings, Sara saw an Angaran couple embracing beside a waiting vehicle. Unwilling to let go, as if afraid this could be their last goodbye and exchanging 'I love you's.' Many Angara were working on repairing broken down vehicles or pacing with uneased restlessness. Some were focused on tending to their weapons and trying to keep their minds at ease while they waited for orders. Most however, were now staring at her and Jaal. Whispering among themselves as the walked by.

The sense of loss was overwhelming to her as Sara realized most of these Angara all held the same grief-struck expression. She couldn't even imagine what life must have been like for them. Living and dying, knowing nothing but decades of war with the kett. It was what Jaal went through every day. And while she doubted the angara, especially Jaal, would want her pity. She couldn't help but grieve silently for them in return. No wonder most of them wanted her dead.

"Good to see you again, Commander Do Xeel." Jaal's booming voice whipped Sara back into focus. Perhaps that was his intention.

They were now standing in front of an Angaran woman, clearly in charge, who was dismissing another Resistance fighter as they approached. "And you as well Jaal." She turned her gaze to Sara and scowled. "This is the alien you said could help us?"

Sara immediately felt like an ant the commander could crush under her boot. This was the same glare her father gave during N7 styled drills. That it could jump species, yet alone dark space, was terrifying. She straitened her posture and placed her hands behind her back in trained habit.

"Yes, this is Ryder of the Andromeda Initiative. She is what's called a 'Pathfinder' among her people." Jaal looked over, noticing Ryder's posture had changed. "She is here to prove herself as an ally to the Resistance." He narrowed his eyes at her, curious.

Good. That was promising. Maybe.

"Hmph." the Commander stepped closer, their faces only inches apart as she introduced herself. "I am Commander Anjik Do Xeel. Remember the name, because if you betray us, I will kill you myself."

Sara certainly believed her, but noticed the same look of despair on the Commander's face as all the rest and refused to flinch or even bat an eyelash. She needed to prove herself. "I have no intention of betraying you or the Resistance. I would like to assist."

Jaal shifted his feet behind her.

The Commander took a step back, unconvinced. "I just recently received word from some of our scouts. There is someone at Hijara that needs help rescuing a kidnapped family member." She let out a heavy breath before she continued. "IF what you claim is true, then they shall be your first priority." She turned to look at Jaal but her eyes remained on the human. "Jaal, watch her...and be careful yourself, my friend."

Jaal nodded. "I always am." He turned his gaze to Sara, motioning her with his head to follow him. "Come, there is something I must do before we go."

----------

Jaal brought Sara to what she could only assume was the Medical Wing. With so many injured or dead, she was horrified to only see what appeared to be two obviously exhausted doctors, hard at work on a patient with little hope of success. By the sounds of it, he was ambushed and watched the rest of his cell die.

As Jaal led her past the beds, she overheard two Angara visiting a wounded comrade. Both seemed fairly young, perhaps new recruits. One male, the other female. Their wounded friend appeared to be asleep.

"You didn't hear about the human? Landed right in the middle of Aya."

"No...I hope they dealt with it."

Clumsily bumping into him again, Sara noticed that Jaal had halted his footsteps. His hands clenched into fists as if something was bothering him. Confused, she started to ask him what was wrong.

"What's-?" She stopped when she heard a low growl escape his chest. A small ripple of electricity danced around him as he looked over his shoulder with disgust.

"That human is a Pathfinder fighting for us. Show some respect!"

Sara forgot how to breathe.

When they noticed it was Evfra's Lieutenant scolding them, both Angara immediately straightened their postures in panic. Now they just seemed to be embarassed.

"J-Jaal!...and the human...forgive us."

Jaal shook his head, grunting disapprovingly before gently grabbing a surprised Ryder's wrist and pulling her behind him until she was following again. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, the kett have everyone on edge."

Sara didn't really know what to say, suddenly her throat felt very dry. Nobody stood up for her like that before. "Thank you...but-"

He cut her off "Hm? Please, we're warriors, not undisciplined savages. They needed to learn their place."

'Wait a minute...'

Sara quickened her pace so that she was walking beside him "It sounds like you're beginning to trust me Jaal." She gave him an accusing grin.

"We'll see."

The lieutenant stopped in front of a small counter in the back of the room. Sara noticed there was a young man, wrapping up the leg of an even younger woman, who was lying on top of the counter and failing at pretending she wasn't in any pain.

'A broken leg perhaps?'

Beside them, an older woman looked up from the angaran technology displayed on her wrist and smiled, pleasantly surprised when she saw Jaal was coming close towards the counter. "Jaal! Have you come back to us?"

"Briefly." Jaal was obviously delighted to see her safe.

"And this is the stranger I've heard so much about?" she looked Sara up and down. "You know if not for Jaal, I might kill you?"

Jaal's laughter echoed throughout the small room, causing a few curious glances in their direction. His smile was infectious.

"Ryder, this is my friend, Maisi. She helps supply the Resistance"

Sara nodded politely. "That must be difficult out here." She was glad to see that her greeting was returned as Maisi bent down to gather the supplies Jaal had come for and started placing everything on the counter.

Small silver packages of rations, ammunition, water and a few things Sara didn't quite recognize.

"Jaal's the brave one-"

"Mother!" a small voice cried.

Sara and Jaal both turned to see a young Angaran child run across the room and into Maisi's arms.

'What?...' Sara's eyes grew wide in horror. What was a child doing here?!

"Mother! I've restocked the medical caches as you asked." The child held his mother close as she placed a caring hand on top of his head. She looked so relieved that he had made it back safely.

"You've done well Ongaan. Report to Olisk and grab something to eat. You'll need your strength."

Sara observed as Maisi felt her son tense. The child had finally taken notice of the alien in the room and now they were both staring at her. It was obvious he was frightened and squeezed his mother as if she were a shield from the outside world.

----------

Jaal watched as Ryder bent down slowly onto one knee, matching the boy's height. Her expression held a recognizable sadness that he saw all too much in this damn war. Her eyes seemed wet with the threat of tears as realization of the terrors his people were forced to endure swept over her.

Had he not been so focused on his current mission, he may have wept.

The boy stood frozen, eyes large, as Ryder grabbed one of the small silver packages of rations from the counter and held it out for him in the palm of her hand. "It's ok..." she cooed in a hushed tone.

Jaal wanted to believed her.

'She's no Kett...'

The child cautiously took a step forward, hesitating to grab the offering before looking back at his mother for approval. When Maisi nodded, he quickly grabbed the package and took a retreating step backwards. Fearful, waiting to see if his greed and curiosity would trigger something scary.

The room was now silent. It was only when Jaal looked over his shoulder that he realized all eyes were now on the Pathfinder. Some seemed worried about the child. Others curious as to what would happen next. Would the boy run away screaming? Would this alien attack him and prove herself no better than a kett? Maybe he should get her ou-

"My name is Sara, what's yours?" A warm smile met the child's gaze as she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Begging for his trust.

"K-Kiitaan."

"Kiitaan." She said the name as if she were trying to memorize it. "Keep yourself safe. Ok?" Her voice sounded light and ready break...but it was soothing.

The boy nodded his head and beamed at her before running off and back towards the operations room. Many eyes glanced back towards Ryder in surprise, but most went back to minding their own business, unsure now of what think as they tried to process what just happened.

"How do children get supplies with the kett everywhere?" Her voice was low, but Jaal saw in her body language that she was tense as she rose back up. Ryder stared in the direction the boy took off.

"The same way we came." He let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "There are caves and hidden paths all over Voeld." He took a step towards her, wanting to see her expression. There was nothing but a forced mask of indifference. He knew it was a lie.

Maisi spoke up then. "Its hard to fly in, so my children run most items through the caves little by little...their size makes it hard for the kett to detect." Her voice was low, almost ashamed. "We all do what we can out here-even children."

Ryder unexpectedly placed a hand over Maisi's. "I'm sorry...I can't even imagine what this is doing to you."

Maisi quickly backed her hand away, refusing to think about it. She refused to accept pity. "No...don't apologize. This isn't your war human..."

Ryder turned to look at Jaal, her steel blue eyes glinting with the glow of dark energy she had shown him just the night before. He felt a wave of electromagnetic energy surge through his body in response.

The feeling of her resolve and determination cut right through him as she spoke.

"It will be."

Chapter Text

The weather really wasn't a concern for Jaal, but he knew he needed to be cautious with how long he exposed Ryder to the cold. If he wasn't careful, SAM had made it very clear she could develop severe hypothermia, some strange thing humans called 'frost bite,' or worse.

Jaal's first priority would need to be finding them a vehicle. Often the Resistance would hide what little land rovers they had left in nearby caves, as well as a few stolen Kett machines. This would not only keep Ryder protected from the harsh weather, but also cut their travel time to Hijara in half.

He motioned his head in greeting towards the valley's two lookouts Tseek and Beniska, who were observing the Pathfinder's movements carefully.

Having taken a hidden path that protected them from the blizzard, Jaal ducked his head at the hole of the exit.

BOOM!

Jaal and Ryder drew their weapons, fully alert, as they ran towards the sound of grenades and gunfire.

Quickly taking cover behind a large chunk of rock, Jaal looked through the scope of his Kett rifle and saw a couple of Resistance fighters and a young scout battling an Anointed as well as multiple Chosen kett soldiers.

'Skkut. They're too close to the base.'

Aiming his gun at the Anointed's head, Jaal suddenly felt a shudder run through him. His bioelectricity emerged violently against his command as a large burst of blue light shot past him. And instantly, Ryder was in his scope of sight. A glowing blade in her hand as she sliced through the neck of a now headless kett, before it sank to it's knees and fell.

----------

Apparently slashing the head off an Anointed made you a primary target. Sara grinned at their ignorance as multiple Chosen advanced towards her. Sheathing her asari blade as their bullets shot past her, she reached for her N7 Falcon X and let go of the internal dark energy that was screaming at her body for a release.

A blue pulse enveloped her figure, her eyes now aglow with biotic power as she swept her arm forward, sending a shockwave of energy towards the charging kett. It exploded all around them on impact, sending them floating as she charged and shot her way through with her pistol.

A purple wave of electricity zapped past her, and Sara turned to see that Jaal had joined the fight. A smirk on his face as he met her eyes, an Angaran blade now in his hand as ripples of electricity danced down his body and he melted away into the shadows.

Sara abruptly felt his movements as his energy melded with hers, making her feel even more powerful than ever before.

The pulse of her biotics flared as she sent a ball of energy flying towards a kett Chosen attempting to run past them and towards the Resistance base. Jaal landed on top of him and dealt the final killing blow with his dagger as he hit the ground.

"Grenade!"

Sara turned with barely enough time to act. "Shit!"

----------

It all happened so fast.

Jaal's breath got caught in his throat as he witnessed Ryder biotically charge in front of the explosion to save the fallen scout.

'Stars'...had she really just sacrificed herself for one of his own people?

Jaal ran towards them, cutting through the last of the kett in his way as he began to fear what he would discover on the other side of the blast.

Yet somehow, he could still feel Ryder's energy. He felt her desperation and will to live as she fought to protect those around her. And as the smoke cleared, Jaal looked on to see that Ryder had summoned some form of reflective shield with her biotics, holding a firm and protective stance over the injured scout as the young Angara stared up at her savior in awe.

Jaal sighed in releif. His many emotions had begun to make him feel dizzy. He didn't fully understand what just happened between him and Sara on the battlefield, but he knew he was grateful to her.

----------

Sara let the gentle hum of her biotics fade away as she let down her shield.

"Skkut! They almost got past me!"

Sara turned and bent to help up the injured scout. The rest of her cell tending to each other's injuries and helping them limp back towards the base. "Easy." Sara said, steadying the angara as she struggled to find balance with a bleeding leg.

"Are you alright?" Jaal's voice was growing closer and Sara shuddered as he walked up behind her. The scent of earth and citrus filled her nose and she felt herself begin to relax. A concerned look was on Jaal's face as he looked between her and the wounded Angara woman in front of them.

"Better now that those Kett are dead." Breathed the scout. "Ugh! I thought I could lead them the other way." She frantically looked between the two of them. "If you hadn't come along, they'd be halfway to our camp by now."

Jaal's eyes widened as he tensed. "Have the kett tracked down the Resistance here?"

"No no, these scum caught a signal flash and were too stubborn to ignore it...you didn't give them time to report in. All their superiors will know is that they went missing in the blizzard."

Sara couldn't keep her eyes from the scout's wound...it looked deep. "How bad are you hurt? Can you make it back?"

The scout smiled weakly, appreciative of the concern. "It will be comical, but I think I can walk. I'll go the way you came through so as to remain undetected. The others should have my back..."

Jaal nodded sympathetically. Then turned to Sara. "We need to keep going."

"But-"

The young angara shook her head "Go, go. We'll roll the kett bodies off the cliff before we head back...please, take our rover. We were on our way out but it looks like that won't be happening anytime soon."

----------

Sara shifted in the passenger side seat of their vehicle. She hated not driving and it bugged her to no end how slow they were going compared to the Nomad. "Is this the fastest this thing can go?" She asked impatiently.

Jaal chuckled. "Why? Are you saying your Nomad runs faster?"

"Even without Gil's upgrades..." Sara crossed her arms over her chest and huffed.

"You were...impressive back there. Thank you for rescuing my people."

"Don't mention it."

There was an awkward silence for a while. Neither one of them really knew what to think or how they felt about what had just happened between them. Somehow, they had become one on the battlefield. It was like they'd known each other for years, instead of days, and Sara couldn't get that thought out of her head. She tried to force herself to relax, allowing the built in solar heaters of the rover to warm her frozen body as she closed her eyes. Why had Jaal been so concerned about her safety?

She decided it was her turn to ask the questions, if nothing else, she needed a distraction to pass the time. "So what's your story Jaal? Tell me about yourself."

Jaal looked at her out of the corner of his eye, his hand stretched firmly in front of him on the steering controls. "Why?" He appeared suspicious.

"Well, Why wouldn't you?" She raised an eyebrow. "You hiding something?"

"Maybe. That would only make sense."

Sara sighed exasperated. She understood his caution with aliens because of the kett, but with everything that had just happened, she thought he would at least be willing to open up to her a little.

'Fine.'

"I was born on Earth. Third planet of the Sol System in the Milky Way." She looked at him expectantly.

He was silent as he considered his next words carefully. "I was born on Havarl, our most ancient homeworld. We believe so, anyway."

"Ha, moved to Aya first chance you got?"

"I lived there because of the vesaal. It's a privilege to work on Aya, so we have a lottery to share it."

Sara smiled. "Aya reminds me of Earth, a little." She looked out the passenger side window, reminiscing about her old life. She missed everyone in her old research team. "I'll have to show you some vids sometime."

----------

Urgent Message

Translated from Shelesh:

I've provided the location for the new drop point. Supply drop is scheduled for later today, so get there quickly. If the stars are with us, the drop will contain shield tech.

I must remind you again about discretion--you are not to reveal your mission to anyone. If Evfra hears we're building a stockpile, he'll take action. We must keep this up for as long as possible.

Skies guide you.

-Akksul

"Akksul, should I know about him?" Sara asked, looking up from the datapad. She had found it after they were attacked by Angara, of all people, who were stealing supplies Jaal said were supposed to be for the Resistance.

"That is a discussion for another time." Jaal seemed agitated.

Her eyes narrowed. "But why were Angara shooting at us?" She placed the datapad back down, holstering her pistol.

Jaal grumbled. Only to raise more and more questions in Sara's head.

"Jaal...I need you to trust me. If Akksul is going to be a problem then I need to know."

"He's not important right now...but the Angara we fought call themselves 'Roekarr...' Angaran fanatics who hate all aliens."

"Charming..." This planet just kept getting better and better.

Jaal grunted. "Go ahead and wait in the rover, I need to inform Olisk of what we found."

There was no point in arguing. Sara decided to press him later about Akksul. Somehow she had a bad feeling about him. In this time of war with their people fighting against the kett, the Roekarr didn't even hesitate shooting at Jaal. But why? Was it because she was with him? Nothing on this damn planet made any sense.

----------

Sara stepped out of the vehicle, stretching her arms over her head, thankful to have finally arrived at Hijara.

Not that she didn't love booting the kett in the ass like they deserved, but she was anxious to get to the bottom of her and Jaal's first mission together and start forming their alliance between the Initiative and the angara.

Though helping the lieutenant take out a couple of small Kett camps along the way to Hijara was certainly a great place to start. Not to mention it allowed her to participate in some pretty entertaining fights. She had certainly put her father's training to good use.

Two Resistance guards had begun their approach as Jaal walked over to her. Before she had a chance to protest, Sara was being scanned, and she held her hands halfway up as an act of co-operation.

"Good to see you in one piece Jaal. I assume this is the alien Commander Do Xeel told us to watch out for?"

Jaal nodded. "This is Ryder of the Andromeda Initiative. She has been a valuable asset against the kett."

Was that a compliment? Sara gave Jaal an accusing smile as the guard scanning her nodded in approval.

"Interesting...talk to Skeot." He pointed behind him. "Word is his uncle is in some kind of trouble. He could certainly use the help."

Sara bowed her head slightly. "Thank you."

She followed Jaal to find two Angara arguing over the best course of action for a rescue.

"We can't just attack an entire Kett base."

"So you're just giving up on Niilj? He was your best friend!"

"No, I'm saying we need to think about this. Get in touch with Buxil and form a proper plan."

"They could be dead or worse by the time your thinking is done!"

"Then perhaps we could help?" Sara placed her hands behind her back as Jaal stood watchfully beside her.

The man who she assumed was Skeot quickly looked between the both of them and gasped. "You're that alien people have been talking about!"

"Word travels fast here." She chuckled half heartedly.

"Some say we can't trust you, but if you're here to fight kett, that's good enough for me."

That was the first time one of Jaal's people accepted her without needing reassurance. She honestly wasn't sure why, but it warmed her heart to know he was rooting for her. "I... appreciate that, though I'm surprised you are so quick to trust me."

He shook his head, arms crossed. "Kett kill people...they take our families and we never see them again. Anyone who fights against that has to be better than them." His eyes grew hopeful. "So...will you fight them? I know the location of the labor camp where they took my uncle."

Sara's features softened. "Of course we will."

Skeot quickly began typing away at the tool on his arm. "Thank you!"

Jaal's wrist beeped as the he received the navpoint.

"Please hurry, Niilj may not have much time."

"Pathfinder." SAM's voiced echoed in Sara's head. "I have to coordinates."

"Let's go."

----------

"We're here." Jaal had parked a fair distance away from the labor camp and Sara was now examining the situation through the windshield as she began forming a proper plan.

"We should use the element of surprise to our advantage. Take out as many as we can before they take notice."

Jaal nodded in agreement. "Niilj and the others could help us fight."

"True, but freeing them too soon could result in too many casualties. It might be safest to leave them in their containment cells until we clear out the kett."

Jaal grumbled as he looked out the windshield.

"Keep yourself hidden and take out as many as you can. I'll take point while you cover me. With luck we can bring down their numbers before they spot us."

"I'm ready when you are."

---------

Jaal hid himself behind an unused kett crate. Nodding at Ryder before cloaking himself and allowing his form to melt into the icy world around him.

"SAM." Ryder whispered. "Tactical cloak."

Jaal set his sights on a Chosen kett soldier standing in front of one of the containment cells. The angara behind him looked weak. Perhaps even starving. Ryder was right in her decision to leave them until they cleared the area. No way they would do good in a fight.

He looked for her now, his visor picking up her heat signature, despite SAM's cloaking ability. She had reached the top of the base and in one quick movement, snapped the neck of a Destined kett, his shotgun hitting the ground and causing the Chosen solider behind him to look in her direction.

With a swift and effortless pull of his finger, Jaal managed a perfect head shot.

When he moved his scope back to find Ryder however, she was gone. He moved his head back, scanning the area with his visor and saw motion on the lower level of the base and realized two kett bodies were now lifeless on the ground. Looking at them through his scope, he saw their throats had been slit, and Ryder was now hiding still cloaked behind a nearby crate.

What was she up to?

The commotion seemed to have caught the attention of an Anointed. He approached the bodies slowly, fully aware now that they were no longer alone.

Ryder was luring him out in the open for Jaal.

'Clever girl.' He mused, pulling the trigger of his rifle.

The Anointed's head exploded on impact. His body falling hard to the ground.

Another perfect headshot.

The doors of the kett labor camp flew open, and Jaal took the opportunity to throw a grenade, triggering canisters in the building to explode in the blast.

The angaran slaves cheered in their cells. Fully aware now that all hope was not lost.

"Reinforcements!" Ryder's voice ringed in his comm. The sound of her pistol shooting violently as she exposed her position and started taking out more Kett as their ships arrived.

Jaal reached for his firaan and darted swiftly towards the camp to join her. The pull of her biotics igniting him once more.

----------

Sara panted heavily as the last of the remaining kett fell. She tightened her grip on the hilt of her sword, whipping it's blade towards the snow to remove the blood. "SAM, override the containment cells."

"A moment."

Sara sheathed her blade and proceeded to make her way towards Jaal. Things had gotten pretty intense and while she knew he was alright, she wanted to see for herself.

"...All still alive. Yes, I understand...we will contact you when we arrive." Jaal nodded at her, a finger to his ear as he spoke to who Sara guessed must have been the commander.

Niilj and the rest of his cell finally caught up to them. Tired but grateful looks on their faces. "So you're the one they were bickering about. Eh, well you're just in time. I would've given us another day at most. No thanks to Eraana's jabs." He glanced disapprovingly at the angaran woman beside him.

"If the kett can't handle being called mildly insulting things, that's on them, not me."

"You see what I mean? We owe you. How'd you find us anyway?"

"Your cousin Skeot gave us the navpoint." Sara was relieved to see that nobody was hurt. It could have made things a lot more complicated down the road.

"Good boy. He's got potential Niilj." Errana crossed her arms and sneered at him. Clearly an 'I told you so.'

"So you've said before." Niilj looked to Sara and sighed. "So what do I call you anyway?"

"I'm Ryder of the Andromeda Initiative. I'm here to forge an alliance against the kett. My people need allies if we're going to survive in Heleus. I'd like to help."

"Huh. Well the Resistance needs to be debriefed. We'll find our way back to base and -"

Errana interrupted him. "What about the data drive? We still have to deliver it to Buxil so she can start the analysis."

Jaal moved next to Sara. "Anjik is sending a shuttle to bring your cell back to base. The Pathfinder and I have been ordered to make our way down to Techiix as soon as possible."

"Interesting..." Niilj crossed his arms over his chest. "It seems we have to depend on our rescuers for more than our rescue." He handed Sara a small gray disk. Closing his other hand over the top of hers as she grabbed it. His laid back demeanor had gone serious as his eyes narrowed on to hers. "It's up to you now human. Deliver this drive to my sister Buxil at Techiix, it is of the upmost importance that you be swift."

Sara's eyes grew wide. "What's in the drive?"

He let go of her then. "A kett code we stole while trying to infiltrate their command center..the kett never realized how much we downloaded off their network."

Sara felt Jaal tense beside her. "You have my word Niilj."

He smiled at her reassuringly. "Perfect. If I know my sister, she should be in her workshop." He looked to Jaal. "Thank you, I hope the stars will let us meet again, under better circumstances."

----------

The adrenaline as realization hit caused Jaal's heart to beat violently against his chest while they made their way back towards the rover. "Ryder, this is big. Liberating key Resistance agents and recovering information they stole from the kett...this should put many doubts about you to rest. Even Evfra should be convinced of your intentions, so long as we get that drive to Buxil."

"Not good enough."

Jaal halted his steps and stood there, astonished. "What do you mean?"

Ryder stopped before turning her body to look at him. "Your people have suffered alone against the kett for far too long Jaal. Rather they accept the Initiative as allies or not, I have to at least try and make a difference while I'm here."

'Amazing...'

At a loss for words, Jaal moved towards her so they were only a few inches apart, his hand now in hers as he shook it. Her words meant more to him then she would ever know. He allowed himself to get lost in the graciousness of her eyes as he swallowed down his façade. "Thank you...my friend."