Chapter 1: Broken Wings
"This day marks the beginning of your greatness.”
Update 06/19/2017: Many thanks to "magnificent" for taking the time to improve this chapter!
Song: Adele – Hometown Glory
Sara Ryder hadn’t chosen to become a Pathfinder. Neither had she decided to place an implant with an AI into her head - a cryptic, masculine voice speaking to her day and night, creeping its way into her thoughts like water running through a crack, slowly but steady.
But she had always craved the adventure.
When she was 4 years old, her dad, Alec Ryder, had taken her and her sibling out to the hills to stargaze, using an astronomical telescope, and through the darkness of the night she could almost touch the sparkling stars as if they were alive. That day the galaxy had won her heart in a split second - it had been love at first sight.
Yet it was the only loving memory Sara had of her father. He’d barely been there to see them grow up, always gone to work on his N7 career, so she had been staying with her mother watching her research artificial intelligence and biotics. She was a very kind, cheerful woman who had been passionate about her work, and so some of her enthusiasm for science had taken a shine to Sara’s heart as well.
But over the years the absence of Sara’s dad as well as the biotic experiments she suffered badly from had gotten her down. Sara and her brother had left early - she to research on Prothean artifacts, Scott to guard a Mass Relay in the Fiona cluster. And while they learned to have both feet on the ground, they watched their mother slip from their grasp, until it was too late, and she was dying.
When the alliance had given her dad a dishonorable discharge, things had fallen apart. They had no place to go, marked as the children of a pariah, so it was Alec who decided it was the best for them to join the Initiative: take the step and travel to another galaxy, for a new home, and a new beginning - for all of them. Even seeing him again for the first time after years he had a sense of excitement that had Scott and Sara easily convinced of his dream of universal peace and harmony.
Therefore, they had followed him blindly. Got implants attached into their brains. Left their lives and friends behind. Travelled 600 years through dark space to a new galaxy - Andromeda.
Sara had felt ready for any venture.
But she couldn’t have been ready for this.
Her father dead. Scott in a coma. Thousands of lives relying on her. How had she gotten herself into this?
She was the new Pathfinder, controlling an AI that could activate Remnant vaults – the only way to make the planets of the Heleus cluster habitable again.
She just had to find them first.
And she really wanted to. She had to.
“I am the Archon. Where is the one who activated the Remnant? Their DNA signature is there. Answer me.”
Sara’s blood froze in her veins, too stunned to notice the hammering steps of her crew reaching the bridge. A huge flagship loomed in front of them, covered in more than a dozen Kett ships.
Her father had activated the vault on Habitat 7 – and he had bitterly regretted it. But how did he know? How was he talking...
It took her a second to realize which DNA he was talking about. Her father’s DNA. Her DNA.
“I’m Sara Ryder,” she said through the comm, her voice sounding more intimidated than she had hoped. „and you’re the one in my way. Who are you?”
“They’ve locked navigation,” Suvi responded.
"Sara, we’re being steered into their ship!” Kallo’s voice rang out, high-pitched.
“Ryder,” SAM’s voice echoed in her head. „I can regain control of the ship. I need a few more seconds.”
Think, Sara, think.
Sara stepped up to the comm screen, holding the Archon’s gaze. „Just tell me what you want.”
Maybe if she could give to him what he wanted…?
“I won’t explain what you can’t understand.” He sounded calm, almost bored.
“I actually know a lot about the Remnant,” she tried diplomatically. „We should compare notes.”
“Enough!” the Archon growled. „Your defiance is naive and reckless. This day marks the beginning of your greatness.” The comm screen shut down.
SAM was back: „I have plotted a potential course through the Scourge.”
“Do it!” Sara hissed, looking at Kallo. He immediately reacted, turning the ship away from the Kett flagship as fast as possible.
“Two vessels are chasing us -” Suvi started. „Oh wait”, she corrected herself. „One enemy destroyed. Scourge got it.”
“As long as the Scourge doesn’t get us,” Sara mumbled, still trying to control her voice.
“Just get us out of here.” Liam's voice bespoke his tension.
“It will be tight,” SAM warned, sounding frighteningly calm.
“Kallo!” Vetra almost streamed at the salarian, hardly able to choke her wrought-up feelings.
The Tempest was shaking, Sara’s fingers clasping the bridge’s controls to keep herself from falling off her feet. Suddenly the bridge’s front window seemed on fire, the space around them hissed in flames from the Scourge.
“YES!” Kallo triumphed. In the same moment, the flames passed and the Scourge was gone, revealing the beautiful sight of the galaxy.
And a beautiful planet. She'd never been more relieved to see one of them, because it could have turned out very differently.
“Ha, nice work kid!” Drack was the only one still standing, and the only one who seemed to have enjoyed the ride.
“Yeah. But who the hell was that guy?”
“Ryder,” Gil’s voice broke through the comm. „We have some trouble down here. Back of the ship got hit by the Scourge, we’re smoking like a candle. You need to find us a port now.”
Sara sighed. Something bruised her shoulder and she turned around. It was Liam patting her shoulder – and surprisingly smiling at her.
“Guess we’ve got no choice, eh, Pathfinder?”
She returned his smile. He seemed to be the only one who believed in her being able to handle the role as a Pathfinder, especially in times like these.
“Gil,” Sara said through the comm, “give it what you can. We’re settling down.”
“Ryder, we’re being contacted. They’ve sent us a navpoint.”
Sara blinked at her in surprise. „Should we… set down?”
“You are the Pathfinder,” Cora hissed. “You make the decisions.”
Liam gave her a pitiful look, but no one said anything. All eyes were directed at Sara, her thoughts and feelings tumbling, looking for the right words.
“Alright then. Get us down. I’m the Pathfinder. First contact is on me.”
“Most important thing ever,” Liam said with a smirk to relieve the strain. “No pressure.”
The Tempest flew into atmosphere and was about to land. It had to look like a phoenix falling from the sky, Sara thought, with a burning tail and broken wings.
She just really hoped 'confidence' was something to be gained.
Because she didn’t feel as if she had any of it.
Chapter 2: Easy Prey
"Thank you for trusting me."
"I don't. But I can always kill you in your sleep."
Update 06/20/2017: Many thanks to "magnificent" for taking the time to improve this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Song: Sia – Bird Set Free
When Sara left the Tempest, it took her eyes a second to get used to the sunlight, yet the sting felt like pleasure. Real sun. She’d missed it.
The moment was short-lived when armored creatures surrounded her, pointing guns at her, so she immediately lifted her hands in defense to show she meant no harm. She had no doubt they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot her, if they had to.
Or maybe, anyway.
Agreed, SAM hummed in her mind. I advise caution.
One of them approached her, doing a quick scan. It took her translator a while to adapt to their language, but picked it up eventually, and when they led Sara down the landing stage, she was already able to understand most of what they said.
Sara was rather tall for a woman, yet she felt so small compared to the massive aliens, with thick, multi-jointed legs slanted as if they could pitch headlong to the ground any moment. Yet, there was something graceful about a species of their stature, their pride walking with them at every step when they escorted Sara to the staircase of their city.
“I’m Paaran Shie, governor of Aya. We are the Angara.” A female on top of the stairs spoke to her diplomatically, well-dressed, with blue skin and bright eyes that looked down at her.
“Hello, I’m Sara Ryder, a Pathfinder with the Initiative.”
“Yes,” the female said. “You crossed darkspace. I’ve heard of your journey.”
Suddenly she was interrupted by another Angara, a male apparently, as he approached her.
„Jaal. I have this in hand. “ As she tried to hold him back, he just stopped her with a wave of his hand. „Evfra saw the ship coming in and sent me to find out what’s going on.”
Wasn’t she the governor? Sara wondered. How could he wave her off so easily?
Her thoughts cut off when he laid eyes on her, his gaze intense like a predator targeting his prey.
“She is a human. A Pathfinder.” But Paaran’s words didn’t seem to detain him. With firm steps, he descended the stairs straight up to her, stopping only a hand’s width away from her face that made Sara unconsciously back away a little. Although she hadn’t been worried much before, she certainly was now.
“Aya is hidden, protected. What do you want?” He was a head taller than her, covered in armor and a cloak that gave him a well-trained, combat-ready appearance. He was obviously a fighter and his arms and hands looked like he only needed one of them to crush her if he wanted.
“I apologize. Landing here the way we did, without warning… on fire… was not the plan.”
She tried to hold his gaze, but instead she found herself drowned into his ocean-blue eyes. One of them covered by a monocle-like visor, she wondered what readings he probably got from her with it. Could he sense the rush of adrenaline in her veins?
“That’s good to know. Because if it was, that would be a very bad plan.” He gave her a look - a smile maybe? - before he turned around to leave, his voice softened. „I’ll inform Evfra. He’ll be waiting for you in his office at the Resistance Headquarters. I’ll meet you there.”
When he left, the governor was still standing there, seemingly concerned. Sara had the feeling as if she could read, no, feel, Paaran’s emotions as if they were her own; they seemed so free and true in their expressions. Obviously, the idea of letting an outsider into their city wasn’t what she had expected when Jaal had appeared.
“I will accompany you through our city,” she explained. “Your crew will stay on your ship. Follow me. And don’t even think of strolling."
Sara only got a few glimpses of Aya’s beauty while walking through the city. They had colorful plants and she could hear water run in the distance. She’d almost forgotten how a normal life looked like.
Even though the angaran military cordoned off onlookers, there were many bystanders trying to get a view on the ‚new alien’. They watched her pass by, some of them just curious, some of them in disgust. She could hear someone calling her „it“ – like an animal or an object, and she couldn’t help but feel a sting in her chest. She wasn’t used to all the attention, but even more she wasn’t used to all the hate thrown at her.
When Sara arrived at the headquarters, Jaal was already there, waiting for her. It was as if he sensed her hurt feelings, his voice softer than before. “Our experience with the Kett makes us naturally distrustful of all aliens. It’s nothing… personal.”
Sara nodded slightly, to show she acknowledged his empathy. “We’ve had our own run ins with the Kett.”
“Then you really do understand.” He gave her this look again she couldn’t pin down. “When the Archon came to Heleus, he demolished our sovereign state – took what he wanted, as if we were nothing.” His face was full of anger. “Now the Kett mercilessly abduct Angara. Often, we never see our people again.”
The Archon. She remembered the name, and her eyes widened.
That was horrible. The Kett had been hostile to the Initiative from the beginning, but she hadn’t realized what they were capable of until now.
They’d arrived in Heleus in the middle of an ongoing war.
And now they were in the thick of it.
“Come this way. Evfra’s waiting.” His voice had softened and Sara found that she liked the sound of it. Well, anything was better than being threatened. And yet, he didn’t shoulder his weapon, but instead holding it low in his arms, fingers hovering near the trigger as if expecting Kett to descend that very moment.
“Wait, the Kett kidnap you – steal your people?”
“And the Resistance fights them every day, with everything we can,” he responded affirmatively.
The Resistance. Resisting what exactly - the Kett?
“Is it attrition? What are they after?”
“You should save your questions for Evfra,” was all he said, but she noticed that he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, though he was politer than the bystanders had been.
Was it curiosity that made him act this way? Or suspicion?
But to tell the truth, hadn’t she done the same when he had come down the stairs to her - size him up?
Those eyes. She couldn’t help but feel drawn to them. It was like looking into an ocean full of diamonds. Maybe it was because they looked so alien and new to her. Her eyes might look just as appealing to him. Maybe it was just the way first contact had to go.
“Evfra, this is one of the aliens from the Milky Way. A Pathfinder.”
“Pathfinder.” Evfra repeated the word as if it was a disease that spread simply by talking about it. “It’s an aggressive move, coming to Aya.”
Sara recoiled at the sight of him, then flushed, embarrassed of her own reaction. His face was a field of scars, and when she looked him in the eye she saw a man who had lost everyone he cared about. Someone who repaid the debt by killing ten times as much, with no regrets, his body being the soft shell of a hardened soul, and nothing left to lose.
“It wasn’t meant that way,” she tried to explain. “We were assaulted by the Kett, our ship set on fire by the Scourge. But besides that, I have an ark full of desperate people counting on me to find them a home before they starve.”
“Of course. I feel for you and your people,” he said compassionately. “But never mind how you even found us, Pathfinder. Why are you here?”
Sara decided this wasn’t the right time to play any games – it was either feast or famine. It was time to overcome herself and gt to the heart of it.
“On a hostile planet we call Eos, I explored an ancient structure – a vault – and brought it back online. It stabilized that planet’s environment.”
Jaal caught up with her. “Remnant. Recent intelligence supports that claim.”
“If I’m right,” Sara continued, “there’s another vault on Aya. They seem to be connected to each other. I need to get inside.”
Evfra turned his back on her, looking out the broad window. “You’re right. There’s a vault out there, but it was shut down years ago and the entrance hidden.” He looked at her again. “We can’t help you.”
‘Doesn’t mean you want to’, Sara thought to herself.
“The Moshae could. She’s our most revered scientist and elder. She knows this vault.” It was Jaal. Did he really want to help her? At least that's what he sounded like.
“But now the Kett have her,” Evfra cut him off, “and our rescue attempts failed. She’s lost to us.” He faced Sara. “And to you.”
“There must be another way,” Sara insisted stubbornly, surprised by her own obstinacy. “How can I convince you? I could help you-”
“Arrogant!” Evfra growled, planting himself in front of her. “I don’t know you, let alone trust you. Why would I want your help?”
“Give me a chance,” she pleaded. “I can prove myself, but I need to get in that vault, for both our peoples sake.”
Evfra put her off with a sweeping gesture. “Jaal, get her out of my sight, or better, kill her on the spot, so she can’t give our location to her leaders.”
Sara realized things were falling apart. If they killed her now, the Heleus cluster would never be habitable, the golden worlds lost forever, and her people would die with them.
And she would never get to see Scott again.
“Evfra, I feel…” Jaals voice sounded so calm between the tension. “Evfra, what this alien says is extraordinary. The Moshae would want us to be brave and not let this chance pass.”
Evfra sighed. “Jaal. You talk too much.”
“Let me assess this alien. I’ll be your eyes. I know you can spare me.”
“Go if you want,” Evfra said through gritted teeth. “But when she tries to kill you, be prepared to strike first.” And with his words, Sara watched him leave angrily like a wounded animal.
“I’m Jaal Ama Darav,” he said calmly. “I’ll be your envoy through angaran space.”
Their eyes met again. She wasn’t sure if she should be grateful or terrified.
“Thank you for trusting me.”
“I don’t.” His honesty struck her as by lightning. “But I can always kill you in your sleep.”
She hesitated. Was he kidding? Was he the type to make fun of such things?
He clearly wasn’t.
“Good to know,” she muttered low. “But you’ll have to sneak past the crew. It’s going to be cozy.” They went to turn back through the hallway.
“I’ll bring you back to your ship,” he assured. “But I have to pick up some of my belongings before I can join you.”
“What makes you feel certain we won’t leave without you?,” she wondered. The thought was tempting.
He gave her his elusive look again. “You won’t. Unless you don’t care for your people like you claim to. In this case, you might as well move off.”
A thought flashed through her mind. “Talking about it, there is something you probably should know before we head off. You mentioned the Archon before?"
He stopped immediately, his eyes flashed in suspicion, and Sara was suddenly distinctly aware of the weapon he still carried.
“I’ve met him already – not in person, but… he has my DNA signature though. For some reason, he seems quite interested in that. Right before we got here, he tried to capture our ship.”
He blinked in surprise, now intrigued. “Why is that?”
She took a deep breath. “I don’t know yet, but I think… he might be hunting us.”
Their first meeting seems just perfect to me, so I didn't really change anything. Still, I wanted to catch their magic moment. More importantly, EVFRA! ♥
Chapter 3: Long Journey
"We're not friends."
"You don't say."
Update 06/21/2017: Many thanks to "magnificent" for taking the time to improve this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Song: Skylar Grey – I Know You
Sara sat in her quarters, next to SAM, filing a report about her meeting on Aya for the Nexus headline, although her thoughts kept wandering off.
The crew meeting hadn’t gone as well as Sara had hoped for. At least they had acknowledged that this first contact with the Angara had gone better than with the Kett, but their distrust in her abilities as being a Pathfinder still stuck out a mile, especially Cora’s. Also, some of them were disappointed that they had to leave the planet already, and therefore, not having even the ghost of a chance to catch a glimpse of it. For any reason they thought of Sara’s intentions to earn Evfra’s trust as an act of despair, or the clutch at a straw, driven by the courage of the desperate.
Leaving the planet without entering the vault? Feeding another mouth? they'd said, seemingly not pleased. Sara’s last-ditch attempt to help calm down the situation only gained her a pitiful look from Vetra and a derogative comment from Drack.
She must have looked miserably indeed.
Which was even more embarrassing since Jaal had joined them. He had been all wrapped up in the back, listening carefully, and his first impression of her leadership abilities must have been terrible. But he had brought up a plan she could work with. After all, she hadn’t travelled 600 years through darkspace to cover herself with glory, but to find her people a new home. And as long as there was hope, she would stick to it.
“Sara,” SAM hummed next to her, “I advise locking your door at bedtime, to give no opportunity to Mr. Ama Darav to assault you.”
A smile flashed over her face. “Thanks for worrying about me, SAM. I hope it won’t be necessary.”
She wasn’t so sure though.
Jaal. He was interesting, she gave him that. There was something about him that made him stand out.
But that was probably the case with any new alien species, right?
Vetra must have introduced him to the ship by now. Sara didn’t want to screw this up, he was the only opportunity to get inside the vault on Aya. Surely, she would find a way to convince him of her cause, make him help her get in there? Maybe she should go talk things up?
Sara strolled around the ship, not sure where he went. All she had figured out was that he didn't stay in the crew quarters.
“Mr. Ama Darav has taken up residence in the engineering laboratory,” SAM helped her. For a brief moment, she had almost forgotten he existed. Well, almost. Most of the time, she enjoyed being with SAM; the invisible, inseperable bond they shared had been a blessing to her in combat, and the information he provided through the scans always helped her to take reasonably rapid decisions. Yet, he was also a silent companion, always there even when she wanted to be alone, and their partnership was likely to create obligations, too. So far, even though SAM was of great assistance, she also wasn't sure of the consequences their collaboration could have one day.
When she went there, she immediately recognized him by his turquoise poncho, kneeling next to a kett-based construct they had brought from Eos. He didn’t seem to notice her at first.
He stood up, facing her. “So.”
“We… haven’t had a chance to talk alone. You comfortable in here?”
With a quick observation of the room she could see a mattress laying in the corner, covered in blankets and pillows, and some tools she couldn’t classify resting on the workbench. ‘Not so different’, she thought.
“I took it.” He walked up to her. “It feels strange to stay with the others. They’re – you’re – aliens.”
“Don’t mind them,” Sara said gently. They hadn’t exactly welcomed him with open arms. “They vary in temper, but altogether they’re a nice bunch of people to have around. Besides, you’re alien to us too. So, there, we have something in common.”
“We can look at it as a place to start?” he offered. “Perhaps then, if we’re all aliens, it’s about what kind of alien we are.”
“You had no idea about us… but you signed up to help us anyway.”
“Perhaps it had nothing to do with you.”
“Care to elaborate?”
“I do not,” he said bluntly and took her by complete surprise. Again.
“And you, my friend, are quite cocky.”
“We’re not friends.”
“You don’t say,” she mocked.
“I just did.”
For some obscure reason, it reminded her of the little teasing she’d always had with Scott, and she’d stood up for a challenge at any time. It was intriguing in a way she couldn’t explain.
Damn that honesty.
“How do you know Moshae Sjefa?” she tried to change topic to keep him talking. This conversation clearly wasn’t going the way she wanted it to.
“She’s our greatest mind on the Remnant. I was her student.”
Now that draw her interest, her love for science awaking. “You studied the Remnant? Back home, I’ve been researching artifacts of – well… a species similar to the Remnant. We call them Prothean. Did you enjoy it?”
He gave her a faint smile. “A little. I was terrible. I quit. Or she threw me out. One of those. We’re still… very close.”
Sara couldn’t help but wonder who this Moshae was, he spoke of her as if she was holy. He made no attempt to say anything else.
“So… is that your rifle?”
Looking at it, Jaal explained. “It is now. It’s Kett. With my own modifications. I like to tinker – to get my hands on something and take it apart.”
“That’s a skill I know we can use.” She smiled. “But I have one request. Don’t take apart my ship, please.”
He chuckled. “You’re right. I signed up – volunteered – for this. It’s… exciting.”
There was a change in his shape she couldn’t quite figure - the fumble of his hand, the way he shifted his weight to the other foot, the look he gave her as in examining a diamond. “There’s something unique about you – uneasy, raw – but somehow profound.”
“That sounds like a compliment. A nice one.” She blushed unconsciously, suddenly unable to hold his gaze.
“It is. Angara feel deeply. We have more trouble hiding our emotions than showing them,” he said with a ripple of laughter. Maybe the conversation wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
All of a sudden, he hesitated as if he’d gone too far, and in the blink of an eye his open-minded approach vanished, leaving an emotional void.
“I should go back to my work,” was all he had to say.
“Would you… like to have dinner with us tonight?”
“Thank you. But perhaps at some other time,” he politely refused, their eyes met a last time before he walked off to the workbench.
Sara left, and she felt awkward. How could he put her on an emotional rollercoaster so easily? First taunting, then warming up, then backing off.
How was she supposed to convince him to help her get in that damn vault?
This was going to be a longer journey than she had expected.
I really like the idea that they're instantly fascinated, and while they're not enemies, they're not friends either yet. They like to tease each other, but also still have to get to know each other - that is, if Jaal let's her get to know him.
Chapter 4: Finding Feet
“As my parents were wont to say: If you can’t kill it, smile at it.”
“Or, to be more precise, airlock it!”
Update 06/25/2017: Changes and improvements have been made.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Song: MGMT – Electric Feel
Whenever possible, the crew had dinner together to share each other’s impressions of the day. Well, it was mainly the humans who enjoyed spending their time as a group. Mostly because Lexi, the ship’s doctor, had set them on the same daily rations anyway; and also because they could eat the same food. It was for this very reason that Vetra, for example, didn’t usually participate in their informal get-togethers, but joined them a little later, when they went on to the good stuff, as she liked to call it.
Peebee, on the other hand, preferred to live life ‘no strings attached’, which also meant not spending too much time with the crew, as if she was afraid she could get too attached to them, or that they could “grow on her like a fungus”, as Peebee would put it bluntly.
Lexi didn’t join them either. Despite being a doctor, she never managed to eat on a regular basis; instead she was a self-admitted workaholic who couldn’t take the slightest break and worked tirelessly day in, day out. And considering the amount of work she usually had, when she was finally done, everyone had gone to bed already.
When it came to Drack, for some strange reason, everyone was afraid they’d have to watch him lose his manners, like bolting his food like an animal, or that he’d show any other forms of bad behaviour during dinner no one even dared to think about. Strangely enough, Sara enjoyed his company a lot, even though he was a grousing badass that, but as soon as she remembered his bad eating habits, she could perfectly enjoy the get-together without him. Additionally, there was one golden rule you needed to respect when dealing with his species: Never ever disturb a krogan during their meals.
Last but not least, there was also Kallo. He was a sweet guy who wished to spend more time with them, especially because he never took part in the ground missions, but as luck would have it, he couldn’t bring himself to bury the hatchet with Gil, nor did he even want to sit at the same table as he did. Recently, their ongoing dispute had grown into an insurmountable obstacle that made it impossible for them to have a normal conversation without coming to blows over something, and Sara feared to be forced into choosing an allegiance sooner or later. After all, she didn’t want to dispense with either of them for the world.
Oh, yeah, and there was Jaal. Not participating for obvious reasons. She’d asked him nicely and he’d politely declined her offer. Yet, she couldn’t quite figure out the motives that would explain his actions. He’d wanted to join them on the Tempest, so what was so bad about becoming acquainted and getting to know one another, as a first step to overcome the awkward feelings that went hand in hand with new circumstances?
Today, they had goulash served with potatoes and an undefinable mix of vegetables, all thrown together. When Sara stared at her generously filled plate, she wasn’t all too eager to find out if it tasted as bad as it looked.
“Fresh out of the freezer. Awesome,” joked Liam, who’d followed her gaze. “It’s not that bad once you get used to it. Just the color is a little odd. And the smell.” He took a spoonful and, because he was so hungry, swallowed it whole, then made a disgusted face. “Oh, and the taste.”
Sara chuckled and gave him a slight punch, just for fun. He always knew how to lighten up the mood when things went south, which might be due to the fact that he didn’t cope well with difficult situations, stress or conflict.
“Ouch!” He clutched his arm in mock agony, a grin fighting past his facade. Cora who sat opposite them seemed pretty annoyed, as she gave them a stern look that made it quite clear to them that they were acting childish. Unlike her, Suvi and Gil had a hard time containing their laughter, as they had way too much fun watching the two of them mock each other.
“He asked for it,” Sara explained and pretended to give him another punch when he tried to steal one of her potatoes with his fork, both breaking into laughter. They’d quickly become close friends, one of the reasons for this was were shared sense of humor, and the same need for love and recognition.
“I’m surrounded by kids.” Cora rolled her eyes and shook her head, casually flipping back a strand that had fallen into her eyes.
“Aww, kids are annoying. I’d go for pyjaks,” Liam teased her.
Cora furrowed her brow. “But… you know they pee everywhere, right?”
“No need to be so serious,” Gil tried to mollify her by taking out the seriousness of the situation. “It will happen soon enough that there's nothing more to laugh about. Until then, let’s enjoy the calm before the storm with a great meal and that bottle of brandy that’s stashed in my locker.. That one needs to be uncorked as soon as possible or it’s going to rot another 600 years in there. I insist.”
“I’m up for it,” Suvi said, visibly excited. “Wouldn’t mind some champagne though instead. It’s about time that we throw a welcome party.”
“Why a welcome party?” Sara asked curiously, while she was still chewing on her not-so-tasty meal.
“Welcome to Andromeda, of course!” Gil whirled his hands in the air as if he was swinging a cheerleader’s pom-poms.
“By the way, I think you did a great job today,” Liam praised Sara. “This is something worth saying again and again. I mean, you know you could be dead instead, right?”
“Not again.” Cora sighed. “We can’t afford losing another Pathfinder.”
In the blink of an eye, Peebee popped up through the kitchen’s door. “Did I hear giggling?” She purred like a cat, walking up to the table, with her hands on her hips. “And what is that weird smell?”
“I blame Liam, it was his turn to cook,” Gil tried to be funny, he could be a real clown sometimes.
“Where’s Jaal?” Peebee suddenly switched the subject to something that rather triggered her interest. “I thought you guys are all curled up cozily, act silly and giggle?”
“Not everyone acts like you, Peebee.” Again, Cora rolled her eyes.
“Why, would you join us if we made out instead?” Liam sneered, making Cora shake her head in disbelief once more. Liam and Cora didn’t get on well with the asari, because they couldn’t stand her childish delight about the smallest things. Cora unsuccessfully tried to make an adult out of her, whereas Liam prefered to not take her seriously at all and rather derided her childlike behaviour.
“Now we’re talking, Kosta.” Peebee gave a seductive smile and spun; she was never one to sit still for more than a minute. “So, why didn’t he join your tea party if it’s so much fun?”
“I asked him,” Sara explained. “He didn’t want to join, but it’s simply because he doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“How come?” Suvi asked, honestly surprised. “He’s still too shy I guess?”
Sara forced a smile. “No, I think he’s rather polite than really shy. At least the explanation he gave me indicated that. We’ll have to ‘gain his trust’ first.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an arch smile raising on Peebee’s face, making no secret of her naughty thoughts. “Maybe I should try to ‘convince’ him. I’m sure he’s the type to reason with… or, to do other things with.”
Sara didn’t like the idea at all.
“Keep it in your pants,” Liam hissed so intensely that he dropped some of his food on the table.
“Well, he is pretty handsome indeed. Just take a look at those abs, and his thighs–“
“Suvi!” Cora interrupted her, glaring at her in shock.
“Don’t pretend you don’t agree!” The redhead giggled and gave her a charming smile, then to the Pathfinder “Don’t you think, Sara?”
Sara almost choked on her juice when she was addressed. Of course it wasn’t the first time that there was gossip in the kitchen (especially when Liam wasn’t around), but was it really appropriate to chitchat about Jaal already? After all, he’d just joined them, and they barely knew anything about him. Wasn’t it a bit too early to… eye him up?
“And you were so close to him, Ryder,” Suvi went on. “Perhaps you got an even better view of him than we did?”
Sara smirked. When she imagined his face again, the way he had towered over her beneath the stairs, warmth flooded into her face.
“Well, I can only say for sure that he acts like a perfect gentleman; he’s a very civil and pleasant person. And his eyes are... magnificent.”
“I knew it!” Suvi triumphantly rejoiced, feeling vindicated.
“Ah, well, guys, enough about this.” Peebee was so bored already that she languidly stopped it with a wave of her hand. “Time to move on. Nice talking to you.” And with a quirk, Peebee made off.
Cora gazed after her until she lost sight of her, then she turned her attention back to the group, suddenly she’d become pensive. “Peebee always likes new and shiny things,” she stated, “and she gets bored of them more quickly than I could’ve imagined. But maybe it’s a win-win all around, if she really makes him crawl out of his shell, who knows?”
“Well, I can’t bear with her for more than 3 seconds,” Liam scoffed. “If I were Jaal, I’d quickly into that shell! Poor guy, you can’t help feeling sorry for him. He’s gonna be her new bait, and Peebee won’t give up until she gets what she wants.”
“I feel bad for him, too,” Gil agreed.
Suvi darted an impish glance at Sara, and when Sara returned her look, she immediately smiled at her.
“No worries,” the redhead spoke softly. “As my parents were wont to say: If you can’t kill it, smile at it.”
“Or, to be more precise, airlock it!” Liam countered, making everyone burst out in a hearty laugh.
And Sara smiled broadly, being glad that she’d met such lovely people.
This night, Sara slept restlessly, the new burden of being a Pathfinder haunting her dreams like a shady ghost. She’d never been the type to worry a lot, but rather to savour the moment, living in the here and now, with an extensive social life. But after her father’s death, things had changed, and she needed to take responsibility for his loss, even though she wasn’t sure if she could live up to him. Tann, her crew... heck, the whole Initiative! expected her to follow in his footsteps to act like him, which meant that she was supposed to make the choices he’d have made, keep the promises he’d make and work just as hard as he’d used to, as if being his offspring was reason enough to be a perfect copy of him. No matter how much Sara despised the idea of taking after her father instead of her mother. At least she was always there for her and motivated her to keep on going, unlike Alec, who’d always been very good at persuading her of whatever he wanted.
When she laid there on her bed, staring out the huge window, watching the galaxy pass by, the world seemed at peace, the thought of it was almost romantic, and she wondered why her dad had chosen her as his successor in the first place.
Perhaps he’d made the wrong decision for once, although he would’ve never admitted it voluntarily. Maybe he hadn’t known her after all, or he’d thought that she took after him more than she actually did. Because, to tell the truth, they hadn’t had much in common in general, the only exception was their shared love of the unknown and adventures. At the end, it wasn’t quite enough for her to think otherwise, and she never felt that it had made him really proud of her. So, she wanted to stay true to herself and evolve her own personality, instead of chasing the shadows that her family’s name cast.
Slowly but steady, the room’s ceiling lightning turned bright, and Sara heaved a deep sigh.
‘Good morning, Sara,’ SAM hummed in her mind like a guilty conscience. ‘Your day shift starts now.’
“Any news, SAM?” she asked, while pinning up her long hair into a messy bun of her with just a single grip, and went to the bathroom.
'You have new emails at your terminal, Pathfinder. Also, we’re about to reach Havarl in approximately 3 hours.’
“Okay then.” She quickly leaped into the shower, and after she was done, dried herself and wrapped up in a towel, then walked to her bedside table and picked up the to comb her hair. She liked to look neat; it was a habit she’d assumed by her father since she was a child.
‘If you can’t make an impact, at least make a good impression,’ as he'd always said.
And old habits die hard.
She heard soft crackles in her ear, a call coming through her comm.
“Ryder, we need to talk.” It was Lexi, sounding even more exasperated than usual, and Sara very much assumed to know the reason for it.
“I swear, I didn’t do it on purpose!” she blurted out all of a sudden. “They’re just so hard to resist, because they’re my favorite flavor and they have those chocolate chips on top of- “
Sara paused for a moment, thinking.
Shit. Had she been wrong?
“You… don’t call because of the low-carb diet you put me on?”
“Oh ok… well uhm... I’m still holding up my end of the bargain, of course.”
Sara could perfectly picture how Lexi glared at her through the comm.
“We’ll have to talk this over later”, Lexi said with a sigh of resignation. “No, I’m calling, because I need your help on something.”
Sara blinked, still confused. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Jaal. He won’t let me check on him. I need to file his health data to provide medical treatment in case of injury. I tried to convince him, but…” She took a deep breath. “Perhaps you could talk to him? After all, you two are already acquaintances.”
“Well, I can give it a try”, Sara offered. “But I can’t promise anything. We don’t talk much either.”
“At least more than anyone else does. Thank you, Ryder.”
“I’ll let you know how it went. Talk to you later, T’Perro.”
After that, Sara took her sweet time to dress up, choosing a cashmere pullover in her favorite color, royal blue, before she finally left the room.
‘Mr. Ama Darav is awake and working in the engineering laboratory right now.’
Still? She wondered if he’d ever left the lab so far.
When she went there, the door was shut, so she used the interface that gave a soft ring afterwards, to ask for admission. But, instead of an answer, the door opened up immediately.
“Good morning, Jaal”, she greeted him upon entering, wanting to give the impression of being happy and chipper. “Hope you slept well?”
The angara had been bending over his workbench, he’d apparently been busy disassembling something that looked like an omni tool, or rather what was left of it, but stopped instantly when the door had opened up, and instead turned around to face her.
“Not so much,” he answered brusquely, his arms and shoulder hung down loosely, and Sara, glancing at his large hands, wondered how he’d been able to completely dismantle the tool although he had three fused fingers. “It feels… strange, to sleep on an alien vessel. Is there anything you need, Ryder?”
“Oh… I’m sorry to hear that.” Suddenly, she felt reluctant to come up with the subject she’d planned to broach, but quickly overcame her inhibitions. “Well, Lexi told me you don’t want to undergo the physical. May I… ask why?”
“Ah. Yes, she was here this morning.” He looked away for a moment, as if he needed to collect himself first, before he spoke on. “Evfra told me to be cautious. I’m… not very good at being cautious. I accompanied you to help – willingly – but our species are no allies. It… feels only out of place under these circumstances. I’m… not allowed to help with something that could be used to make my people suffer, in whichever way.”
For some reason, Sara was deeply touched by his honesty and dedication. He hadn’t lied when he’d said that the angara were a very emotional species who gave vent to their feelings and allowed them to run freely. He really wore his heart on his sleeve, she figured.
“I see”, she said instead. “There’s nothing wrong with it. Thank you for putting your cards on the table.”
“Which cards?” He seemed confused.
“Oh, my fault.” It made her chuckle, his cluelessness was quite sweet and strangely appealing. “It’s an idiom – to be honest about your feelings and intentions by speaking openly about them.”
“Ah. We angara are certainly not ashamed of our feelings. We always speak our mind, to express our true emotions on the outside, where they can be dealt with honestly and openly. How else do you find out how the other one feels?”
“We don’t always tell each other how we feel,” Sara explained. “Sometimes, we keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, because we don’t want to hurt the other one – or get hurt ourselves.”
“But, isn’t that exactly the point - to have to deal with it?”
“That’s… an interesting thought,” she admitted, a shy smile raising on her face. “And a weird one, too.” A ripple of laughter escaped them, and for a brief moment, they just stood there, both caught in an initial shyness and fear of what to say, when Sara suddenly had an idea coming to her mind. “I could pass you a scan of my personal health records in exchange, if that helps? Lexi could provide you one.”
He seemed surprised at first, looking a bit bewildered. “Why would you do that?”
“In the Initiative, we try to treat each other equally. Besides, your people already scanned me anyway when I introduced myself on Aya. So, it would only be fair if you did the same.”
“Mmh.” He seemed to contemplate the idea. “It makes… sense, somehow. Alright, I accept the offer.”
“You do? Great!” Suddenly, Sara felt excited, and she smiled broadly.
“So, should we… head to the med bay then?” All of a sudden, Sara felt as if she’d traveled through centuries, carried back to past times when she’d still been a teenager, when she’d been easily excited by the smallest things, and had a crush on the hottest boy in town just as fast. With her new-found joy, Sara escorted him to the med bay, and realized again how tiny she was compared to him, yet she was full of excitement and didn’t bend down low, but instead held her head high. When they entered the med bay, Lexi looked up from her desk, still holding a data pad in her hand.
“Look who I brought with me,” Sara proudly announced. Jaal looked down to her first, then laid eyes on the asari.
“I can see that,” Lexi said, before she gave her attention to the angara. “I’m glad you changed your mind. As I told you before, I’m very discrete with any information that concerns my patients. There is nothing you need to worry about. Please, have a seat.” She pointed at one of the med beds.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with me first,” Sara said, and after sat down on the bed instead of Jaal.
““Something I should know about?” Now concern resonated clearly in the doctor’s voice.
“We made a deal, an exchange of information, you could call it,” Jaal explained to her.
“Yeah,” Sara confirmed. “My file for his.”
Lexi raised an eyebrow, but didn’t discuss it any further, and instead started a quick check-up on Sara by activating her omni-tool and starting to scan her. “I won’t interfere as long as you two know what you are doing…”
Sara raised her head to look at her, slightly feeling offended. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Instead of giving an answer, the asari continued scanning by moving the omni-tool back and forth. “Look here. And there.” Then she made a note of her results in her tool.
“Now breathe in.” Sara inhaled deeply as demanded. “Breathe out.”
Meanwhile, Jaal watched her with great interest, staying put and not taking his eyes off her the whole time. Having him stare at her felt strange, but not unpleasant, because she could see the warmth and kindness that laid in his eyes, exclusively directed towards her.
When they’d finished, Lexi gave Sara a short nod, so she could finally get up.
“Now your turn,” the doctor addressed her words to Jaal.
The angara nodded in approval, then made himself comfortable on the bed, while Lexi restarted her omni-tool to issue a new card file. “May I ask your age so I can create a new case for you?”
“It is 27 arbitrary years of your age. Does it matter much to your species?” he asked curiously.
“Only in extremes”, Lexi explained, while she entered his answer into her tool. “But it helps me a lot to suggest the right medical treatment in times of emergency.”
“Please, hand him the files whenever you’re done, T’Perro.” It was Sara again. “I’ll leave you two to it.”
When she walked to the door, Lexi stopped her scan and turned around to her. “Oh and, about your diet…”
Ah shit. She’d hoped Lexi would just forget about it. She’d been dead wrong, obviously.
“What about it?”
The doctor frowned at her question, folding her arms in front of her chest like she always did when she hit the business mode, an expression Peebee used to make fun of the doctor. “I think you’re very aware of it.” Lexi gave her a smirk. “Your dessert is cancelled.”
“I might just swipe one from Liam.”
“For the rest of the week.”
Sara gasped. “You’re so mean.”
“Don’t provoke me, Ryder. I can break bones as much as I can mend them.” With an amused chuckle, Lexi turned her back, devoting her attention to the Angara again. Sara for her part smiled despite herself, then headed off to the loadout station to prepare for the upcoming mission. They’d soon arrive on Havarl and she really wanted to be at her best for it.
Someone had left his instant noodles box in the loadout, which made her quickly pick up her modifications and turn away in disgust, its awful smell still filling the room. While she was busy applying the barrel on her Valkyrie rifle very carefully, another call came into her comm.
“Ryder, it’s me.” The angara’s voice softly crackled in her ear, never had a call felt more pleasant.
“Oh, hey. Did you enjoy your check-up?” she asked. What did he have in mind?
“Enjoy is not what I’d call it”, he responded. “But it was an… interesting turnout. I’m grateful for your offer.”
“Pleasure,” she said, his words raised a smile from her.
“Anyway, I overheard your conversation in the med bay,” he began. “I don’t know which misdeed you committed to… deserve such a punishment, but I wanted to make an offer myself to you, to return the favour. You can gladly take my dessert - if you’d like.”
A little laugh escaped Sara’s throat at his proposal, feeling overwhelmed that he even considered it, even though she’d just talked him into having a medical physical, which wasn’t something to thank someone for, regarded from the outside.
“Thank you… I guess,” she said hesitantly, not sure what to say, when a thought arose in her mind; she suddenly remembered the few times her brother Scott had offered her something out of altruism, and it had never been without any reason.
“You don’t like it,” she exposed his hypocrisy.
He chuckled at her words, causing a soft crackle again that was like a song to her ear, and honey to her heart.
“To be honest, I don’t. It tastes awful.” She could hear the deep rumble of his angaran sub-voice, then he paused for a moment, and she immediately missed the sound of it.
His bluntness draw a laugh from her, his friendly offer had turned into a cheeky act, which was a nice change from everyday things. After all, he was only trying to be nice, there was no sign of flummery or expectations she needed to live up to.
What’s wrong with me? she started to wonder about herself.
“The reason for my punishment was a chocolate chip muffin that I ate. Lexi doesn’t approve of its calories, because we need to keep up our physical fitness, to express it in her words.”
“What is a… chocolate chip muffin?” He spoke the words carefully as if they had an interesting sound to them for him.
Sara chuckled to herself. “I still have one in my locker. I might be willing to share it, but I have two conditions: You’ll only get it if you join us for dinner someday.”
“And the second?,” his curiosity took the better of him.
“Don’t tell Lexi.”
A soft laugh of his ran through the comm, which was a delight to her heart, but the moment slowly faded away before she even had time to appreciate it, and in the blink of an eye, the heartwarming feeling was replaced by coldness, as his exterior froze again into an icy shell of caution and suspicion. Letting his guard down, even a little bit, was something he didn’t intend to do, but happened by accident when he didn’t pay enough attention to it, Sara realized.
“I… I should prepare for the mission. When we arrive at Havarl, I’ll send you the navpoint of Daar Pelaav. That’s where the Moshae’s team should be. I’ll meet you at the airlock as soon as I’m ready.” After that, the comm went silent, leaving her to herself all of a sudden, and emptiness filled her heart.
Yet, Sara had to smile again. At least now she’d found a way to melt some of the ice he was hiding himself in. Because he was a curious little shit, like she was, too.
Of course he could try to retreat into his shell, but could he also resist?
I just want to say I really like Peebee, she's so bubbly and careless that she's probably the only character to which Sara looks really professional compared to. But what happens when two people like the same person? Ususally nothing good's gonna come out of that.
Chapter 5: Back Home
“Ryder has seen a vault and apparently reset it. Or so she says.”
Update 06/29/2017: Changes and improvements have been made, and again many thanks to "magnificent"!
Song: Sia – Never Give Up
Up until this moment, Sara had thought that Aya had been the most beautiful planet she’d ever seen in her life, but the sight of Havarl was so very gorgeous that she changed her mind immediately. During the landing, Jaal had told her about wild animals that roamed in the planet’s untamed jungle, so dangerous that they were even a threat to the local residents. Yet the most outstanding aspects of its uniqueness were the huge luminal trees which were spread out across the entire landscape and lit up the night like blue-burning torches.
Standing on the landing platform, the clouded sky above enchanted them with a splendid display of colors, ranging from purple and blue to a crimson line on the horizon, making it look like an ocean that was set ablaze.
“Daar Pelaav used to be an angaran town. Now look what’s left of it.” Jaal’s words rumbled grimly through the overgrown landscape beneath them.
“It’s stunning,” Sara whispered, not able to take her eyes off the beautiful scenery, then suddenly felt ashamed as she realized that her statement hadn’t been quite appropriate to his remark, but he didn’t seem to take umbrage at her words.
“It is,” he simply replied.
“I give you that,” Drack agreed as he took in the view of Havarl’s endless jungle. Sara was glad she’d asked him to come along. Hopefully, having an experienced krogan warrior by her side at the upcoming mission would give her the courage she needed but couldn’t muster up by herself. In the far distance, they could hear the howl of an ancient creature echoing through the treetops of the rainy forest, singing its gloomy song of misery and long forgotten battles.
“Come, the research center is up ahead,” Jaal said then, so they made their way along the landing stage.
The angara hadn’t exaggerated; at the end of the docks, the only thing Sara could spot were a bunch of common houses that looked nothing like a town, or at any rate, only a dilapidated one. The buildings looked shabby and were poorly maintained, their facades tinted green from being overgrown by plants. Let alone the fact that the glass on the windows had been extraordinarily neglected, dirt covering them.
Inside the research center’s main building, the light was dimmed, and most appliances seemed to be either obsolete or not repaired for quite some time. A female Angara with bright blue eyes and skin of soft pastel colors turned around to face them, obviously disturbed by the unexpected, or unwanted, visitors.
“Jaal! What are you doing here, in the company of these… people?” Sara had an immediate feeling of hostility against her when the female laid eyes on her.
“It’s good to see you, Kiiran.” The angaras touched each other’s right shoulder with the back of one hand, a gesture that Sara believed it to be some sort of greeting ritual.
“This is Pathfinder Ryder, from a long way away,” Jaal introduced her, and Sara nodded in assent, before he spoke on. “Ryder, Kiiran Dals, lead scientist at Daar Pelaav.”
“I’m honored to meet you,” Sara said. “I have to say Havarl is beautiful.”
“Havarl’s beauty is the least of my problems right now," Kiiran responded snappishly. Obviously, she made no secret of her distrust of strangers.
“Where’s the rest of the Moshae’s team?" Jaal asked, slightly confused. “Ryder has experience with Remnant. We might be able to help their investigations.”
Finally, Kiiran averted her gaze from Sara and Drack and instead looked at Jaal in surprise. “You haven’t heard? While the team was exploring a Remnant structure, something went terribly wrong. They were caught in some kind of Remnant stasis field. It’s like they’re frozen in time, nothing will wake them – stimulants, loud noises... They show no reaction at all.”
“Those Remnant stuff gets worse and worse," Drack mumbled to himself. “I’ve seen a lot of shit, lots of extraterrestrial intelligence. Some things better be left alone and buried in the ground.”
“If they’re trapped, perhaps I could help?" Sara offered. “As Jaal said, I know how to work Remnant tech.”
“Do you?" Kiiran eyed her suspiciously.
“Ryder has seen a vault and apparently reset it," Jaal quickly explained, then darted an undefinable glance at her. “Or so she says.”
Sara gave him an angry look, and she had a feeling that he could sense her displeasure.
“I don’t know about this.” Kiiran sounded worried, fear and concern suddenly covering her face. “Jaal. It’s risky letting a stranger wander about Havarl. You know the dangers.”
“I’ll accompany her," he tried to soothe her, blowing away her worries with his calm and gentle voice. “I’ll make sure we’ll avoid all possible dangers, and cause no further trouble.”
Kiiran sighed at his words, but eventually gave in. “If you think the alien can help, I’ll set skepticism aside. The Remnant structure is not far from here. See what you can do. But be careful. We don’t know what triggered the stasis, and it may happen again.”
“We’ll find a way to help them, Kiiran. I promise," Jaal assured, sounding completely confident.
Sara nodded in approval. “I second that. But we should get going before the sun sets.”
Kiiran turned her eyes on Sara once more, and surprisingly, her facial traits seemed to have softened. Angaran gesticulation was so expressive, Sara figured, that it was easy to drown in all the details that revealed their emotions, and hard not to get lost in them.
“I’ll wait for your return, Pathfinder Ryder. Until then, stars be bright for you.”
Havarl’s jungle was indeed impenetrable. Liana-like plants creeped their way around the remains of buildings that hadn’t sunk in the mire yet, and Sara had to use her omni-blade to cut through the weeds if she wanted to make any progress at all, even if it was slow.
Drack was about to lose his temper, as he furiously stabbed through the brush with his dagger, followed closely by Jaal, until they finally found a path that wasn’t ranked with weeds.
“You’re… much larger than the other Milky Way species, Drack," the Angara suddenly stated, but he was kind of right; even his massive body shape paled compared to the big hulk of a krogan.
“You’d think that would help," Drack said grimly. “Now take a look at those squishy humans.” He pointed at Sara. “Their skin is so thin I still wonder how they keep the water in. And yet, when the Council made first contact with them, they welcomed them with open arms. Now, guess what my people got? The genophage and a god damn statue!”
“At least we didn’t try to conquer the whole galaxy, old man," Sara retorted. “Multiple. Times.”
“Mmh. How old are you, Drack?” Jaal’s curiosity was aroused.
“Too old," the Krogan grunted, then he continued to chop the dense scrub with his dagger like a harvester, cutting more intensely than he’d done before.
“I don’t understand." Jaal didn’t give up. “Why would anyone near the end of their life take a chance joining the Initiative?”
“Why would anyone at the start of theirs join up with strangers like us?" Drack replied defiantly. “Besides, who says I’m dying?”
“I… don’t think I said that.”
Sara sighed at the prospect of an upcoming argument.
“You did.” The krogan kept a stiff upper lip.
“I’m certain I didn’t," Jaal insisted continuously.
“Now you’re saying I’m deaf?” This could get nasty if Drack started to feel provoked, Sara realized.
Jaal moaned softly, admitting his defeat. “Ryder?”
She smirked despite herself. “Nope. Not getting involved.”
Drack laughed, having a fine old time. “Hey, you’re not wrong Jaal. I am old, but I got a lot of livin’ left.”
Despite the conversation, Sara paused for a moment to stare into the distance. She still couldn’t spot the Remnant structure, and the sky was colored red by now due to the setting sun. The time that they would reach the scientists was probably at the dead of night.
“I am dying though.” Drack suddenly said and ripped Sara out of her thoughts.
Jaal coughed, caught by complete surprise. “Sorry?”
“I’ve lived a long time, seen a lot of things.” The Krogan cast down his eyes, his deeply-rumbling voice filled with melancholy. “I know I won’t see much more. Guess I just wanted to go out see what no Krogan ever has.”
“Shut your big mouth, old man," Sara replied, sounding rudely at first, but she wanted his thoughts to stop going around in circles. She spurted to catch up with them, patting him on the back. “You’re not going to die. Who else is going to save my ass out here then? You’re not seriously expecting me to find my way back to the ship all by myself, do you?”
“Your ass?” Jaal curiously stretched the word as if he had no idea what to think of it.
“Yep. Most important part of my body,” Sara said with a smirk.
“Ahaha!” Drack’s laughter woke the jungle so that bird-like creatures hastily flew off the huge glowing trees, and Sara joined in with a giggle.
Jaal, on the other hand looked at him in sympathy, as if he sensed something she couldn’t, but whatever it was, he kept it to himself.
Then he paused for a moment, pricking up his ears at a noise, and suddenly tapped Sara at her shoulder and pushed her down with him, hiding in the undergrowth.
“I… heard something," he whispered.
“Me too." Drack had hunched up next to them with his shotgun drawn. “Voices,” he added cryptically.
A moment later they heard rustling, then footsteps. Their purple and blue skins were hard to spot in the low sun’s twilight, but Sara saw them eventually.
“Roekaar.” Jaal growled. “Angaran fanatics that hate aliens - that means you.”
She counted three, no, four, of them in the distance, accompanied by two dog-like animals that had spikes on their backs and teeth just as sharp. Adhi, their name came to her mind.
“We should lay low and let them pass," Jaal advised, following them with his gaze as they looked around, about to head into another direction.
“Looks like they’re ignoring us,” Sara spoke under her breath.
All of a sudden, one of the adhi started to bark, turning his snarling mouth right to their hideout.
“Or, not," was the last thing she heard Drack say, then he emerged from their hiding place and charged them in fury.
Shit. Sara and Jaal jumped up simultaneously, drawing their weapons, while Jaal also triggered the tool on his arm, activating a cloaking device that made him go invisible, and nothing but a blurry, translucent outline betrayed his position.
Sara quickly took cover behind one of the many trees, making sure her weapon was loaded, then started to fire back. A little further away, she could see that Drack had caught up with the Roekaar and bashed one of them with his head plate. Abruptly, her shield broke down by the enemy fire, and she already had to hide in cover again, as a bullet hit in the tree bark, right next to her face. She had to wait a few seconds until her shield would recover, meanwhile picking a target and starting to fire at him while still in hiding. She could see him fall to the ground, screaming in pain, and at the same time, Jaal broke out of his camouflage, giving him the deathblow with a headshot, before he disappeared once more.
When Sara had emptied her clip, she got down on her knees, about to reload her weapon, but her hands kept shaking, clumsy from the unfamiliarity of the gun. Then, a growl appeared next to her, and even before she had a chance to look up and see what had caused it, she appealed to the baser human instincts and activated her jumpjet. It was a narrow miss; Sara managed to evade the incoming attack, so only a blast of air brushed her face when the adhi missed her, and instead bit at nothing.
The evasion had taken her a fair way off from the creature, but the adhi already fixated on her again and turned around to attack. Sara fumbled with her assault rifle, realizing the magazine hadn’t kicked in yet – it was useless. In a split second, the adhi barked and jumped her with bared teeth, when Sara dropped the rifle and instead pulled her pistol from her waist belt, shooting. Unfortunately, the penetration was too weak to do any serious damage that would have stopped the creature. Holding her arm up to protect herself, the adhi’s teeth digged into the orange substance of her omni-tool, the blow throwing her off her feet. The next thing she knew, Jaal had arisen from nothingness and thrust his knife in the creature’s skull. While the vital essence vanished from the adhi’s body, its grip slowly loosened around her arm, then released her, its dead body dropping to the ground. Suddenly, it had become very quiet, the only sound she heard was the racing of her heartbeat.
“You’re a passionate fighter.” Jaal reached his hand out to Sara. His grip was firm, but also tender, as he pulled her up. Standing so close to him, Sara shyly looked away.
“Ha, where did you learn to fight, Jaal? What’s your training?” Drack had approached them in the meanwhile, sounding impressed.
“From my father,” Jaal explained. “And older brothers… sisters… cousins. My mothers. The resistance isn’t an army. It’s more than that.”
“You should let SAM teach you some biotics though, kid,” Drack advised her. "Like your dad used to.
“Biotics? Like Cora and Peebee?” The subject had attracted his attention.
“I know," she said defensively. “Don’t bother, I won’t.”
“Why?" the Angara asked in confusion. “It seems like a useful tool.”
“I… my mother wouldn’t approve," was all she said.
Drack gave a disappointed groan, but remained silent and shouldered his shotgun instead.
“I understand," were Jaal’s appreciative words. “Family means a lot to my kind - it’s life.”
“Thank you. For the kill, I mean. It’s good to know we have each other’s back.”
“Depends on who you’re facing," Drack responded grimly as he kicked one of the bodies with his foot to check if he was really dead, and Sara suddenly realized what the krogan was talking about.
They were not only Roekaar, but also Angara.
“Are you… mad?" she asked worried, meeting Jaal’s gaze to look for signs of anger on his face. “They are… your people after all.”
“They attacked first," he replied calmly. “We had to defend ourselves. Besides, I don’t agree much on their… cause.”
Sara was relieved. They moved along, leaving the bodies behind. It was getting dark by now.
“We didn’t pay them much attention," he spoke on, “because they are fighting the Kett, too, but now that you’re here… I assume you’ll have to deal with them – sooner or later.”
It didn’t take much longer until they could spot the Remnant structure, and in the middle of it, close to a console, there were Angara surrounded by a stasis field.
Jaal gasped. “The scientists… we found them."
Sara nodded in agreement. “Exactly where Kiiran said they would be.”
They quickly inspected the place, but there was not much to figure out; somehow the Remnant console in between them must have activated while the scientists had investigated the structure, probably as some kind of defense system.
“SAM, can you deactivate it?”
He responded immediately, so everyone could hear him. “Pathfinder, I collected the relevant data to give an impulse that should break the stasis field as soon as you activate the console.”
“Great.” Sara did as he’d told her and used the Remnant tech like she’d done it on Eos before. A familiar energy warmed the palm of her hand and the environment around her started to look fuzzy and skewed. Memories of her childhood began to flood her mind, and for a brief moment, the whole galaxy appeared like a newborn baby to her, perfectly peaceful and completely innocent. Then the moment vanished as the energy disappeared, and left an empty spot in her soul.
“- reading off the monitors and -” The scientists had unfrozen, looking around in confusion. “Skkutt! Skkutting stars! What? Who are… How did…”
“I’m Pathfinder Ryder, with the Initiative," Sara said to the Angara. “I’m… from another galaxy. Take a moment, find your bearings.”
The scientist clearly was all in a fluster. “More aliens? Out of nowhere… and Jaal?”
“Do none of you remember getting frozen?" Jaal asked.
“Frozen? I don’t understand.” He obviously didn’t. “We were just working at the Remnant structure, and then… then you appeared.”
“We should return them to the station," Jaal said to Sara. “They don’t seem in good shape to walk there on their own.”
“Yeah, especially in the dark," Sara agreed.
“Maybe you’re right. I feel a head splitter coming on.” The scientist rubbed his forehead.
On their way back to the station, for once in her lifetime Sara was glad to be a research specialist. While they’d searched for the scientists, she’d noticed a lot of small details with regard to the environment; there weren’t only exotic plants and animals to spot in the wilds, but also abandoned ruins that were buried partly into the ground. A long time ago, this place had been a home to the Angara, even if its existence had been lost to the history books. Havarl’s jungle was very fascinating, and by paying a lot attention to it, it helped her find a path back to the research station.
“This… SAM of yours," Jaal started while they made their way through the underbrush, “in your head. How is it allowing you to interface with Remnant?”
“SAM helps with analysis and translation, among other things. It’s… complicated.”
“But why is he… in your head?”
“It’s… a long story. My father kinda talked us into this," she tried to explain, but didn’t want to go into details, as it was a sensitive subject for her. “He invented SAM, because he saw the… potential an AI offers. I got my implant right before we went to cryo sleep, so I didn’t have much time to… adapt to it yet.”
“And your biotics?" he inquired.
“I… had no training. But they might kick in, because my dad was never capable of them either until he received the implant. My mother on the other hand was a biotic.”
“I see… Thank you.” He must’ve sensed her reluctance, because he stopped nagging, and she quietly thanked him for it.
They could see the dimmed light inside the buildings when they reached the research station. Back inside, the scientists could finally rest, still confused of their experience with the Remnant structure.
“I want to thank you for saving my team," Kiiran said. “I apologize for the indifferent welcome you received from me earlier.”
“After everything you’ve faced, I wouldn’t have blamed you if you shot at me.”
Hruuv, one of the scientists who was sitting in the back, chuckled at her words. “We’re all glad that didn’t happen.”
He stood up and approached them. “I’ve been thinking… If Ryder can use Remnant, couldn’t we fix the vault? Stop Havarl’s decline?”
“Havarl’s decline?" Sara asked curiously.
“It doesn’t look like it, but Havarl is sick," Kiiran explained to her. “There are uncontrolled mutations in organic life – cancer, corruption deformity. Things spring up, live, and then die in a matter of days. The jungle you see now is not the jungle that was two days ago. It will be different again in a week.”
“But everything looks so… alive.” She had a hard time believing it.
“Havarl doesn’t support life the way it used to," Kiiran insisted. “The planet’s ecosystem is crumbling, slowly but surely.”
“Ok, so, I have to go to the vault, reset it and voila?" Sara said impetuously.
“That is just the thing.” Hruuv sounded upset. “There is no vault. It’s lost.”
Now that were surprising news. “How do you lose an entire vault?”
“We don’t know much, but there could be something in the oral history. We never tried asking the sages.”
“Sages? Oral history?” It was starting to get on top of Sara, their story seemed so incredible. “I thought you were a scientist.”
“When I was small," Hruuv began, “I overheard a story the sages tell, of a man who lived through the Scourge. This man understood Remnant. Like you.”
“So, you think they might know the location of the vault?”
“You don’t seriously believe this, do you?" Drack scouted the idea. “We don’t have time to chase after rumors.”
“Ryder, this is my home.” Jaal spoke to her with a pleading look on his face. “I don’t want to force you into this, and we don’t know if there is a way at all, but I feel… Ryder, we can’t miss this opportunity.”
She met his gaze. His eyes were on her, his ocean full of stars; it was the same way Earth looked from space, the same shade of blue she’d seen so many times but she would never see again. He reminded her of… home.
“I guess there is no harm in trying," Sara gave in. “Where are those sages?”
“On Mithrava, that old Remnant edifice over there.” Kiiraan pointed outside the window to the huge hill in the far distance. “The sages believe isolation will maintain the purity of their histories, by preventing contamination by modern thought. Most of us don’t attempt to trek up Mithrava… but maybe you could do it.”
“We will," Jaal said. “And thank you, Ryder.”
Chapter 6: Healing Wounds
“Back in my days, it was all about surviving. Now, it's all about dying for a reason. For a good cause. As if someone needed a reason to die.”
Update 07/06/2017: Changes and improvements have been made, and again many thanks to "magnificent"!
Hope you like it. :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Song: Derek Pope - Pool
It started to rain.
Nevertheless they decided not to have a day of rest, and instead left the research center right away to make their way to Mithrava, the highest hill far and wide to be seen, and maybe even the highest on the whole continent. At first, they trudged through deep mud, and for every step they took, Sara was just glad to be able to continue, and not get swallowed by the swamps.
Then the terrain got steeper, and rocks started to replace the mire, while more and more green-glowing Remnant glyphs took over the tree’s blue light, leading the way up to Mithrava.
“Careful guys, it’s going to be slippery,” Sara said when the rain intensified. She’d been upfront, following the Remnant’s green glow like a real Pathfinder, while Drack and Jaal had been chit-chatting the whole time.
“You’re from clan Nakmor,” Jaal continued their ongoing conversation. “Did you choose it? Or were you born into it?”
“I chose it,” Drack explained, and a thousand-year-old memory flashed before his eyes. “The shaman of the clan was strong and the Cradic Wastes were beautiful.”
“And you had a rite of passage?”
Drack chuckled. “There wasn’t so much a rite of passage as a death trip. I survived. Now I’m Nakmor Drack.” He paused for a moment, lost in thought, and Sara found it to be something very special for a krogan to have such a reflective nature. “Back in my days, it was all about surviving. Now, it's all about dying for a reason. For a good cause. As if someone needed a reason to die.”
They went silent and climbed up the mountain bit by bit, trying to find their foot on the wet stones and the Remnant structures.
“What was your rite of passage?” Drack came back to the question again.
“I… fell in love when I was a young man – very young.” Jaal spoke with such an oppressive sounding voice, it made Sara pause and turn her head to look at him, highly perplexed. “We met on a farm on Aya. She was… brilliant and her eyes were… electric. For years, I suffered with a broken heart.”
Because he’d remained tight-lipped since the moment he’d joined them, his words appeared to be so pure and honest they completely overwhelmed her, and she felt as if a cold wave hit her and casted her ashore.
“Mmh,” Drack hummed. “I understand completely.”
“How come?” Jaal’s curiosity was aroused. “Did someone break… your heart?”
“Hearts. Krogan have four. And I’m not saying shit.”
Sara took her eyes off him to stare into the distance, trying to break the spell his voice was casting on her. The view from there was even more stunning than she’d expected; it was in the middle of the night and the blue and green lights of the Remnant and the trees gave an overwhelming interplay of colors. Nevertheless they still had to climb up half the hill, and by the time they would reach the top, they probably were too exhausted to continue, or whatever they had to do up there. However, it probably wasn’t the best time to rave about her companion’s sad love story. And yet, she wondered why he’d opened up all of a sudden. Maybe it was because this was the angaran home world, and he felt at ease here? That had to be it.
“And you, Ryder?” Jaal’s voice ripped her out of her thoughts, sounding pretty close all of a sudden. How long had she been pausing? “What was your rite of passage?”
“She’s a girl,” Drack stated as if there was nothing else that needed to be said.
“You mean, besides, traveling 600 years to a new galaxy?” she replied boldly while she hastily continued to climb up. “Not to forget, replacing my dad as a Pathfinder and being responsible for thousands of lives? I don’t think I’ve had one.”
“As I said,” Drack growled, amused by her sarcasm.
“Mmh. Sounds enough to me,” the angara said admirably.
When Sara pulled herself up at another edge, she spotted the entrance of a cave, or, at least some kind of unnatural passage that led deep into the mountain. When she approached it carefully, she could see a light source at the end of the tunnel, bringing a cool brightness into the darkness.
It was a gravity well.
“Finally,” she said relieved, while the angara and the krogan straightened up next to her after the climb.
“You think it’s the entrance to the vault?” Jaal asked, clearly excited.
“I don’t think so, not yet at least,” she assumed. “But I think it’s our ticket to the top.”
“Would be too simple otherwise,” Drack agreed with her.
“How is... this... supposed to bring us to the top?” Jaal crooked his head, cocked an eyebrow and looked at it askance.
“I wonder the same.” The Krogan suspiciously eyed the the glowing core that floated in front of them in the air.
A mischievous smile played around the corners of Sara’s mouth. “Oh right. I forgot you two missed the show in the vault on Eos. Well, then you are going to enjoy this.”
She stepped up to the gravity well and put the palm of her hand on its outside bowl. In immediate response, the glow intensified, illuminating the cave like a single star on the otherwise dark night sky. She could feel the energy floating her body, shifting the gravity and lifting her up like an angel ascending into heaven. Even though she’d used a well before, it was still an exciting experience, and this time she was even more eager to see the effects, because this time she got to see Jaal’s reaction.
“This is… impressive.” Jaal was full of admiration as they hovered through the tunnel with constant velocity, and his delight brought a smile to her lips.
When they rose to the surface, they suddenly found themselves standing in the middle of a camp. Apparently, the place was inhabited by angara whose faces were covered by unfamiliar white paintings she hadn’t seen anywhere before, sitting around bonfires and tents, and statues of their ancestors reached towards the clouded sky. The smell of burning wood and smoked fish hung over everything, and the fires blazing all around them lightened the sky like torches in the dark.
“You bypassed our security. How is that possible? An alien?” The sudden words ripped her out of her thoughts, and an angara with pale purple skin dressed in white pants and tunika approached them. He didn’t seem very pleased to receive the unexpected visitors.
“I’m Sara Ryder,” she introduced herself. “From the Initiative from… another galaxy. These are my companions, Nakmor Drack and Jaal Ama Darav.”
“I’m First Sage Esmus,” he returned the greeting. “I don’t know why or how you’re able to use Remnant. But it doesn’t matter. You must leave – we don’t entertain guests here.” The cautionary tone in his voice underlined how serious the situation was.
“I shouldn’t have mentioned I’m from another galaxy, should I?” Sara joked, then sighed at her obvious fail as he remained still. “Havarl is in decline. I came here to fix it if you can tell me where the entrance to the vault is.”
He suspiciously eyed her up and down before he replied. “Why do you seek to enter the vault?”
“I can reset it. Stop Havarl’s decline.”
“With Ryder’s help, Havarl could be healed,” Jaal backed her. “Our birthplace restored. Isn’t that worth something?”
Deep in thought, Esmus shook his head unconsciously. “Even if we wanted to, the memory to enter the vault is lost to us. On Mithrava, we have accepted Havarl’s eventual ruin.”
“You’re just giving up on your planet? Don’t you want to save it?” Sara asked with disbelief.
Why did he not want to give it a try?
“You don’t understand,” the First Sage insisted. “There is no way to enter it. The entrance is right here, but no one remembers how to access it.”
Sara’s eyes widened. Their goal was so close and yet so far away. “Please, can you show me what you mean? I might still be able to help.”
He waved the idea aside without even suggesting it. “I won’t let a stranger walk our holy place to prove an inevitable loss. It is better you leave now.” As if nothing more needed to be said, he turned around, about to leave.
“With due respect.” Jaal stepped up to him. “Against all odds, there might be a way to stop Havarl’s decline. Even if it is only a small chance, we should take it and not let it pass. I promise we will leave this place and not return, if we prove to be unsuccessful.” He paused and threw a glance at Sara. “Let Ryder take a look. I vouch for her with my family’s name if this is what it takes.”
Esmus had stopped at Jaal’s words, frozen in motion, then he slowly faced her companion, a glazed look in his eyes. “You better be certain of the things you vouch for.”
“I am dead certain,” Jaal assured with no hesitation, at which Sara’s heart skipped a beat.
The sage sighed, but finally gave in. “Alright. I’ll show you what I mean, as long as you leave as soon as you understand that this is an impossible task.”
Esmus walked straight ahead, followed closely by the three companions. It was only a minute later that they stopped again, when they stood at the feet of the vault’s entrance, or better, the roof of it, as it was buried in the ground, obviously out of anyone’s reach.
“Damn it,” Sara cursed under her breath. She was deeply disappointed, and so were her comrades, especially Jaal. They’d spend so much time with trekking and climbing, and now they were standing right in front of their destination, but there was no way to go any further. Suddenly, Esmus’ words made perfect sense, and now she felt like a fool to have questioned the sage’s reasons to give up on the vault.
The vault was lost indeed, and so was the hope that Havarl’s decline could ever be healed.
Until a thought struck her all of a sudden.
“SAM, can you scan the environment? See if you find anything?”
“There’s a high-energy anomaly nearby, but its connection is interrupted. I can can provide a fix of the problem if I use my processor to update the core’s protocol. Nevertheless, the impact of a reconnection stay unknown to me, and there is the possibility that access to the vault is still denied.”
“Do it,” she ordered him, a ray of hope had awoken in her again.
A sudden vibration filled the air, as if someone had turned on a generator, and the ground under their feet began to shake, just like an earthquake. Then out of nowhere, two Remnant pillars with crystal-like orbs on top of them sprang up as well as a Remnant console.
Nobody said anything, as they were too stunned by the spectacle, and instead their eyes followed Sara as she approached the console. When she touched its panel, a lightning bolt fired from there to the spot on the ground where the entrance of the Remnant structure laid, and the ground groaned and creaked beneath them under the extraterrestrial power that arose the vault from its underground prison. In the blink of an eye, there was nothing standing between them and their goal anymore, except the fascination and fear of the unknown.
“What kind of shit is that,” Drack complained when they got out of the vault. “Running from an energy cloud? That’s not a fight – it’s embarrassing.”
“At least we made it,” Sara countered, very amused. “And we’re just in time for a beautiful sunset.”
Inside the vault, she hadn’t realized how fast time had passed. When they’d entered the vault, it had been in the middle of the night, raining. Now the rain had long time passed, the dark clouds disappeared, and the sun was about to set, shining down on the blazing bonfires and the luminal trees. How many hours, or, perhaps days, had they spent in there, without taking a nap or a break for lunch? But however, Sara was proud of their accomplishments, and while far from being conceited, she felt quite complacent.
They’d made it against all odds. Havarl’s decline was healed, and now the planet could recover from its sickness.
“I have…never been up here before, to enjoy the view,” Jaal whispered and stepped out into the open of the mountain peak, watching the sun slowly go down with all its melancholy splendor behind the sylvan horizon, as the colors of the sunset painted the sky.
Sara came besides him, and together, they admired the breathtaking scenery. It was only now that she realized how fatigued she felt; the mission had completely exhausted her.
“Ryder.” The familiar manner in which he spoke her name sent a warm shiver down her spine. “What you have done here, your Remnant understanding and SAM, shows that you spoke the truth. You faced the challenges and proved yourself worthy. All in all, it should convince Evfra that you’re a valuable asset.”
“Welcome to the Pathfinder team, that’s what we do,” joked Sara, drawing him a contented smile. “Thank you for convincing Esmus,” she quickly added. “Without you, we couldn’t have done it.”
He looked her straight in the eye, his caution towards her had gone down with the sun. “When I said I could kill you in your sleep,” he said gently. “I meant it, back then. But not anymore.”
“Glad to hear that.” She really was. “So, can I tell SAM to stop locking my door every night from now on? Does that mean we’ve become friends?”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” he said haughtily, but his grin betrayed his true intentions.
Sara chuckled, looking back at the sunset. “Your loss.”
Strangely, if she was honest with herself, she found the friendly teasing and honest conversations with him thrilling and endearing, because their relationship was pure and simple like a safe harbour where she could stay true to herself, a feeling no one else could give her in a world full of expectations to live up to.
“It doesn’t reveal at first sight,” he continued. “But… there’s something special about you.” His voice had changed to a steady, soft tone, and his gaze lingered on her as if he was searching for something specifically, taking in her image, her dark blonde hair, her blue eyes, her slightly tanned skin. His calm but intense contemplation of her made her heart hit like a drum, and her hands felt sweaty, but she wasn’t quite sure why she reacted this way.
“You’re going to do something important, Ryder. I feel it.”
No one wants to read how they activate a monolith just to activate a vault afterwards, amirite? So, I just pretend the monoliths don't exist at all.
Chapter 7: Sweet Dreams
“You sure he can eat it? And that you can, too, Sara?”
Update 07/14/2017: Changes and improvements have been made, and again many thanks to "magnificent"!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Song: The Weeknd – Earned It
Sara and Drack had already returned to the Tempest, enjoying a hot shower (or not, as for Drack) and a warm meal. Jaal, on the other hand, had a mission of his own, as he was eager to make a detour to the research station and tell Kiiran the good news about Havarl’s decline, if she hadn’t noticed the changes herself already. From now on, the planet was able to heal, and Sara wondered how it would look like in a couple of years, and if its beauty could be one day even more astonishing than it already was.
Lexi had done a quick check-up on them, especially on old Drack. She hadn’t been very pleased with his recent health results, and therefore requested Sara not to take him on too many exhausting missions in the future. At the same time, she made it pretty clear that Sara was supposed to keep her mouth shut about the doctor’s request. Knowing Drack, he would take it as an insult of his age and his fighting skills, but Lexi’s true motives didn’t mean any harm; instead she was worried sick about him, more than about anyone else, while at the same time she didn’t want him to know that she felt this way for him. Their relationship is kind of adorable, Sara thought. The doctor’s devotion to her work and her secret adoration of the krogan, one she would never confess, were admirable, but Sara could comprehend the reason why Lexi made sure to suppress her feelings. And if she was honest, the asari wasn’t all that wrong. In the middle of an ongoing war, it was neither the right time nor the right place to fall in love, especially since they didn’t have enough colonies to settle yet. But even ignoring the fact that they lived in uncertain times, they still were a mismatched pair that wouldn’t put their love and affection before their other duties.
After taking a shower, Sara had gone straight to bed to catch up on sleep and hence woke up when it was already late in the evening. Feeling a little dizzy, her sense of time was completely lost due to their long stay in Havarl’s vault, but that wasn’t the only reason; leaving and landing on planets, floating through space and moving at a speed of superluminal velocity constantly forced them to change time zones and quickly adapt to the jet lag. Sometimes, she’d gone to sleep when a bright star was shining through her quarter’s window, or woken up in the infinite and dark vastness of outer space where only the artificial light of the Tempest feigned daylight. It was one of the many burdens that came with the life of a space traveller.
Sara wondered how to get the most benefit from her remaining time during the day. If she stood up and started right away, she still had plenty of time to file some reports that were more than overdue, and Tann wasn’t known for tolerating delayed submissions.
At least, theoretically. Practically, he didn’t really have a choice anyway, and thinking about it, the salarian wasn’t known for severe punishment either.
Sara tied her hair back in a braid and quickly put on her favorite sweater and pants as well as applied some mascara on her lashes. After trudging through mud and climbing up steep cliffs, followed by exploring the ancient interior of a vault, she really felt the need to dress up to remind herself that she was still a woman, and not a soulless machine.
“SAM, is Jaal back from Havarl?” she asked him coincidently.
‘Yes, Pathfinder. Mr. Ama Darav has returned to the ship and has reported to Dr. T’Perro.’
“Glad to hear.” A smile curled her lips, then she applied the finishing touch and put the mascara back in the top drawer of her bedside table. “Any other news, SAM?”
‘You have new emails at your terminal, Pathfinder.’ His voice echoed like a hollow in her mind.
“I have to say, I have a hard time keeping up on them. I quickly checked them before landing, but not since then.” Sara hurried to her terminal and opened the mailbox with a single touch of the screen. “Fuck,” she cursed. “I can’t believe there are so many of them already again. I’m like days behind on catching up on them! Screw this, SAM, can’t you autoreply them for me or something?”
‘I can try to assist by adapting to your writing style, but the result may not be satisfactory, as I am incapable of imitating your correctness issues.’
“The hell, SAM?”
But SAM was no one to comment his very unique deadpan humour, and instead changed the subject. ‘Also, Dr. Anwar is preparing dinner for tonight. She would be very pleased to see you join them.’
“Now that sounds like a great idea!” Sara blurted out and shut off the terminal. “The emails can wait.”
Radiant with joy, she headed off to the kitchen, already taken in by the smell of cooked vegetables that filled the corridor’s air.
“Hi everyone!” she greeted when she entered through the kitchen’s door. The humans had already gathered around the table by taking their usual seats and had started eating. This time even Peebee had attended their regular get-together and made everyone roll their eyes at her talking without full stops or commas.
“Welcome back, Sara.” Liam waved to her to come sit next to him, at which Cora turned around in her chair, obviously relieved to have a distraction from the asari’s constant chatting.
“Good to see you, Pathfinder.” Suvi and Gil gave her a warm smile.
“Ryder, I left you some food on the stove plate.” The redhead pointed at the kitchenette, and following her hint, Sara saw a still hot aluminium saucepan steaming dry on the plate. “Was hoping you’d join in.”
“Suvi, you’re the best! I’m starving.” Sara didn’t hesitate and instead helped herself to put some of the remains on a plate which she already had ready, then grabbed the cutlery and took a seat.
“Have you seen the results yet, Ryder?” The redhead immediately initiated conversation, because she’d already finished eating. “The readings of the planet went wild. It seems impossible, but whatever you did down there, it had a huge impact. Even the air content of nitrogen oxides and particulates has changed by now.”
“Well, but one thing is certain, you did an awesome job there, Sara.” Liam patted her back approvingly. “You didn’t only help the angara, but also fixed a vault. Wish I had known, I’d have come along for sure. You were gone all day long.”
“He’s right,” Cora agreed and nodded at her reassuringly. “Guess your dad wasn’t so wrong to choose you as our Pathfinder after all.”
“Yeah, yeah, blah blah, I get it, everybody is happy that we saved the planet while nobody cares that I didn’t even get to see the vault” Peebee bitched and moaned, waving her fork. “Can we go somewhere else now, pretty please with sugar on top? We’re stuck here since time immemorial!”
“Actually, it’s been two days,” Liam corrected her, rolling his eyes in annoyance. “So, don’t be so fussy!”
“Drack not up yet?” Sara asked as if the argument was none of her concern, while taking another spoon of Suvi’s stew.
“Old bones need to rest, ya know,” Gil explained. “He’s still sleeping in the crew quarters. I swear every time he exhales, the whole ship is shaking. I bet my boots most of the kett don’t get killed by his shotgun, but, because he gets so close, they faint to death by his bad breath instead.”
His words earned a laugh from everyone.
“Harsh. You better don’t tell Lexi or she will pierce you with one of her needles,” Cora said with a smirk.
Shortly after, the kitchen’s door opened when someone came in, and everyone’s head turned around to inspect the new entrant. Sara’s eyes widened when she couldn’t believe who it was.
Maybe, in reality, this is a dream and I’m still lying in my bed?
The one who had entered the kitchen was none other than Jaal.
“Good morning, Jaal,” she quickly greeted him as nobody said anything but stared in silence. “I hope you had sweet dreams?”
He looked as smooth as he always did, and unlike her, he showed no indication that he’d just had a hard of a time on the planet as she’d had. Instead, his eyes were full of life, wearing his monocle-like visor and an immaculate rofjinn, and he brought the scent of roses and lilies into the room as if he’d just returned from a field of flowers. Perhaps she was hallucinating after all, doubting her own senses.
“Isn’t it required to be sleeping to have dreams, which is unusual at this time of the day? I did not dream of anything… sweet. Is that another idiom?”
“Okay, Mr. ‘I’m perfect and you know it’ just came in!” joked Gil.
All eyes laid on Jaal at his words, and it seemed to unsettle him a little, carefully shifting his weight to his other foot. “Did I… interrupt you?”
“Oh no, not at all!” Suddenly voices of people spoke all at once, and the only thing the hodgepodge did was add to Jaal’s confusion, as he simply stood still on the spot like a rabbit frozen with fear.
“Do you want something to eat? Suvi made dinner!” was Liam’s pitiful attempt to break the ice, but caused no reaction from the Angara. In response, Suvi raised a hand as if she wanted to say something, then paused and instead slapped on an awkward smile.
“Can he eat our food at all?” Cora asked, the only mature mind left around the table.
“Can he eat it at all?”, Cora asked, the only mature mind left around the table.
“I really doubt he wants to eat that crap over there!” Peebee exclaimed, giving the stove plate a disgusted look, and successfully ignored Suvi’s stricken expression.
“Come on, her cooking skills are better than its reputation,” Sara defended Suvi.
“Famous last words,” Gil added with a grin.
A big laughter went through the group, except for Jaal who was still frozen on the spot, next to the kitchen entrance. He looked so lost and confused, Sara thought, and she could perfectly imagine that the only thoughts on Jaal’s mind were of a way to quickly escape the awkward situation he’d brought himself into, but like a hamster he was stuck in the cage once he’d jumped in.
“Come, have a seat!” Liam made a second attempt, then realized that all the seats were taken already, at which he stood up and moved the chair as a wordless invitation. “You can have mine, don’t worry. I can stand, I need to stretch my legs a little anyway.”
Jaal still didn’t move, and instead slowly lifted his hands. It was only now that Sara realized he was holding something - and her eyes widened in astonishment when she saw what it was.
He seemed to notice her reaction. “Thank you, but I already had dinner. I only wanted to… keep a promise.”
He approached the table, but hesitated to put down the dessert he’d been holding all the time, as if he needed to desperately cling to something. Now that he stood closer, Liam patted his shoulder in reassurance, then adjusted the chair once more and gently pushed the angara down to have him sit down. Jaal didn’t resist, even though he could have easily done so; but there was no way he’d walk out of this now anyway, and the hopeless expression on Jaal’s face as he realized it, made Sara smile from ear to ear.
Defeated, he let go of the dessert, slowly pulling his fused fingers away and putting them in his lap. The greenish looking pudding, which rested on the table, still wobbled back and forth.
“Jaal, we have to trade swear words some time,” Liam suggested now that the ice was broken, slapping the angara’s shoulder again to seal their new born friendship, or at least, from his point of view.
“A completely different tech base and you start there?” Gil gaped at him.
“You want to talk shop, talk shop. I need to know. It’s important. How else do you get to know each other?”
Cora sighed in disbelief, but unsurprisingly it was Peebee who took the bait. “Yeah, Gil, you’re right! We want to get to know each other. I have a few very special questions that are preoccupying my mind, if you know what I mean!”
“What is it about the promise you mentioned?” Suvi asked him curiously. “Has it something to do with the jelly you brought?” She pointed at the green pudding.
After a moment of being overwhelmed, Jaal finally found his words. “Ryder and I made a deal. We trade our favorite sweets and in exchange I join for dinner someday. As a start.”
Suvi was immediately well-disposed towards the concept. “Such a great idea! What did you trade it for, Sara?”
“Uhm…” Sara stumbled a little. “I might have been hiding chocolate chips muffins from Lexi, but got caught? Because I accidentally divulged the secret to her?”
“You didn’t,” Cora gasped.
“I thought she already knew! I only wanted to apologize.” A chuckle went through Sara. “I still have one of them hidden in my locker. Well, apparently not for much longer. I’ll go get it, because a Pathfinder keeps her promise, too!”
“Next time I need to keep a secret, I know who I’m not going to tell,” Cora said with a smile playing around her lips. Sara stood up from the table and went to leave for the loadout where her locker was located, but as soon as she’d gotten up, she caught out of the corner of her eye that everyone started bombarding Jaal with questions, and hearty laughs still resonated in the ship’s corridor as she left the kitchen. On the way, she met Vetra who came around the corner, carrying a still closed bottle in one hand.
“Hey, Ryder, sounds like something’s going on?”
“Yeah, we got a big party in the kitchen,” Sara explained with a twinkle in her eye. “Jaal joined the crew for dinner tonight, it’s adorable, really. You better don’t miss it, it would only be half as good without you anyway. I’ll be back in a second.”
Her mandibles distorted, exposing a smile as she waved the bottle in front of her. “Only good that I always know how to lift a party’s mood.”
While the turian headed off to the kitchen, Sara hurried to her locker. Just like everyone else she had her weapons stored in there as well as some random things, such as a datapad from Tann which she was never going to read anyway, a cuddly toy that looked like a panda she’d brought from the Citadel and had belonged to her mother, and last but not least some snacks which included, amongst other things, the ‘holy grail’ of a muffin.
Back in the kitchen, there was a huge discussion going on about the long lifespan of asari matriarchs, and Sara wondered how they’d gotten to that specific kind of topic, and she had a hunch who was to blame for it. In the meantime, Vetra opened the bottle she’d brought with her at the flip of a finger.
“There we go.” Sara placed the muffin on the table, right in front of Jaal so he could take a close look at it first, then took a seat again and sat back with satisfaction. But just like Jaal, everyone else also drew his attention to the dessert on the table, and so all eyes were back on him as he reached out for it.
“You sure he can eat it? And that you can, too, Sara?” Cora was slightly worried, and even though she was not a mother, she surely had a strong protective instinct. “I don’t want to lose another Pathfinder or a crewmate.”
“If I remember correctly, I think Lexi said he doesn’t need to bring a lot of food rations, because he’s able to eat ours just as fine?” It was Suvi again, but she seemed uncertain.
“She did indeed,” Jaal confirmed bluntly.
“She better did,” Cora added warningly. “If not, I don’t know how to explain this to Tann, or, heck, anyone.”
“That would make a terrible inscription on your tombstone for sure, Ryder.” The thought of Ryder dying by green pudding apparently didn’t affect Gil’s sarcastic humor, and raised a wry smile on Sara’s face.
“As long as he keeps his hands off my Blast-O’s, he should be fine,” Vetra said dryly while she poured the wine from the bottle into glasses.
It was awkwardly silent when Jaal lifted the muffin to his mouth, still inspecting it with the bright eyes of curiosity. When he was about to bite a piece off, Sara unconsciously mimicked the others and did nothing but stared at him, thinking she’d never seen anyone before that looked so precious when doing something as simple as eating, and while everyone held their breaths when he finally took the first bite, Sara exhaled slowly and fully.
“And?” she excitedly awaited his answer, even though he still chewed. “What do you think?”
Jaal took his sweet time, smacking and chomping, then finally swallowed loudly, before he replied. “Tastes… uhm… horrible.”
Sara had to try to hide her laughter, but the others seemed to quite enjoy the show, too. In the end, it didn’t matter what he had to say, because all she’d wanted to do was to melt down his icy exterior and introduce him to the crew. And all in all, she was convinced that she’d done a heck of a job, even though it was just too bad that she’d had to sacrifice her most delicious treat for it, but if she was truly honest, it had been definitely worth it.
“No more food trade then,” Cora prophesied with a chuckle.
“Yep, I have a better idea,” Vetra interjected and lifted one of the glasses with her three-fingered hand. “Now it’s time to drink! Cheers, to our Pathfinder, and a new home in Heleus!”
After they all had gotten some wine and emptied their glasses, everyone seemed to enjoy the rest of the evening. While most of them were quite busy talking to Jaal, Sara noticed that all the more time passed, the more they were comfortable with one another. Even though the angara didn’t understand their idioms most of the time, he didn’t seem to be offended when they laughed about it, nor did he feel humbled, and instead he found confidence in the way he could open up to them. Sara smiled. It was indeed a start, for all of them.
Whereas Jaal had no idea what to say to Suvi’s religious questions, he showed great interest in Gil’s discussion whether human and angaran technology was compatible, and at the end of the night, they both agreed to tinker around together with a kett construct down in the cargo bay the next day. Liam on his his side was more interested in cultural aspects, and most definitely excited about exchanging idioms, food and armor. The way they seemed to get along told Sara that this could be the beginning of a great friendship, because on the whole, they maintained the perfect balance between support and teasing, a combination she strived to further improve herself a lot, which perhaps was another reason she coped best with people like Liam and Jaal. Cora on the other hand tried to introduce the matter of biotics to Jaal, while at the same time kept asking about his bioelectricity. As it turned out, it was indeed a very interesting subject, because as different as both abilities seemed to be, they were actually quite similar to one another.
In the course of the evening, Vetra’s wine fulfilled its job, as people loosened their tongues, and started talking about private experiences they wouldn’t usually share, such as Cora spending her time with asari huntresses, Liam missing his family whenever he looked at their pictures, or Vetra still wondering about her father who went missing when she’d still been a kid.
And as was to be expected, Peebee started asking the inappropriate questions, squiffy as she was, and clinged to Jaal’s upper arm, after she’d tried to pull off his rofjinn. But to Sara’s surprise the angara wasn’t bothered at all, and instead treated her with sweet-tempered and forgiving behavior, like a child that had started crying and tugging at its mother’s clothes simply for the very reason to annoy her, but instead of getting mad, she would stay nice and kind.
Later on, Vetra and Sara chatted about Sid, the turian’s sister who had stayed on the Nexus, because Vetra didn’t want to put her in danger, and found the station to be the safest place for her so far. She was still young and reckless, two traits that Vetra associated with immaturity, and therefore made her think that Sid wasn’t ready yet to face the hazards that went hand in hand with their mission. But as expected, of course Sid completely disagreed with the opinion expressed by her sister.
Suvi was the first to go to sleep, but as soon as she did, it didn’t take long for the others to follow her example. Even Gil, who never seemed to sleep much and who was always up first in the morning, hit the pillow eventually, and at the end only Sara and Jaal were left sitting at the table, because they’d already caught up on sleep at daytime.
“It was about time that you met the crew,” Sara then said with a chuckle.
Her words raised a smile on his face, then he nodded at the dessert which was still standing on the table. “You don’t want it?”
“I’ll eat it later.” The thought of eating the green jelly creeped her out, but she didn’t want to disappoint him. “I’m just so full right now.”
He chuckled. “I see. So... you don’t like it either.”
His blunt words elicited a laugh from her. “It’s green, what did you expect? I guess we won’t be the new takeout mafia of Andromeda after all. And here I had hoped trading food was a lucrative business.”
“I’ll remember that next time you talk me into a physical again,” he countered.
His dry-witted humor made her laugh even harder, and its contagiousness drew a smile on his lips.
“You know, it was never about the dessert, right?” she explained. “After all, the day was truly magical, and everything I could have dreamt of. I hope you had as much fun as I had?”
“I did,” he assured her. “Thank you, it’s... kind of you to ask.” He paused, as if a thought struck his mind.
“Why did you decide to come to Heleus? What did you look for?”
Her smile slowly faded at the sudden change of topic, as she thought about his question. “To be honest, I don’t know what the decisive reason for coming here was, but… Well, we were searching for a new home, a new beginning.”
“No, I mean… you, personally,” he said carefully. “You had a home. A life. Family. What did you expect to find here, so far away from all of it? Did the… Milky Way… lack on something you couldn’t find anywhere there?”
“No, I had everything one could hope for. I… I don’t know, really.” Sara was confused by her own words. “Have you ever felt as if you miss out on something, but you don’t know what it is? Well, if you look at the facts, it was my dad who convinced us to join the Initiative. He always had… some very convincing arguments when he was obliged to a cause, and he knew how to persuade people to make them believe in his visions. All his life, he’d dreamed of a world where all species could live together in peace and harmony – not only on their home worlds, but as one united world. If there was a way that we could start over, we would create a world without segregation or corruption.” She gave a strained smile. “And this world was supposed to be Heleus for us. I know it is a silly dream, because I’m conscious that it would never come true. I’m sorry I can’t find a good answer for your question. I guess I will never know what I’m searching for until I find it.”
“You don’t have to apologize only because you speak your mind openly,” he said without an unkind word. “Never shut yourself off because you think that.”
“I know everything turned out differently than we expected,” she continued, a touch of sadness resonated in her voice. “The golden worlds we saw six hundred years ago are gone. But if you ask me if I would stay in Heleus, or if I would turn back time and go back home to Earth if I could? My answer will always be the same: I will stay.”
Her words touched him deeply, as it took him a moment to collect his words. “Your confidence is… inspiring. Even though I might not have made the same decision as you, I’m glad you did.”
“Is that a compliment?” Sara gave him a charming smile.
“It is.” His answer came as blunt and honest as they always did.
“No offense,” she said with a chuckle. “But I think my dad wouldn’t have liked you. He was not the diplomatic, emotional type. Being a leader and commanding people what to do was more of his calling. I have to say, he was kind of stubborn, often clashing with superiors, and even when they didn’t agree on creating SAM, he had his way after all.”
“It appears to me you have a lot in common,” he teased her and earned himself a raise of Sara’s eyebrows. “And what was your mother like?”
Thinking of her brought a sparkle to Sara’s eyes. “She was a scientist who researched prothean artifacts and developed software for artificial intelligence. She also invested a lot of her lifetime in studying biotics to improve her own abilities. She was completely committed to her research projects, heck, she even returned to her work right after childbirth.” It made her smile. “The only things she loved more than her job were my dad and her kids.”
Her thoughts drifted away for a moment, and even though she felt joy at the memory of her mother, she had to blink away a tear. There was no way she would allow herself to give in to her emotions since she had become the Pathfinder and still had to prove she could be a good leader, and especially because she feared her outburst of feelings might be an indication of weakness.
“What about your parents?” she returned the question to turn his attention away from her.
“My father is… gone.” He talked slowly, as if the memory was a fossil, deeply buried in his mind, and needed to be excavated first. “He was a technician at a mine. When I was a boy, he went to work and didn’t come home. He was taken - or killed - by the kett. We never found his body.”
“Oh, I’m… sorry about that, Jaal.” She wasn’t sure how to comfort him, or if he wanted comfort from an alien at all. “I understand. I just lost my dad.”
“Something in common between aliens, then. We are fatherless, yet we fight on.”
“And your mother?” she asked.
The thought of her brought a smile back to his face. “I have one true mother - Sahuna - and more than five additional mothers.”
“Really?” Sara gasped in disbelief. “How big is your family then?”
“I have many, many, many siblings and cousins all raised together. Our families constantly change and evolve. Relationships come, and they go. We like to live like this. We laugh together, cry together, fight and eat together.”
“I see,” Sara said with a chuckle. “Sounds like a huge diaper change party. We humans are more reserved in that way I guess – privacy plays an important role in our lives.” Then a thought came to her mind. “I assume you have a wife and children too, then? Don’t they miss you like hell when you’re gone for so long?”
“Me? No, I don’t.” He laughed as if it was weird someone would ask him that kind of question.
“So… you don’t have a mate?” she broached the subject again.
“I don’t,” he assured. “Not… for a long time.”
Sara couldn’t help but feel relieved, and a warmth brushed her heart. In fact it didn’t matter if he was in a relationship or not, did it? How could it be that she found it so appealing that he was single? After all, he was still an alien, and when they said ‘there are plenty of other fish in the sea’, it didn’t exactly include him, did it? Right?
“What about you?” he returned the question.
“I… don’t have a mate either,” she said. “Not since I joined the Initiative. I met someone a few years ago when I was assigned to protect a prothean excavation from a group of batarian pirates. It was only a fling, actually - to let off steam, so to say. We argued most of the time, because he tried to change me a lot, instead of accepting who I am and giving me the space I need. I soon realized that our relationship was not serious. Because I didn’t really love him. And I don’t think he truly loved me either.”
“Why do you think that?” he asked further, the subject had awoken his curiosity. “Because he did not want to come to Heleus with you?”
“No,” she muttered. “Because he could not make me stay. I never asked him to come with me.”
“Mmh, I see,” he murmured. “We angara prefer steadfastness in our relations. We usually don’t enter a relationship without mutual love. But, I can see it needs… both to feel that way, and… sometimes the eyes of love… make you blind.” He looked sad all of the sudden, his sorrow was drifting at her like the waves of a stormy ocean, frothing up her heart.
“I’m sorry.” She gave a faint smile. “Now I spoiled the good mood.”
“I told you, you don’t have to be sorry,” he soothed her gently, and his eyes sparkled at every of his words. “Actually, I’m glad you can be more open around me. I see you don’t allow your emotions clearly very often.”
Sara avoided his gaze, as she realized he must’ve eyed her more intensely than she’d thought he did, and obviously, his ocean-like eyes saw more than what laid on the surface.
“It’s kind of what happens to you when you try to be an asset for everyone,” was everything she could come up with. She knew he didn’t do well with idioms, but after all she knew of him so far, he was supposed to be very intelligent, and therefore would probably understand her message
She stood up from the table and grabbed the dessert. “I guess I should go to sleep. But not without taking my new precious present with me.” A broad smile covered her face. “Even though I won’t eat it.”
“So, I guess you will have... sweet dreams?” he said.
He really has a sharp mind, she thought. “Yes, Jaal. Sweet dreams.”
I'd eat anything as long as it makes Jaal happy. ;)
Chapter 8: Oozing Charm
“And what would you consider the best part of me?”
Song: Taylor Swift - 22
Sara had been filing reports for the rest of the night, only to find herself completely exhausted when day time started. She went to sleep for a few hours, way too few to feel any better, but just enough to make her feel like she overslept. There was only one thing in two galaxies that could make her feel better now.
They were drifting in the space of the Faroang system since they’d left Havarl, and the crew members were kind of concerned with their own interests.
When Sara went to check on the bridge first, Suvi had a somewhat swollen face, and she asked if it was because of Vetra’s liquor yesterday, but as it turned out, she had licked stones… as she used to sometimes… and confused one of them with a Heleus stone. Sara was just glad Lexi was too busy hauling Suvi over the coals than raging at Sara for her dangerous food trade yesterday. Kallo wasn’t all too happy to drift through space, especially since Gil had found new ways to get on his nerves, like by experimenting with the ship’s adjusted core algorithms.
Also, she really needed to get someone on the kitchen issue – they had way too less chairs and if she wanted the crew to grow to each other, everyone needed a seat at least.
Surely Vetra would have her ways. She gave the turian a quick call over the comm and made an arrangement with her, all she needed was the resources for the replicator, but since they did not plan on so many chairs, they’d have to rearrange them a bit, but it was nothing Vetra couldn't handle.
After that, Sara stood in the kitchen, quickly drinking her black coffee in while skimming through one of the datapads Cora had provided her for her recent tasks they’d received from the Nexus. Sara hoped they’d head for the station soon again, she hadn’t seen Scott in a while now…
Sara’s comm crackled softly when she heard a call come in. When she picked up, it was Liam.
“Hey Sara”, he said in a good mood. “I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s evening. Mind if we do stuff like that more often? I think it would really boost the crew's morale.”
“Morning, Kosta”, she said, then felt embarrassed when she checked the clock – it was 2:00 pm, she had completely lost her track of time. “Sounds like a good idea, I’m up for it. Did you have anything particular in mind?”
“Actually, I did”, he said full of excitement. “Was thinking about a movie night. If we can grab the right vids from the Nexus next time we’re there, I can arrange something. What do you say?”
“Sounds awesome”, Sara said. “Last time I joined a movie night we all wore pajamas too, and I had a really big crush on this high school dude…”
“That long ago?”, Liam chuckled. “I don’t think we’re ready for pajamas yet, I’m sure you’d look good in just anything though. But seriously, we’re not all girls. I know I won’t get any sympathy from you, but think about poor, old man Drack.”
Sara laughed. “I can wear a pajama whenever I want, and so can anyone else. Let’s scratch the high school dude though…”
“You’re the Pathfinder”, he said. “Instead of movie night, let’s just call it movie with superfluous pajamas but pathfinder wanted it anyways night.”
Sara had to laugh again. “Approved, Kosta, I’m looking forward to it.”
“Great. Like I said, let’s grab some vids once we’re on the Nexus. Alright. Don’t be a stranger, Sara.” The call went off.
Just when Sara finished her cup of coffee and put it in the sink, she could hear another call come in, and she picked it up immediately.
“Sorry”, it was Liam again. “I wanted to ask if you could help me adjust a piece of armor. I sent you an email with the components, I could really need it for a cultural exchange. Think you could spare some time?”
“Sure, Kosta, I’ll look into it as soon as I can.”
“Also, I forgot to mention Gil wanted to talk to you about the new core’s adjustment as soon as you got time. Alright, off now!”
Meanwhile, Sara headed to the cargo bay looking for Jaal. He and Gil had appointed to work on a kett escape pod they’d taken from Eos, and she needed him to set a vidcomm with Evfra. She just hoped she had done enough to win his trust, and get one step closer to getting into Aya’s vault.
When she entered the cargo bay, the first thing she heard was Jaal’s voice, followed by Peebee’s giggles.
“Your eyes have such fire, Peebee. It’s thrilling. You were bold to make the journey here.”
“Yeah? Thanks”, the asari giggled. “I guess I was – am.”
Jaal had been working with the escape pod, and it was no surprise that – now that he had opened up – Peebee was all over him, probably stalking him through the areas of the ship. She always liked to figure out the unknown, get her hands on things none had ever touched before, and she could be very persistent in her attempts. Obviously, she had managed to draw his attention somehow.
“Seriously?”, Cora said annoyed, not thrilled at all while she was scanning and rearranging the supplies in the right corner of the cargo bay.
“And Cora, I imagine your decision was mindful of your potential and brilliance.”
“Um…” Turning red, she decided to ignore his advances, getting down to the supplies again.
“Sorry to interrupt the flattery”, Sara said as she approached the two. “But I have business to talk about.”
“Flattery?”, Jaal sounded offended. “I just speak my mind openly.”
“And I appreciate it”, Sara said, crossing her arms and smirking at him.
“Aw, so serious, Ryder”, Peebee deadpanned, arms akimbo. “Did they freeze your ovaries in cryo too?”
“And as I can see, Peebee is very amenable to it, too. In fact, it’s dropping all over her.” Sara shook her head, not wanting to sound so severe. “I don’t care, really, you can do as you please. I just need you to arrange a vid call with Evfra, can you do that for me?"
“I already contacted Evfra, and told him about your success on Havarl. He will message me as soon as he is ready for a meeting.”
“Thank you, Jaal”, Sara appreciated his efforts, then she looked at Peebee. “Any news on the Remnant core?”
“That’s just what I came here for actually”, she explained excited. "Before we got a little flirtatious.”
“I did not... flirt”, Jaal weakly protested.
“He totally did”, Cora objected from the distance without lifting her head up from the supplies.
“It’s fine, right?”, Peebee said playfully. “Angara are sooo emotional there are just some things that are so stunning they can’t hold it back, right?”
“It is, but… I don’t see the Remnant core in your story yet”, Sara plainly said.
“Look, I couldn’t get it to open yet. I tried a shocklaser from Gil – which almost burned my eyebrows by the way - then I went to Cora and asked her if she could try her biotics on it. Though I’m not sure if it was only my imagination, but she did hit the biotic beam a little too hard I think, since it almost threw me off my feet?” She gave Cora an angry glare.
“A complete accident”, Cora assured so lousy she did not even try to hide her lie.
“I... still don’t see how you ended up here, Peebee”, Sara said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, since the biotics didn’t help either, I asked Jaal to try his bioelectricity thing on it”, she explained. “I’m soo close to success!” It was hard not to feel thrilled by her enthusiasm.
“Good idea”, Sara agreed. “Let me know if you make any progress. In the meantime, I got a few modifications to work on.”
“Yeah, sure, will do. Tell me when you’re done with the escape pod and you can come over to my pod instead, Jaal.” She gave him a charming wink. “Stay in touch, Jaal.” With that, the asari wiggled off.
Sara went to the workbench and laid her assault rifler down. The clip size she'd put in recently was completely outdated – even for her standards – and she badly needed to adjust a new one to it. There was one lying on the bench she knew Vetra had left there for someone else to use it, but when Sara tried to modify her rifle with it, she managed to get the clip size in, but had a hard time putting the rifle back together. Handling modifications had never been one of her strengths. When she had still been in the Alliance, it hadn’t been much of a deal, because their weapons had always been equipped with standard modifications already, but now that she was on her own, it could lead to a problem sooner or later.
As it was now.
“Are you readjusting your weapon?” Jaal glimpsed at her from across the room, then put his tools next to the escape pod he had continued to work on after Peebee had left, and stepped up to her to take a closer look on what she was trying to do. Sara couldn't help but smile to herself – apparently, his curiosity got the better of him again.
“Yeah, I… really need a new clip size for my weapon.” She felt awful with him watching, failing to rearrange the barrel.
“It looks rather outdated”, he stated looking at her mods.
“I know, but that doesn’t really help me now, ok? I just need to be able to reload quicker.”
“May I assist?” He looked pitiful at her hopeless attempt to put it back together. “It doesn’t look like you are going to do this… all by yourself.”
“I hate to admit it, but… I’d really appreciate the help.”
“So, you… need me to save your ass?”
Sara laughed at his joke. She remembered he had picked up the phrase when they had been on Havarl with Drack.
“Yep, I do. But I promise, it’s worth saving.” She gave him a charming smile.
“Sure, I can do that. Not what I would consider the best part of you, but…”
Now that triggered her curiosity, and she hated herself for the obvious reaction she gave him because of that, which he could probably all read with the scans his monocle-like visor provided – but she was a slave to her own thirst for knowledge and opinions.
“Are you trying to flatter me too now?”, she teased him.
He assembled the rifle back into pieces as if she had done it wrong from the start. She watched him work in fascination, but also glanced at his other features, since he was standing so close. He smelled like a field of flowers.
“As I said, I did not intend to flatter anyone. We angara like to speak our mind openly – that includes complimenting or criticizing when we have an opinion. Like, for women, we like to compliment delicacy of feelings and devotion – you can see it in their eyes. Also, the physical aspects - to stay in shape - is something to admire them for.”
“And why don’t you compliment the male crew as well?”, she asked.
“For men, it’s a little different. We prefer to make compliments of our skills and knowledge rather than the physical part.” He looked up from the workbench at her. “I take it this is not the milky way?”
“Milky way?”, she asked silly, then it struck her. “Ooh, the way of the Milky Way, I get it, very literal, Jaal.” It made her laugh. Somehow, he always managed that. “Kind of, we don’t give many compliments I guess, and if you do it too often, people might get the wrong impression – like you’re trying to court someone.”
“That’s a shame”, he simply said. “There is nothing wrong in admiring the beautiful aspects of each other.”
“True”, she gave in, watching him move his hands and putting her assault rifle back together with firm, practiced hands. He was indeed experienced at it.
“And what would you consider the best part of me?” Sara bit her lip, too afraid to look up, she couldn’t believe she had just asked that. She was hoping he’d see it as an act of curiosity and not as a flirt - especially since he’d assured he hadn’t meant it in such a way either.
“If I had to pick, I’d choose your eyes.” He stopped assembling the weapon and looked back at her with firm eyes. “When I first looked you in the eye, I saw feelings of unease and insecurity – the signs of a young and restless person. But I also saw a good heart - full of hope and zest for action. When I look in your eyes, I don’t see just you…” He paused as if he needed a moment to breathe. “I see our future. The future of my people, and Heleus.”
Sara’s heart skipped a beat. “I think that’s the most beautiful thing someone has ever said to me.”
“And I mean it.”
Suddenly Jaal’s arm-tool gave a peep and showed some readings that made him look down on it, his features hardened as he typed something in before he looked back at her. The sudden change had washed away the softness of his voice in a blast of air.
“Evfra is ready to speak to you.”
“Commander.” Evfra’s silhouette appeared on the vid comm terminal as she greeted him. Jaal was standing next to her, a silent assurance that she would not have to face the Resistance leader all by herself.
“Pathfinder. Jaal’s been keeping me updated on your “adventures”, your “good deeds” on our behalf.”
“I meant them. I want you to know you can trust me”, Sara assured him with all the confidence she could afford.
“You rescued Shavod-gaan”, Evfra gave in with a growl. “His loss would have been hard for the Resistance.” Then his voice shifted into a harsh tone without merci. “But your true agenda is clear – to explore Aya’s vault. Jaal says you want to help find the Moshae. Why should I let you?”
“I proved that I’m not threat to the Angara. I helped your scientists, and we even stopped Havarl’s decline. I showed I can work Remnant tech. I want to establish a strong bond between our people.”
He considered her words for a moment. “Keep doing those things then, and we might be on the right track.” He shifted, as if he was conflicted – as if he might consider her an ally, after all, but still wasn’t convinced.
“We managed to trace the Moshae to a special kett facility on Voeld.”
“Why is it special?”, Jaal asked.
“These facilities are protected by a dynamic shield tech we haven’t been able to crack.” Evfra did not sound too enthusiastic. “We’re close, but its ability to adapt outstrips the speed of our current processors.”
SAM talked on Sara’s private channel, so the others wouldn’t hear him: “Pathfinder, adding my processor to their program would no doubt make the difference. We could assist them, if you wish to.”
“Evfra, I can help”, Sara assured. “Respectfully, this time you need me.”
“Respectfully, the Angara don’t need anything from you. We take care of our own”, he hissed back at her.
Should she tell him about SAM? That through him she would be able to help them, if they just let her? It might be, after all, the only chance she’d ever get to win Evfra over. For a moment, she looked over her shoulder at Jaal. He knew about SAM, but he probably had no idea what he was capable of, that if she did let this opportunity pass, there might never be another one, and that his only chance to rescue the Moshae was standing right next to him.
“I have an AI”, Sara finally said as she looked back on the vid comm. “With its processing power, I can guarantee the shield breach. If you want your Moshae back, you’ll have no choice but to deal with me.” She could feel both Evfra’s and Jaal’s gaze burning their way through her clothes and skin right into her soul like etching acid.
“An AI?” The thought struck him like lightning. “Of course. That makes sense.”
“He’s physically connected to me and so I need to – I mean, I want to go with them.”
Evfra seemed to be impressed – something in his voice had changed, the harsh tone replaced by a more moderate, gentle one. “It was risky to be honest about your AI – and honesty makes you different from the Kett.”
“I hope so.”
He was silent for a moment, thinking about what she had said, but eventually made up his mind. “You’re welcome on the mission.”
A huge relief went through Sara and she felt her shoulders release from the tension she hadn’t even known she was holding up all the time. “Thank you.”
“A team will meet you at our base on Voeld”, he explained. “They’ll take you to the Kett facility. For what it’s worth, although I couldn’t care less about your life, I hope you return… Stay strong and clear. Goodbye, Pathfinder.”
He didn’t sound like he expected to ever hear from her again.
From this point on things might change a little storywise... Because Sara's life has been way too easy so far.
Chapter 9: Bare Facts
"I can totally explain that.”
“I can’t wait for that explanation.”
Song: Blake Lewis – Binary Love
After the vid call with the Resistance leader, Kallo had set course to Voeld – a cold hearted ice planet, not the kind of place Sara would choose for a holiday trip for sure. Jaal had given her access to some of Voeld’s data, and Sara took the whole day scrolling through all the information to suck in as much as she could, but as more as she read about it, she realized if Havarl had been a cursed world, Voeld was going to be hell: The Kett had conquered most parts of the planet and seemed to have many bases scattered all over its snowy landscape, and the Resistance was fighting them every day to stand their ground – with small success. There were lots of reports of missing patrols and stolen supplies and it was hard to tell if the crusted snowstorms had swallowed them, or the Kett.
The day before they would arrive to Voeld’s system, the crew was busy finishing their preparations. It would be a mission of consequences, and probably the most difficult one of all of them so far. Sara had made clear she wanted Jaal and Cora on the mission - Jaal because she needed his connection to the resistance and because he’d proven to be very capable in combat, and Cora for her reasonable, tactical mind with the advantage that she knew how to make quick decisions in dicey situations.
But if Sara was about to go down in hell, at least she wanted no open trails behind her. She had made the armor piece ready Liam had asked her for. It looked like an arm of the Initiative armor, but frankly sized up like to wear it with plaster.
Liam’s workspace was down at the cargo bay on the right, past the Nomad, and his room’s door slid right open when she got close as if he had expected her to pass by.
“Hey, Sara”, he gave her a wave, looking up from his workbench on which he'd been modifying something that looked like the rest of an oversized Initiative armor.
Surprisingly though, he was shirtless.
“Hey… Liam. I got your armor piece.”
He didn’t seem to notice her confusion. “Glad you came, and just in time. I’m almost done with the other parts.”
She approached him to hand him the armor piece he then put on the workbench next to the other parts. “Oh and”, he started, “Jaal is supposed to come over any moment, so you might wanna-“
He got interrupted right in the middle when the door slid open again, and a completely naked Angara entered the room.
“Too late. Oh well. Hey, Jaal.”
“What...” Sara quickly rubbed her forehead pretending she was scratching, or had an upcoming headache, or whatever as long as she could cover her eyes a bit and not stare at Jaal, but she hadn't been fast enough to not get a glimpse on his body, totally embarrassed as she felt her face turning red. At least she could tell now that Angara were indeed very similar to male human, more than she had expected… at least when it came to the physical, erogenous part.
“Kosta. Ryder.” Jaal walked over to Liam as if he was dressed just as normal. “Were you able to acquire all the pieces we need?”
“Yep, Sara just brought the last part in. We’re ready to go.”
“Is this for my benefit? Because I’m benefitting”, she tried with a joke.
She was still trying to stop herself from eyeing Liam’s chest or just any part of Jaal’s body, even looking at his head dragged her eyes at the view of his impressive biceps, and his abs were surprisingly muscular –
Eyes off, Sara, behave yourself.
He does look attractive though…
“Mmh. I think she is blushing”, Jaal stated which made Liam chuckle, but silently agree.
“Just swapping armor”, Liam explained. “You ready to go, Jaal?”
The two of them started assembling the armor from pieces. “Right. Can I wear the poncho?”
“It’s a rofjinn”, Jaal explained and gave him a punch on the shoulder, “and no.”
“Why, is it religious?”
“It’s… personal. You’re not allowed.” Apparently, wearing no clothes in front of each other didn’t make them as close friends yet as one might think, Sara thought with shaking head.
“Because of status… or species?”
“What the hell… are you guys up to?”, Sara interrupted them, still not fully looking at them. “Come on, guys, seriously, what’s up with the gun show?”
“We trade armors, not guns”, Jaal bluntly justified himself.
“Don’t let him fool you, Sara”, Liam chuckled, “I already explained that idiom to him.”
“We swap armors for answers”, Liam added then. “Stuff the diplomats don’t ask.”
“My turn was earlier. Nexus info packets leave a lot out. I am sorry.” He gave Liam a prissy look. “Was this not sanctioned?”
“You weaseling adhi”, Liam joked.
“I… think I just leave you two to it”, Sara stated. “Just… lock the door in case. We don’t want anyone to get a wrong impression – especially Peebee.”
“Will do”, Liam assured. “Would look so weird if they saw you walk out with us naked, heh?”
Just get me out of here, please.
When they had dinner in the evening together, it was Drack’s turn to cook, and the smell of his roast meat was filling the floors of the Tempest. Expectably, the kitchen was crowded, so Sara was glad to see that Vetra had stayed true to their deal and provided enough chairs this time. Even Drack and Vetra were with them this time, and Sara was proud to see that also Jaal and Peebee had shown up again. Not surprisingly, Peebee grabbed a seat right next to the Angara, and was pretty much clinging to him the whole evening, but he didn’t seem to even notice her efforts.
Tomorrow, they’d land on Voeld, but now they still had an evening to enjoy some time together.
At least it could have been.
Sara still felt weird, Jaal was sitting right next to her, between her and Peebee, and his image of him naked was still so fresh she could see right through his clothes. Too bad Liam wasn’t here today, apparently he still had to clean up the mess in his room.
“So, no desserts tonight?”, Jaal asked in the round.
“Desserts?” Sara gazed at him. “I expected you’d be fed up with those. You didn’t even like mine.”
“Did you like mine?”, he countered rhetorically.
Sara’s face turned red. Hell, why did it sound so filthy when he said that? Then a thought struck her. “Oh shit. I completely forgot about that.”
He gave her a questioning look. “I think it’s molding on my desk by now.” She shrugged. “Not that I wanted to it eat it anyway. Couldn’t really bring myself to throw it away either, somehow.”
“You’re one of a kind”, he said, folding his arms.
“No, you are.”
“No, you are”, he repeated intensely.
“You started it”, she blamed him playfully. “I didn’t offer myself a dessert.”
“Mmh. I guess we’re even then”, he said bluntly. With a smile, Sara turned her attention back on Suvi, and the girls giggled at each other.
“Peebee”, Jaal started talking to the asari. “What do you like to do for fun?”
While the two of them continued talking and Peebee started to explain to him all the things she’d liked once, but got quickly bored of, Suvi at Sara’s side was all excited about the new results she had gotten from the scans of Havarl, and Sara gave her best to sound interested, even though she had no idea of half the things Suvi explicated her.
“Did you know asari can mate with all the milky way races?”, she could suddenly hear Peebee say to Jaal. Of course, the asari went straight for the dirty route. “I could even have sex with Ryder if I wanted to.”
“And if I wanted to”, Sara gave her a laugh. “But only an open Remnant core could catch my interest.”
“Good thing we got it open then”, Peebee said kittenish. “You won’t believe it until you see it, but Jaal’s bioelectricity thing worked.”
“You managed to open it? Wow.” Sara was impressed. “In that case, open Remnant cores don’t catch my interest.” The girls laughed, not interrupting the other ongoing conversations. “But seriously, I can’t wait to hear more about it. Maybe when we’re back from Voeld?”
Sara turned back to the redhead, and Suvi gave her a smile. “Sorry, Suvi, what did you say?”
“Don’t worry, I understand you can’t let Peebee rail like that. Anyway, we got a few readings from the stones you scanned at –“
“I… don’t know how to… compare... Maybe ask Lexi? Or better Ryder? She already saw me naked.”
A rush of silence went through the room, not even a single spoon still moved, Sara almost choked on her drink.
Damn your honesty, Sara cursed under her breath.
“You saw him naked? Really, Sara?” Peebee made no effort to keep her voice low. “Did you two hook up?”
“No, of course not! It’s not what you think”, Sara objected. “I can totally explain that.”
Cora rolled her eyes. “I can’t wait for that explanation.”
Suvi chuckled, but did not seem to believe her either. “Let’s talk in privacy some time. I need to know details. All the details.”
“No! We did not… Liam and Jaal swapped armor, that’s about it.”
“What a coincidence Liam isn’t here to confirm that.”, Gil opposed with a huge grin on his face. “And did you “swap your armor” too?”
Sara shrugged. “No, I didn’t. Chance brought it about I walked in on them.”
“I’d totally swap my armor with you, Jaal.” Peebee leaned in to give him a charming smile.
“I don’t think yours will fit him”, Cora protested.
“I don’t think that stopped him last time! But I don’t mind just walking in either.” She leered at Jaal that left no room for misreading’s. Sara felt her cheeks burn and turn red in embarrassment.
“Why is her face turning red?” he meant it in a worried, medical way.
Laughter went through the group. “After what you just said, I doubt it is the first time you see that on her”, Cora mentioned casually.
Sara cringed at it. “I hate you. All of you”, and it made the group burst out in laughter, so that her cheeks tingled even more.
The rest of the evening went rather unspectacular, which wasn’t so hard after Sara’s little scene, even though she had to admit, the evening had still turned out nice. The had started playing poker for once, and Gil really knew how to rip people off their money. Still, the crew got along very well, and now with Jaal in the group, she felt as if they really were a little weird family.
After a while, she excused herself to go to sleep. Tomorrow would be an important day. Just thinking about it made her heart drop in her chest – she was scared. What if they couldn’t rescue the Moshae? If they failed? Or if she was already dead?
Then she would never get into Aya’s vault. Her people would never find a new home. The golden worlds would be gone forever.
Someone help me.
Just now, standing in front of her quarter’s door, she realized someone had followed her. Probably Cora? Maybe she had a question about tomorrow’s mission before they would go to sleep?
Sara turned around. She saw the blue shine of his monocle-like visor before anything else.
“You need something, Jaal?”
He stopped just an armlength away from her, a head taller than she was, his upper arms as thick as her skull, but they hanged loose on his side, his shoulders slouched. As huge as he was, he surely looked smaller than usual.
“You know, you can always call me over the comm if you need anything”, she said.
“You’re upset”, he said.
She lifted her head to meet his eyes. “Did your readings tell you that?”
“No”, he simply said, he looked hurt. “My eyes tell me that. It’s… not hard to notice.”
“I’m sorry Jaal, I’ve had a long day is all. It’s probably better we get some sleep.” She turned to access the panel of her room’s door.
“You’re upset with me”, he added before she could leave. “I’ve hurt you.”
Sara sighed. She hadn’t realized that she was upset with him, but now that he mentioned it, it was true – she hadn’t talked to him for the rest of the evening, even if she hadn’t intended to ignore him… at least not on purpose.
“You did not defend me when they were thinking we… had something”, she finally said, facing him again. “Which I like to make clear we had not!”
His deep blue eyes looked down at her, troubled. “Yes. Why? Should I have?”
Sara raised an eyebrow. “Well, yes… Doesn’t it bother you that they think that about you?”
Jaal seemed confused. “No, why should it? It’s not true. We were joking, and they know it too.”
Now that really irritated her. He was not a human after all. Why hadn’t she thought of that herself?
“Why does it bother you?”, he asked.
“I… well”, she had a hard time finding the right words. “I don’t want the others to think about me like that. I’m not Peebee - I don’t fool around with no strings attached and then move on to someone else as if nothing happened. I’m loyal.”
He smiled, deeply contended. “That is good to know.”
She was surprised, for one thing that he smiled at her so sincere, for another thing that it stirred her blood, to see his appreciation. “I… just don’t want them to think otherwise of me. I feel like every of my moves is being observed. It’s… exhausting.”
“I’m sure they know better. It was a joke, to get to know each other - become better friends”, he explained with a firm voice. He was like a mountain in the field, a cliff on the breech. “But I understand. As long as you stay true to yourself, you don’t need to be scared of their reaction.”
“I’m not scared, I…” Sara paused, thinking. Why did the conversations with him always end up so meaningful and serious, and warm her heart at the same time? “I guess I am, aren’t I?”
“You remind me of someone”, he smirked. “All the people around her loved her, but she never seemed to notice. Just like you.”
Sara chuckled. He always managed to make her smile somehow. As if he read her soul just by looking at her.
“And what does that make of you?”, she asked playfully.
“Me?”, he asked surprised.
“Just another admirer then?” She laughed.
His face turned a darker touch of purple, and if she had to guess, she would think it was the first time she saw him blush. May it be, he had just realized for the first time, that she wasn’t only an alien – but also a woman?
“I guess we’re even then”, she smirked, crossing arms.
“As one may say”, he said with husky voice.
“Thanks for cheering me up”, she said.
“I did not intend to. I only spoke my mind freely.”
“You’re one of a kind. Well, then I’m glad you did.” She chuckled. “I really should get some sleep now.”
He gave her a faint smile. “No, you are. Good night, Ryder.”
As they turned away and Sara finally pressed the panel of her room, the door slid open, and when she was about to go inside she suddenly stopped.
He turned around once more to look back at her. “Yes?”
“Who is that woman I remind you of?”
He slightly averted his eyes from her, like a memory brushed his mind and took his vision away for a moment to a long-lost past, and for a brief moment she caught a feeling on his face that made her heart sink.
It was sadness.
“Actually, you do not have much in common with her, besides that one particular thing. Perhaps... I may take you up on it - some time. Good night, Ryder. Stay strong and clear.”
Last chapter before they try to rescue the Moshae.
Chapter 10: Snowed Under Truth
“Besides, three humans and an Angara? Sounds like a kickass team to me.”
Song: Ruelle – Bad Dream
Finally, they entered Voeld’s atmosphere. The snowstorms were worse than she had imagined: On approach, the blowing wind grasped for the Tempest like greedy hands, pulling their victim with them in the fall. Jaal mentioned the day's weather conditions were even worse than usually, as if the heavens themselves screamed at them not go down there.
Cora, Jaal and Sara prepared at the airlock for the mission. Gil strapped their jump jets on, and they double checked their gear as well as restocked magazines and grenades. Then, with a burst of the door, Liam came in, full armored, with his assault rifle in hands and dual omni-blades glowing on his arms.
“I’m ready for duty”, he said.
Sara had checked the straps on her jump jet, then stopped in the middle to turn around to him. “I didn’t sign you in for this.”
“The hell, Sara, you died down there on Habitat 7”, he flared up while stepping up to her. He stopped right in front of her, fac to face, his eyebrows a furry line. When had her orders started to become a discussable reasoning? “I won’t let that happen again. I’m coming with you. Whether you like it or not.”
“He’s got a point”, Cora said.
“I don’t need people watching out for me, thank you, Kosta”, Sara insisted. “If you’re only coming to babysit me, you’ll have to stay.”
“Tactically”, Cora started, “Four is an even number for a mission like this. After all, we’re infiltrating a kett base.”
“Yeah, it’s sneak in, strike, rush out”, Liam agreed. “If we have to split up in the rush, we can go two by two. Rather than one by himself.”
Sara gave a heavy sigh. “Well, if you put it like that… Alright, Kosta.” She patted his shoulder. “Welcome aboard.”
“You better be ready”, Cora said seriously, and Sara wasn’t sure is she was talking to Liam – or to her.
“Besides, three humans and an Angara?”, Sara said. “Sounds like a kickass team to me.”
Jaal typed in his blueish arm tool and a three-dimensional map of Voeld popped out of it. “The shuttle is waiting outside, they are ready to go”, he said as he read through its readings. “We shouldn’t let the Resistance wait.” He turned to them.
“Ready when you are.”
Outside on the field, the snowstorm was even more horrible than Sara could have imagined. The walk through the high snow was exhausting and slow, and it took her all her willpower not to get blown off by the heavy wind, leaning against it like a wave was leaning out of the sea, just to brush off eventually. The distance they had to cross to reach the shuttle was awfully short, so they had decided not to take the Nomad, yet it felt like miles. Sara wondered if the reason for the bad habit conditions might have to do with another vault on Voeld? Perhaps, she’d have to figure it out once they were back from their mission.
If they came back.
They were already awfully close to the shuttle before they could actually see it through the snow. The loading dock opened and a few Angara stepped outside, covered in thick armor and helmets, weapons on their backs, they had to belong to the Resistance.
“Commander Heckt?”, Jaal spoke to him for Sara, her tongue felt like a frozen block of ice even after the short time they were out in the open, so she was thankful he took the initiative.
“You’re with the aliens”, the Commander stated then he looked at the humans. “Are you the Pathfinder Evfra was talking about?”
“Did we give it away so easily?”, Sara finally managed to say.
“Humor, a pitiful act in the face of death”, he said. “We’ll see how your humor does in a fight. We’re the team assigned to breach the facility with you. Provided you get us in there like Evfra believes.”
“I told him I can get us in, and so I will”, Sara assured.
“I’m your pilot”, another Angara said, right behind Heckt. “The kett facility is on the other side of the planet. We better head out before the storm gets worse.”
It can get worse?’, was all Sara could think to that. “Let’s not waste any more time. You can fill me in on the shuttle.” And with that, they boarded, leaving the snowstorm and the cold behind.
On board of the shuttle, the humans had taken seats at the tailpiece of the shuttle, while the Resistance fighters were sitting opposite to them at the shuttle’s nose. Jaal was standing, holding to a strap on the shuttle’s top, and next to him a female Angara leaned against he only porthole the shuttle had, while watching over the icy fields and mountains that rolled past, her eyes nervously trailing between the group of humans and the snowy landscape.
“So, no one has ever seen the inside of one of these places? Really?”, Sara asked.
“None who lived to tell”, Jaal explained, looking down at her. “Prisoners who go in are never seen again.”
“That’s grim. No one’s escaped?” Cora shook her head in disbelief.
“But haven’t you staged rescues before?”, Liam inverted.
“Sure, we’ve liberated kett base”, Commander Heckt gave in, “but never these facilities.” He looked at them with foggy eyes as if his mind belonged somewhere else. “We’ve lost so many fighters trying. The price was too high.”
Next to him another Angara spoke. He seemed to be the youngest of the Resistance team, even younger than she was. She tried to remember his name when they had introduced themselves on the shuttle, and she believed it to be Owwin. “I like to believe that the Kett take important Angara from here to their home cluster.”
“What? As slaves?” Jaal sounded deeply insulted.
“I… guess” The young Angara laid eyes on the ground, ashamed. “Otherwise it means that they’re all… dead.”
Jaal glowed at him. “Death is better.”
“Jaal, we gotta have hope”, Sara argued. “We can’t just give in to blanket despair. It’s why we’re here. Right?”
“It’s why we’re excited to be part of this mission”, Commander Heckt agreed. He didn’t sound half as troubled as someone in his situation should be.
“We’re here”, the pilot intervened from the cockpit. “Let’s be quick, the storm’s getting worse.”
Sara looked at Jaal, “Once we’re through the shield, you take point”, He nodded in agreement. “We’ll look for Moshae Sjefa”, Sara went up from her seat to the airlock. “Let’s just try to stay safe. Okay?”
“But Pathfinder”, it was the female Angara who stood near the window who now leaned forward to look at her, “no one joins the Resistance to stay save.”
The shuttle dropped them right next to the kett facility at an unguarded side, assuming there were guards outside the facility at all - with such defenses, apparently there wasn’t much more effort necessary to keep intruders away.
The Angara had mentioned a system node near the shield they could hack, but to make it work properly, they’d need SAM’s support. Fortunately, it didn’t take them long to find it.
“SAM, run angaran shield disable program.”
“Adding my process accelerator. Stand by”, his voice hummed in her head.
Some time passed.
“Continue to standby.”
Sara nervously rubbed her forehead. “Please don’t embarrass me in front of our new friends.”
Finally, SAM responded. “I have created a small hole through the shield.”
“It worked!”, Owwin celebrated.
“Right, now let’s see it through”, Liam said.
“What kind of forces can we expect?”, Cora asked while they sneaked in with drawn weapons.
“Not sure”, Commander Heckt said, “but they won’t expect that we disabled the shield – might give us an edge.”
When they got closer to the facility, they could hear the foreign sounds of a creature that made the hairs on Sara’s back go up. She tightened the grip on her weapon and crouched lower to the ground.
“Did anyone else hear that?”, Liam whispered. Then it struck Sara like lightning. She had heard the sound before. On Habitat 7.
“Wraith”, Skaelv, the female Angara, answered. “Watch out, they cloak.”
“Ah yeah… hate that”, Liam responded in a curse.
In the same second, the growl of the creature yelled again and echoed against the facility’s walls, way closer now.
“Damn, they’re fast”, Cora murmured.
“There!” It was only a second later that the wraith appeared out of their cloaked cover, their rough-skinned bodies cutting through the snowfall like blades, and teeth just as sharp.
“Heads up for kett pets!”, Liam shouted.
“My favorite!” With well-trained reaction Jaal sniped one of them and killed it instantly, its green blood sucking into the flawless white snow.
The Angara and the humans shot their pistols and rifles with a well trained arming. Sara held her Valkyrie rifle in both hands and with a quick turn shot down one of the creatures trying to flank her, and with a precise shot the last adhi fell to the ground, its green blood coloring the flawless snow.
“Good job everyone”, Commander Heckt said. “Only a first taste of what’s laying before us.”
“I bet”, Liam agreed.
The Angara had their infiltration well planned. Right where they got in through the shield, there was a hidden side entrance, only barely blocked by wooden and metal strings they quickly cut down, and they were inside already, sneaking in through the small passage.
“Alright, let’s go! Owwin, Skaelv, you’re on me”, Heckt commanded.
The passage was dark and through a broken pipe a gas streamed slowly out of it into the air, it smelled like metal and rotten meat. The way lead them above a larger room, and Sara carefully crouched to the edge to see what laid beneath them. There were a few kett passing the room while patrolling, and through the dim light she could see some containers, filled with stuff she couldn’t identify. There those… rags?
“Do you see this, Heckt?” It wa Owwin, whispering in the dark behind her.
“I can’t believe I’m here”, Skaelv agreed to him.
“And I bet neither can these guys.” Sara looked with her scope, she could perfectly aim at a kett on the upper platform of the room as he turned around revealing his vulnerable back to her, unknowingly.
There, she shot a salve of her magazine, the penetration pulling her weapon up she tried to hold steady, when the kett fell on the bare ground before he even knew what had happened to him. In the same moment, a well-aimed shot of Jaal bursted the head of another Chosen, and the Resistance squad jumped down on the edge into the open room, firing their weapons.
“Pathfinder! Jaal! This is so satisfying!”, Skaelv called out in ecstasy.
“Kett bastards!” Heckt took cover behind one of the containers in the sides of the room, popping his rifle till the heat sinked in. Liam and Cora followed them right away, and while the few Kett left took quickly cover on the stages, Cora used her biotic throw that lightened the room in the beautiful blue of Eezo to knock them out of their hideout, only to be slaughtered by another burst of Sara’s and the Resistance weapons.
“What’s the matter, alien – can’t keep up?”, Skaelv taunted Sara looking up at her while recharging her shotgun. Sara was still up on the passage, but the challenge was too tempting. They had taken the kett by pure surprise, they weren’t prepared for a sudden ambush like this one. Sara kicked in an ammo clip, then looped down on the first floor with her jump jet, and with a fierce move advanced behind one of the Kett’s cover, with her free hand stabbed her omni blade in his chest, cutting through his armor like it was made of liquid oil. For a brief second she could look in his eyes, these black holes they had in their heads, and while his body sunk to the ground, she saw no life leaving his eyes – as if they had never lived. Sara’s blood froze in her veins. It had been the last of them.
“I can’t believe we’re finally inside. I’ve stayed outside of this place for so many times”, Heckt gasped.
They gathered themselves in the middle of the room, when Sara could finally take a glimpse at the gathering of one of the containers.
“Our people’s belongings are here… abandoned.” Jaal stared at the clothes collected in one of the containers, a deep sadness arose in his eyes that made Sara shiver. When she used her scanner, she couldn’t believe the readings SAM gave her.
So many names were sewed in those clothes. She did not dare to speak it out aloud.
Commander Heckt’s voice broke her out of her trance. “I don’t think we have time to just look around.” Yet, there was a softness in his tone – he meant no harm, but he was right.
“Agreed”, Sara said. “If we were a surprise… I doubt we are one anymore. It’s time to find the Moshae now – and fast.”
“You’ve the best chance to find the Moshae”, Heckt said to her, looking at her with his blue eyes, two oceans all Angara carried around. “We will attack head-on, try to provide a distraction.”
Sara answered his gaze. “Sounds a little like suicide.” But she could see he knew what he went into.
“We’re ready for anything”, he responded. “Anything that’s necessary.”
In the meanwhile, Skaelv had hacked the door that lead deeper in the facility, right through its main entrance, and it slid open.
“You sure it’s necessary?”, Sara asked. She wanted him to know he didn’t need to sacrifice himself – enough had given their lives already.
“We stay in radio contact”, was his answer, steady and firm. “Let’s kick in the front door.”
With that, the Angaran squad went through the door, only to be sealed again by Skaelv on the other side – to make sure the kett couldn’t get to them, if they took out the Angara.
Sara’s squad moved quickly up on the first floor, he door up there seemed to lead through another path in the facility.
“Can they cause enougn trouble to keep the kett occupied?”, Sara asked, facing Jaal. He didn’t not look worried, but confident.
“Count on it.” His voice, after all, was a soft hum.
“You sure they will be ok?”
“They will”, he assured.
The passage they took lead them to no further trouble, but a room with similar pipes they’d already encountered through the secret entrance they’d taken, there was just way more gas leaking out of them.
“No shit, what the hell is that?”, Liam sounded suspicious.
The door in front of them was sealed.
“Looks like… a check-in area, some sort?”, Cora tried to figure.
Then, the door behind them shut down all of the sudden, and gas shot at them.
“Whoa, SAM what is this?”
“A decontamination protocol is running. My scans identify no harm to human or angaran physiology, but the chamber is sealed until the protocol runs its course.”
“It better not”, Cora murmured, pointing her pistol at one of the gas shooting pipes as if she could kill it if she wanted it to stop.
“Not… liking this”, Jaal stated angrily, unwilling to endure the process.
“The hell? Why decontamination?” Liam checked out the window of the chamber, but realized he couldn’t see anything through it.
“No idea”, Sara said. “Maybe the kett are germophobes?” It was meant as a joke, but it got her thinking. “I also wonder why they had these pets around the facility? I mean, they obviously didn’t think someone would get in. Maybe they didn’t want someone… to get out?”
“Scary thought”, Cora agreed.
When the protocol finished, the door opened and they continued. Hugging the walls, they slowly made their way through the corridor, and the few patrols crossing their way were assimilated silently with accurate kill-shots. Luckily, the chambers seemed to be isolated because of the decontamination areas, so their shots didn’t alarm the whole facility but only a small area.
The next chamber was larger than the one before, with seats turned to large windows at the end of the room. When they got closer, Sara realized it seemed to be one-way glass – they could look through it, but the Kett that gathered down there couldn’t see them.
What they saw was incredible.
“What? What is this?” Jaal’s voice was a low rumble, confused and disturbed when they got closer to look down.
The windows showed the center of the facility, rows of Kett gathered in military order squads faced a huge statue that looked like a Kett, but with a halo and a cape that made it almost look like an angel, looking down on the crowd of its soldiers. With a shock that made her blood freeze in her veins Sara realized she had seen him before – it was a statue of the archon.
“Is this… a ceremony of some kind? A ritual?”, Cora questioned, but didn’t dare to reveal herself too much on the large window.
“Whatever it is, it some sick cult shit down there”, Liam cursed.
Between them were Angara, standing in a firm line, all staring up a pedestal inhabited by a Kett priest. He looked different than any Kett they had seen so far.
“Step forward.” They could hear him as clearly as if they were standing down there with them. Suddenly, the Angara moved a step forward.
“What…?” Jaal was confused. “Why aren’t they resisting?” He looked at Sara in disbelief.
“This looks… strange. I’ve never seen anything like it”, she said, unable to avert her gaze. “It looks like the Angara are in some sort of trance, like they got brainwashed”
“I just hope the Moshae isn’t down there”, Cora was afraid. “I don’t think we have a chance to make it through there.”
“I know the Moshae”, Jaal said. “She isn’t down there.” He pointed at the center of the facility, a spot where the pods went inside the building like an assembly belt. “But maybe she is in one of those.”
“And how are we supposed to get there?”, Liam asked. “They got like an army down there.”
“I am humbled before you”, the priest spoke. “You are the Chosen. Chosen by the Archon. Chosen to be exalted.”
“Exaltation? What’s exaltation?”, Jaal flew into a fury.
“Chosen? Chosen for what exactly?”, Liam questioned in confusion. “They can’t want whatever is happening, can they?”
“No, of course not!”, Jaal insisted, sounding desperate. “I… I don’t know what’s going on either.”
The crowd of Kett started to hum, a verse, a worship? The translation was lost in their choir of voices and it didn’t matter when they saw how the Angara stepped forward, only to disappear in pot-like structures that swallowed them in their black inwards, locking them in like oysters encasing a pearl.
“We have to save them”, Jaal insisted and stepped up to Sara, his every move a gesture of rage. “We have to save all the Angara!”
“We’re here, we’ll do what we can”, Sara agreed to a point, “but we’re still here for the Moshae. She’s our priority.”
“Your priority.” His words had a sharp pitch.
She glared at him angrily, and he returned her look tempestuously.
“Don’t let your emotions overwhelm you. We need a clear head for this. I say let’s do everything we can.”
“That wasn’t the plan”, Cora argued.
“Plans change, and it’s the only lead we have”, Sara insisted. “Might be the right timing for a distraction.” She arranged her omni tool to open the comm. “Commander Heckt? Come in.”
A soft crackle appeared in her ear, the comm channel opened. “Pathfinder.”
“Commander, we need to get in the east wing of the facility. But for that, we’ll need a distraction. The center is crowded with Kett.”
“You want a distraction? Then we will set our plan on fire.”
Suddenly, a shatter went through the building as the explosives of the Resistance fired, putting chaos to the gathering downstairs, smoke and fire belched.
“Intruders!”, the priest shouted. “How is this possible?” He pointed the way that lead in their direction. “Chosen, defend the sacred temple, find them, and don’t show merci!”
Alarms started to hiss through the whole facility.
“Come on, let’s see where those pods go.”
With that, they quickly headed off to the east wing, Sara lead them on for it was her duty as Pathfinder.
“Pathfinder, come in.” It was Commander Heckt. He sounded to be in a hurry.
“Go ahead”, Sara answered.
“We contacted the Resistance base on Voeld. More fighters are on their way.”
“Send scientists too”, Jaal told him. “And technicians. We need to gather all the intel we can.”
“Will do.” With that, the Commander went off.
“Jaal”, Sara turned her head to the Angara while she crouched her way through the corridor. “Our objective is still the Moshae.”
“Of course”, he said with hushed voice. “But we can’t waste this opportunity.”
“Yeah. I see”, she said simply, because she had no interest in debating while they were surrounded by kett, and yet she wanted to be sympathetic towards him. “Whatever they do to your people… it seems wrong - in every possible way. They need to be stopped.”
They ran into another group of Wraiths which weren’t much of a threat, as well as a kett patrol who had significantly improved, now that they were alarmed.
“The pods go behind that wall. Must be the way in”, she could hear Jaal’s voice in the comm.
“We could ask those guys for directions”, Sara joked. “Who’s in? Liam?”
Taking them out took more effort than in the beginning, and Sara realized that time might run against them from now on. More kett troops would scour for them, and would eventually corner them.
Another crackle came through the come. “Pathfinder, come in.” Skaelv.
“How is it going?”, Sara answered with low voice.
“We’re still undetected, but from where we’re hiding, we see some of our people.”
“This place is crazy”, Owwin’s voice came through the comm. “It’s like… I don’t know… a weird… church. It’s so strange.”
“We seem to be close to a chamber too”, Jaal responded. “No Moshae yet.”
“Understood. We’re beyond the main chamber now and continue our infiltration. We’ll be in touch.” With that, Skaelv went off again.
Fighting their way to the chamber, they finally reached a barrier they took down by hacking a console nearby, and entered the chamber with the ingoing pods.
“How many… pods?”, Jaal mumbled.
When they looked up, the whole ceiling was covered by pods no eyes could even see this far. It was shocking and frightening.
“Holy… shit.” Liam was hardly to be heard. No one had expected this.
“I try scanning. SAM?” When she started the readings of the pods, SAM gathered intel about the insiders – their age, their height…
“Hurry. Please.” Jaal’s voice was a weak sound of desperation.
Some were still so young, too young, and others still hardly alive. Deeply troubled by the holocaust Sara realized what she had feared from the beginning. None of them was the Moshae.
“The Moshae was here, but her pod got pulled out of line minutes ago”, SAM hummed.
“Damn it”, Cora cursed.
“Pods travel from here to rooms that encircle this core.”
“Thanks, SAM”, Sara said. “Alright, let’s go.”
They followed the trace through a tunnel lead by thick pipelines that seemed to be more of a sidetrack – only to be stuck in another decontamination process.
“Shit, get down”, Sara cursed as they ducked under the huge window next to the sealed door. “SAM, can you do anything about it yet?”
“Working on it.”
Apparently they hadn’t noticed them yet thanks to the bare lights of the corridors. Taking a peak through the window, they could see a pod lowering itself to the ground, and a Kett, dressed like the priest they’d seen before, awaiting it to open.
They couldn’t believe their eyes.
When the pod opened, an Angara revealed from it’s inner, naked – and defenseless. He seemed confused and in shock, but before they realized what was going on, the priest stabbed an injection into the prisoner’s bare chest. Jaal clawed helplessly to the window’s glass, watching the scenery.
His veins dashed forward as if filled with black blood, pulsing and spilling his inner out, a clearly painful process as the Angara snapped back his head, falling to the ground, his skin pulsing and transforming into a grey and greenish shell of crusts and bones. When he awoke again, his beautiful blue eyes and their galaxies were gone, only to be left as spots of black holes with no life left in them. He had transformed into a Kett.
“Noo!” Jaal screamed, and when the decontamination process finally stopped and freed them, he stormed into the room. The Kett pointed guns at them and opened fire, so they quickly went back into cover, Sara barely made it upfront to Jaal, hiding next to him. She aimed for one of the Kett shooting at them.
“No! Wait!” With a powerful grip Jaal pushed her weapon down, so she missed. “We have to save him, don’t kill the Angara!”
She looked at him in incredulity. “Jaal, he’s shooting at us!”
“Mother…! We’re making the Kett pay for this!” Liam fired a spurt at them in anger, letting his rage fly in the heat of the battle.
“Get what you deserve, bastards!”, Cora shouted as she threw a biotic wave at them.
Jaal erupted in pure anger, shouting them names and screaming out all of his hate and grief. He was furious like a deadly knife, cutting through their rows as if no bullet could harm him, or if he’d lost the will to care. Never had killing them felt more satisfying, but at the same time there was a starving, a craving for more that couldn’t be satisfied. Killing them wouldn’t be enough to still the hunger of revenge they felt with every beat of their sorrowful hearts.
But it felt good to see Jaal’s knife cut through the heart of the priest.
When the fight was over, Jaal kneeled on the ground, next to the dead transformed Angara. Suddenly it explained all of the kett’s behavior, the pods and their rituals, and the realization was deeply, heart wrenchingly disturbing.
“They… are us. I didn’t… I didn’t know.” She heard him weep heavily. "Ryder, I did not know..."
Sara held her weapon, approaching him She looked down at Jaal, and he had never seemed smaller to her. He was crying, his spirit and eyes shed tears at his friend, his body crooked by bitter grief. It crushed her heart to see him like this.
“How many have I killed, not knowing?”
“Jaal…” Not knowing how she could help him, she put a hand on his shoulder, pressing tightly to it. “I’m sorry.”
“The Moshae”, Cora carefully said, standing close to Sara, her voice was soft. “We don’t have much time. I’ll go look for her.”
Sara simply nodded to give Cora her approval to leave. When she left, Sara went on her knees next to the Angara. He held the Kett’s hand as if a friend had just died. The least she wanted to give him was comfort.
“Do you need anything?”, she asked, taking a glimpse at him while still holding on to his shoulder. “How can I help?”
That is... kind. You’re… kind.” He rose again and the Kett’s hand dropped out of his. “I don’t know.”
“Then let’s start by finding Moshae Sjefa”, Sara assured him while she stood up and pulled her hand away. “This won’t be all for nothing. I promise you that.”
“Thank you, Ryder.” His voice was a deep sorrow, but soft.
The familiar sound of a comm signal coming in aroused in her ear. “Ryder, I found the Moshae!” It was Cora. “She’s down here. Come quick.”
Jaal and Liam had heard her call as well, in a hurry they stormed down the path where Cora had taken.
“Shit! Don’t tell me this is another round of decontamination?”
They’d found Cora, standing on the window next to the sealed door, while the decontamination program was running again. Through it, they could see the Moshae as she was lifted to the ground, right in the arms of the priest they’d seen at the ritual.
“SAM, get us into that room. NOW!”
Jaal, yelling, used all his rage to break down the glass by hitting it with his rifle, but the glass didn’t break, there was no way they’d get in in time.
“Initiating contamination bypass hack.”
With SAM’s help, the process stopped and the door opened, even though the priest had already made his way ahead with the Moshae and left his guards to give him the needed time to get away.
“Moshae Sjefa, we’re coming for you!”, Jaal screamed as if she might still hear him. Cora used her biotics, filling the chamber with a blue flashlight that lifted the enemies from the ground before they had the chance to evade her attack. With furious anger Jaal sniped them in the air until the heatsink triggered, and Sara stormed forward with her jump jet, finishing off the last in the air and evading another Chosen’s bullet swipe.
Sara felt her blood pressure rising, the heat of the fight, every second counted to catch up and rescue the Moshae, they were so close, but not close enough, and she had the feeling the Moshae could slip out of her grasp any second if they didn’t move now.
Had SAM adjusted her senses while they had been infiltrating the facility? Everything seemed sharper in some way to her, the sounds stretched a little as if she could move faster than usual, as if time wasn’t a boundary any longer. Her shield broke from an attack she hadn’t seen coming, and with shields down, time froze, her jump jet kicking in to push forward as the Kett collapsed in the blizzard of her burst.
“Nice move”, Liam said impressed. “You’re getting better at this. Now let’s move!”
They rushed up to the roof, the same path the priest had taken. If they were too late, if he got away with her…
That wasn’t an option, Sara decided.
“There she is, I see her!”, Jaal yelled, pointing in the distance.
The snowstorm had stopped, the upper deck on the roof was covered with soft snow. At the end of the ramp, they saw the priest standing, in his embrace the Moshae, the incoming Kett shuttle almost ready to pick them up.
“They’re getting ready to leave.”
“They can try, but they won’t leave”, Cora stated.
The priest turned to them as they approached, the shuttle awfully close and sinking in on the roof’s platform.
“You will not take her!”, he shouted, facing them. The Moshae dropped out of his arms, sliding on the flat snow, when the priest lifted himself in the air, surrounded by a protective energy shield and a drone, then he shot forward to them with a beam.
“No, you will not take her!”, Sara countered.
With fast steps Sara rushed forward, running through the snow and up to the landing platform, then shot her jump jet to rush forward with a blazing fast move the priest hadn’t expected, so his beam missed her. But instead of fighting him, Sara rushed to the Moshae, just in time when the kett shuttle set on the ground close to her.
“Protect the Moshae!”, Sara screamed in the heat, but her own voice sounded foreign in her ears.
“I am the Cardinal! This is a gift. Who are you to stop us?”
A couple of Chosen dropped out of the shuttle, and with a battle cry Sara’s feelings were loose and bare, right on the ground on its knees, like she was, opening gunfire at the shuttle and the out streaming kett.
“You flawn ignorant!”, the Cardinal’s voice cut through the air. Where was her team? Could they hold him off? He surely hadn’t expected for Sara to rush forward so fast, when he had tried to stop them so the shuttle could take the Moshae. Now only her death was standing between the Moshae and the Kett taking her.
Her shield broke when she ducked on the edge of the ramp, desperately trying to find some cover, now that the kett had spotted her. She had been able to take a few out before they had seen her, but now she was surrounded, the alarms of her broken shield hummering in her head, her breathe went fast and heavy. Any bullet could kill her now. Then, out of the blue, a purple silhouette broke lose next to her as its shot hit a Chosen and bursted his head in the kill.
“You’re not alone.” In the blink of an eye Jaal was next to her, and while he hugged the edge for cover, his arm brushed her shoulder, she could feel the warmth of his skin through her own wet sweated suit.
The few seconds of his attack had been enough to give her the time required to regenerate her shield, so she was able to shoot another wave at the Kett and give Jaal the backup he needed for his heatsink to cool down, then snapped back in cover, crouched behind the edge.
The Cardinal’s plan had failed and the Kett’s shuttle looped off to escape.
“We made it! Good job!”, Sara triumphed.
She took the moment to look behind her. The Moshae laid bare on the ground, vulnerable and open. Behind them, the Cardinal was fighting and throwing his beams and Liam and Cora, and while they managed well against him, they did not seem to harm his shield much.
“You”, the Cardinal hummed, his gaze turned at her like he had all the time in the world. “I stand on the shoulders of his greatness. My power comes from the gift of the Archon. And with his power, I will crush you!”
On the spur of the moment, the Cardinal’s energy shield flashed in red light as he concentrated all his power in a one final, smashing attack.
Time froze as the beam went for her, cutting its way through the thick air, ready to massacre everything in its way - her, the Moshae, Jaal…
The heat of her breath and the cold of the ground felt more real than it had been before, her gun heavy in her grip, but yet her body felt as light as a feather, ready to loop off into another dimension, when she felt the power of Eezo running in her veins that turned her skin into a royal blue gleam, her eyes shining like the blue Novas of two dying suns. Her hand thrust forward like a comet burning in the sky as she formed an Eezo shield around them, its beautiful color mirroring her glow. The red beam hit with a crushing burst, supposed to pulverize anything in its way, but reflected on the Eezo shield, and with a soul’s cry and the push of her arm the eezo energy bursted forward and its unstoppable crush hit the Cardinal in the air, shooting him all the way off to the roof’s end to crush the ground.
The eezo energy waved off, the blue veins gone as she stood there, not sure what had happened or how much time had passed in the meanwhile, her vision still blurred. She could feel a firm grip on her shoulder as if to catch her from falling.
It was Liam. “Tough fight, eh? That was crazy. Are you alright?”
She blinked, still a little confused. “Yeah, just a bit dizzy. Why?”
He looked at her in disbelief. “Don’t you know what just happened?”
Sara looked around, but remained silent. Because she didn’t like the answer she’d have to give – that he was right, she had no idea what had happened.
She could see Jaal bending down to the Moshae, gently helping her to her feet as if she was fragile as glass, while Cora checked up on them, then approached Sara and Liam. She seemed concerned when she looked at the Pathfinder.
“You used your biotics”, Liam finally explained when he figured she wouldn’t reply to him. “Put up a shield to stop that beam, then shot it back at that guy. Awesome move, but… I didn’t even know you could do that.”
“Me neither”, Sara whispered. Biotics, really?
“You couldn’t”, Cora spoke the words before her. “But neither could your dad until he had SAM. Sara, you don’t have training, this… can be dangerous. We need to talk about this.”
“Yeah, I get that”, Sara said. “But now is not the right time. Let’s get the Moshae out of here first.” With that, she passed Cora and stepped to the Moshae and Jaal. The Angara had lifted one arm of her around his neck to support her, while scanning her at the same time.
“We’re getting you out of here”, Sara said to her, taking her other arm around her shoulders.
“No one has ever returned from behind kett walls.” The Moshae’s voice was only a whisper as if she was too weak to speak or afraid to speak of the devil.
“Her vitals are bad”, Jaal proved her to be right. “The immune system’s been decimated.”
“We better get her out of here fast”, she could hear Liam say behind her.
“Give a call to the shuttle for pickup”, she commanded him. “Tell them we have the Moshae.”
When they were about to turn around to head for extraction, she could feel an energy pulse rising, then, with a hiss, the Cardinal transformed himself in front of them.
“You will not take it. It is meant for the Archon himself.” His suit was dirty and wet from the snow and the fight, also his protection shield was gone, but he didn’t seem to have lost much of his power. Cora and Liam immediately pointed their guns at him that made him stop his approach - for now.
Sara glared at him. “She is coming with us.” She freed herself of the Moshaes arm, while Jaal still held her tight, then she pulled her gun out and pointed it at his head. There was a little sparkle in the Kett’s black mirrored eyes – were they afraid of death after all, just like any other living being?
“Pathfinder”, SAM hummed in her head. “I am tracking multiple inbound Kett cruisers.”
“Jaal, get her on the shuttle, now!”, Sara shouted, not turning her eyes off the Cardinal.
“Wait”, the Moshae’s voice a broken whisper, but it was enough to make Jaal stop. “I want to know, why the Archon…”
“Arrogant simpletons. This is a gift.”
“This is no gift! It’s sick – and so is your whole cause”, Sara hissed at him. “You’re taking them away from their families and make them turn against them!”
“This Chosen join us to become great, beyond your ability to understand”, the Cardinal spoke, clenching his fist. “Like them, I was once wretched. Now, I stand on the shoulders of his greatness. As they do. As, one day, you will.”
She stepped up to him, her finger ready on the trigger while she held the gun pointed at his head. “I’d rather die than let this happen. I’ll stop you, even if it means I have to blow the whole place up!”
“I have accessed the EM field. I can overload their systems at your command”, SAM responded to her. “Regardless, the damage would affect the Angara inside, as they are not resistant to its causing damage.”
“We have to get my people out”, Jaal interfered. “You promised you’d help. Our compatriots are also here. Our fighters are here, our scientists, our strength.”
“There’s not enough time to open hundreds of pods”, Cora argued. “Let alone help the Angara inside.”
The Cardinal eyed Sara, there was a sparkle in the black of the corner of his eyes. “Leave my sacred temple intact and I’ll open the pods of the Chosen. Take them – but leave this holy place.”
“Are you… offering a deal?”, Sara asked hesitantly. She hadn’t expected the conversation to take that turn.
“No!”, the Moshae screamed, as if the words hit her like a punch, and freed herself of Jaal’s grip. “I rather die than let this hell of a temple stand still. It has to be destroyed!”
“We can come back to destroy it”, Jaal tried to soothe her. “But now, let’s free these people…” His gaze turned to Sara, his eyes pleading at her. “Let them return to their families… Give them hope.”
We got to have hope, Sara remembered her own words when they’d talked on the shuttle. He’d said himself death was better than living in slavery - a life of suppression - and Sara had disabused him. Who was she to doom them now?
“All right”, she finally said. “Release the angara below.”
The Cardinal lifted his hand to his ear to activate his communicator, every of his moves carefully watched by the humans. “Enact emergency shutdown. Release all the Chosen.” His arm fell to his side again.
“The Kett will simply fill this place again”, the Moshae’s words were a cursing prophecy as she pointed at Sara. “For every Angara dying in here, I blame you.”
“With respect”, Jaal said to her in a clam tone, “it’s the best decision. We can’t kill our own people in here, or we’re no better than…”
“You haven’t been in here!”, she turned her anger at him now. “You don’t… you don’t know what you’re talking… about…” The last of her strength faded away with her anger, and she collapsed, Jaal’s arms reached for her and caught her from falling. Her pretty blue eyes had become tiny slits as she could hardly keep them open any longer.
“Kett reinforcements are arriving soon”, SAM reminded warningly.
“Jaal, get her on the shuttle, now!”, Sara commanded him, not dropping her eyes of the Cardinal. “Have the Resistance free as many as they can.”
“I will, and thank you.” Jaal held the Moshae close, turning to move to the edge of the roof “Heeckt”, he said through the comm “The pods have opened. Get our people out – as many as you can, before reinforcements arrive.”
“I will”, Heeckt responded through the comm. “We’re heading for the outrance as soon as we’ve gathered them.”
“I thank you too”, the Cardinal said to her. “I see you begin to see the great gift the Archon offers. One day, you’ll understand, when the greatness of his DNA entwines with yours, as all of you will be exalted.”
“I don’t think so.” And so, Sara pulled the trigger.
The bullet went right through his forehead, and with crushed skull his lifeless body fell to the ground, the green of his blood tangling with the snow.
When they boarded the shuttle, Sara was relieved, but also in deep thoughts, the shattering truth they had revealed about the kett and the missing Angara – would the Resistance be able to take on it, or would it break them eventually? Had she made the right decision? Or had she started to lose sight of her initial goals? They’d accomplished something the Resistance had tried to achieve for ages, they’d actually infiltrated a kett facility, rescued the Moshae…
So why did it feel like a painful defeat instead?
Chapter 11: Two Lonely Souls
“You think that?”
“Yes. And there are many more things I think of you.”
Song: Grace VanderWaal – Beautiful Thing
Finally, they had returned to the ship, and with them the Moshae. On the shuttle, they’d used all their lasting med kits to stabilize her immune system, but even those couldn’t heal all the damage the Kett had caused to her. Jaal had carried her straight to the med bay without a stay, not even dropping his weapon, while the others had stayed at the airlock to unequip their armors and gear.
But the Tempest felt colder than it had felt before.
Sara stored her stuff in her locker, and even though she didn’t intend to, every of her moves felt slow. While the others were already finished, she still stood there, thinking what took her so long instead of moving. Maybe she didn’t want to find out what the Moshae would have to say to her.
“Hey”, Liam came up to her, brushing her shoulder as she turned around. “It was a really tough mission, wasn’t it?” He gave her a worried look that didn’t fit his words. “But you did a great job down there.”
“Thank you, Liam”, she said. Just now she started to feel the depletion.
“I know you’re exhausted”, he continued. “We all are. Nothing to be ashamed of.” He paused, and his eyes brushed the ground for a second, before he looked her in the eyes again. “But if you need someone to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on? I’m here. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Thanks, Liam”, she repeated. “I really appreciate it.”
He smiled at her, but not as light-hearted as he used to, before he stepped away. Perhaps, Sara thought, he needed someone to talk to, too. It was probably a good idea to come over to his work place once she had some spare time, and she certainly felt the need to relax and spout in old memories of Earth over a beer.
When she finally headed for the med bay, her thoughts were running in circles. She, a biotic? Exaltation? And why would she need a shoulder to cry on?
The doors in front of her swished open. Lexi had just finished to provisionally treat the Moshae, entering the data in her omni tool. The Moshae laid on her side on one of the few med beds, a pillow supporting her head. In the artificial light of the infirmary she looked completely exhausted, and even more fragile than Sara had expected, as she’d been too busy fighting than taking a closer look at her.
Jaal, standing next to her, bent over her bed to put his arms around her, and she eagerly slid into his embrace, welcoming the warmth of his chest and the comfort he offered. They almost looked lovely, if the tender gesture wasn’t overshadowed by the reason why they seeked solace.
“I’m sorry we fought”, Jaal said to her, freeing her of his arms, but still holding on to her hands. “What we saw will set our cause on fire.”
“I know”, she said with broken voice, a sorrowful whisper. “My broken heart can’t even process it.”
They hugged again, and tears filled their eyes.
Sara hadn’t moved since she’d caught eye on them, because she felt uneasy to watch them like this, in their moment of intimate togetherness. Unsure of what to do, Lexi and she looked at each other when she had finished being busy with her file report. Even Lexi’s eyes - usually professional and therefor with a tendency of a lack of emotion – had a touch of compassion in them.
“You can talk to her if you want”, the doctor finally said, “but be gentle. She’s still in a fragile state.” And with that, Lexi went off to her workbench to give them some privacy.
Sara stepped closer to the Angara when they released each other of their hug.
“I hope you’re feeling better”, Sara spoke to the Moshae as she approached them. “Are you comfortable?”
“As much as I can be after that we left the facility to the Kett”, she said with bitterness and glared up at the human. “You should’ve destroyed it, and not surrender. But I expect you can live with the burden.”
“We did not…”, Sara started to defend herself, then reconsidered. “I’m sorry you feel that way. But I don’t regret my decision.”
“Moshae, please”, Jaal tried to calm her down, “let’s not start to fight again. You need to rest… It must be remembered how many lives we saved instead of what might have been.”
“I’m dread to think of all the lives that are still going to die in there…”, her broken voice trailed off, and silent tears ran down her purple cheeks as she closed her eyes, face down. Jaal took her hands in his again, a tender try to soothe her, but also a vain one.
“I understand this must be confusing to you”, Sara continued. “Please take your time to process everything. I’ll explain anything you like to know, as soon as you feel ready.”
She slowly lifted her head again to look at Sara, and a grim determination laid in her eyes. “Jaal told me you’re a Pathfinder, from the Milky Way. That you want to get into Aya’s vault. Find your people a home.”
“I do”, Sara assured. “I’m not going to hurry you along or force you, but it would mean a lot to me, and the Initiative, if you could give us access.”
“Well, that’s because you can’t”, she interfered. “It is my decision to make, and I don’t see a reason to make up my mind in favor of you, or your people – as you clearly don’t feel for mine either.”
“I… both our people can only benefit if the vault is being reactivated”, Sara tried to convince her. “I have an AI that can work Remnant tech. Together, we can make planets habitable again, and Aya could be one of them.”
“Then prove it”, she insisted. “Rescuing me to hunt your own selfish goals doesn’t witness to any of your loyalties. Until I see you care for anyone else but yourself, the doors of Aya’s vault will be shut for you.”
Sara was shattered by her words, and unsure how to oppose her. Why didn’t Jaal say anything? After all, she’d done what he wanted – now she felt forsaken and disabused. But no, she had made her own decision – and she alone would have to be responsible for her actions.
“I can’t say I’m not disenchanted, after all…” Sara exhaled her breath, realizing she’d have to choose her words carefully, “but if it’s what it takes, I’ll do everything in my power to change your mind. We mean no harm, and we - and I - certainly are nothing like the Kett.”
‘I wish you could see’, Sara completed the thought in her mind, too hurt to speak it out loud, since her voice had already failed to hide her disappointment.
“I’ll leave you two to it”, she finally said, after the Moshae did not intend to add anything. Her eyes were as harsh as before, but her tears had dried, and now Sara felt as if they were shifting to her eyes instead.
Sara left the med bay with a wetness in the corner of her eye, afraid they’d notice, and instead stood outside, near the glass window that allowed a peek inside the room. She could see the Moshae lay down again, and Jaal gently put her hands to rest on her sides. He truly loved her – he’d told her before, but it was just now that she realized the meaning of his words. It wasn’t a love between lovers, nor the love of hearts beating alike, but one that only blossomed between people who fought the same war, protected their people by their life and death - because it was what they loved most. In loving others, they also loved each other.
A tear ran along her cheek down to her jaw. Startled, she quickly brushed it away. Was it a tear of regret? She didn’t dare to think of it like that. It would mean she felt as if she’d disappointed the Initiative, as if she’d failed them. Perhaps they’d never find a new home, the golden worlds a buried lie that dragged them into their misery. And yet, they’d all made the decision anyway, knowing that nothing would’ve been certain, but the reality, the shatter of their dreams, was hard to bear. Yet the burden as Pathfinder she carried on felt even harder on her shoulders now. Perhaps it was time to return to the Nexus and inform them of her failure, and stop being someone she would never be able to live up to.
A warmth brushed her arm that made her jump with fright unintentionally. It was Jaal, his hand on her upper arm, and he seemed to notice her shock, because a soft smile curled around his lips. Had she really been so deep in thoughts to not hear him approach her?
“I’m sorry, I did not intend to disturb you.” His hand let go of her and fell to his side again, as if he didn’t want to overwhelm her with his presence. “You do not have to hide your feelings”, he softly added. “Burying your feelings is a broken way to live.”
“I don’t.” Her voice belied her words. “I just... had something in my eye.”
“Of course”, he simply said, yet there was no sign of judgement in his voice. He shifted his weight to his other foot, fumbling for words. “I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the way you wanted to. You accomplished great things, and I am grateful for your decision... If it means anything to you, in my humble opinion, you made the right choice. I… admire you standing up for it.”
“Doesn’t feel like it though”, she managed to say through gritted teeth, looking through the window so she wouldn’t have to look at him. “Rather feels like she’s going to hate me forever now. Maybe I really screwed it.”
“Her hate is blinding her, but she has a good heart”, he reassured her. “She’ll listen to your concerns eventually. It only takes time.”
“Time we don’t have”, Sara muttered, then bit her lip. “My people are starving if I don’t find them a home in time.”
“I’ll talk to her”, he promised. “I owe you that much. But first, let’s bring her home. On Aya, the sight of its beauty brushes away any sorrow.”
Sara eyed him. “Speaking from experience?”
He answered her gaze with two galaxies-like eyes, and it reminded her of Earth in some way again.
“I could certainly use some of its medicine, too”, she quickly added with a shy smile.
He stifled a laugh. “As one may say.” Then, by her surprise, he laid the palm of his hand on her back, between her shoulder blades, to show his sympathy. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you. After all, we can still go to Voeld and help the Resistance there, to show her you care. Because I know you do.”
For a moment, she stood there and blinked, the spot where he touched her was warm, sending a rush of heat through her body that made her shiver, and a part of her wanted him to let go again, and another didn’t. “You think that?”
“Yes. And there are many more things I think of you.”
‘Had he seriously just said that?’, she thought, ‘or was he just trolling her again?’
“Give it some time”, he added. “Time heals all wounds. At least I believe so.”
With that, he removed his hand from her back and was just about to walk off, leaving a cold spot where he had touched her.
He stopped and turned to her ones more, and she smiled at him as a token of gratitude.
“For what?”, he asked curiously.
“For always being there for me”, she muttered. “Even when I don’t deserve it.”
He returned her smile. “You’re worth it”, he assured her. “You just don’t always know it.”
And so, he walked away eventually.
Sara saw once more through the window into the med bay. The Moshae laid on her side, apparently sleeping, because she hadn’t moved since the last time Sara had taken a look at her.
In the beginning, when she’d first met the angara, it had been all about getting into that damn vault on Aya.
But not anymore. It wasn't that simple anymore.
Sara decided not to join for dinner today – she didn’t feel well and she didn’t want to share the bad news yet they’d know soon enough anyway, so she went for her quarters instead. She wasn’t even half way there when Cora crossed her way near the research station, which wasn’t anything special since the ship was small after all, it was rather an accomplishment to get anywhere without running into someone. But this time, Sara immediately felt that something was off. Cora seemed to have waited for her.
“Sara”, she stepped up to her, no reaction betraying her intentions. “I think we should talk.”
“About what?”, but Sara already had a hunch.
“Let’s get some privacy”, Cora responded. “The hallway isn’t the best place to discuss the matter.”
Together they went to the bio lab which Cora inhabited.
“Any news on the asari arc?”, Sara asked by the way.
“Not yet”, Cora mumbled. “But as soon as we do, I know who to tell.”
Among entering Sara was surprised about how many plants Cora had already spaced out all over the room.
“Wow, Cora”, Sara exhaled, stunned by the view. “How did you manage that so fast? Are those… roses?” She pointed at the briar across the room and approached it to take in its distinctive smell. Yeah, roses indeed.
“They’re my favorite”, Cora answered, getting closer behind her, and her words revealed that she was smiling, even though Sara couldn’t see it.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a garden on my own one day – a rose garden. Settle down somewhere, build a place to live, take care of the plants… It’s a dream to work for.”
“You, a gardener?”, Sara joked, turning around to face her. Cora’s smile had always occurred special to Sara, because she smirked, one of the corners of her lips raised up slightly, one eye slightly pinched, while the other half of her face stayed perfectly professional, revealing nothing but her military background. “I never would have guessed that from you. Are you going to fry the greenflies with your biotics then?”
What was supposed to be a joke, Sara realized was a very unintentional lead over to broach the real reason Cora had brought her in here.
Cora leaned against the workbench next to her. “That’s exactly what we need to talk about.”
Sara swallowed and suddenly regretted she’d said anything.
“Your biotics”, Cora continued, “you need to learn how to control them. You have no training, no experience, heck it takes years to eventually master them, and a lifetime to perfectionate them. If you keep using them just like that, they might get out of hand at one point.”
Sara didn’t respond immediately. She needed time to think about this, think everything through. So far, she hadn’t even had the time to fully realize her biotic potential.
“It’s not like I want to use them”, Sara defended herself. “How am I supposed to stop them?”
“I know you don’t”, Cora tried to emphasize. “And you can’t. As soon as your feelings run free, they take control of you instead of you controlling them, and your biotics start to run free. Trust me, every adept has to start at one point, and we all had to go through this.”
“Through what exactly?”, Sara hesitantly asked.
“To learn how to control our feelings”, Cora explained. “You can’t let them overtake you, or they’ll get out of hand at one point.”
Sara didn’t like the way the conversation was going. “I don’t think they’re overtaking me”, she stated. “Don’t you think you’re taking this a bit too far? Just because SAM makes me able to use biotics now, I’m nothing close to a real adept.”
“SAM or not, I think you underestimate the power that runs within you”, Cora said, “and the huge impact your abilities can have if you don’t learn how to restrain them.”
“Restrain?”, Sara exclaimed in surprise. “Wait, do you think… are you saying I’m not acting reasonable, but emotionally driven? That I’m not capable of biotics?”
“I don’t think you act without thinking before you do, but… to say the truth? From time to time I think your feelings tend to seize hold of you. Like in the facility? We need the Moshae’s approval, but you didn’t care, and decided against it anyway.”
“So, it’s about this, isn’t it?”, Sara said, feeling the anger coming up in her, the suppressed frustration she felt was making it to the surface from deep down her soul. “That I'm the Pathfinder, and you're not, isn't it? I still stand to my decision”, she added. “Even though not everyone agrees toit, I think it was the right thing to do, to save their lives.”
“Sara, I’m not trying to run you down, I’m trying to help you”, Cora tried to assure her, while she pulled away from the work bench and towered up. “But you need to take control of your feelings or they’ll overwhelm you, and your powers will run free. It endangers everyone close to you. I can help and provide the training you need to handle them.”
“I… I think I need some time to process this”, Sara muttered, confused and hurt at the same time. Surely Cora didn’t want to make her upset? But obviously, she didn’t agree with Sara’s style of leadership, which was her warranted opinion – if she wasn’t supposed to be the Pathfinder herself, instead of Sara. And apparently, she still had a grudge against her because of that.
“Sara.” Cora made a step forward towards her, but Sara avoided her.
“I understand your concern”, Sara said, “But I can’t just cut off half of my personality because of some minor biotics I’m suddenly capable of. After all, I didn’t choose to be the Pathfinder.”
“But the Pathfinder chose you”, Cora countered. “It’s time to take on the responsibility.”
“Believe me, I’m trying my best.” Sara made a pained expression. “But what kind of Pathfinder am I, if I don’t stay true to myself, when I was chosen the way I am?”
That was if her dad had chosen her for herself – and nothing else.
“All I’m asking is for you to think about it. Ok?”
“I’ll consider it”, Sara assured with a tired smile. Talking about her personally, not just random or diplomatic matters, was so much more exhausting to her.
When Sara left the bio lab, she could feel Cora’s eyes at her back, watching her leave in solicitude.
“Bad day?” Vetra was standing near the research console close to the bio lab, and when she’d seen the frustration on Sara’s face, she’d stopped her work and turn her attention to the Pathfinder.
“Makes up for a lifetime”, Sara told the truth flat out. “And I’m talking asari lifespan.”
Vetra’s mandibles twisted into a smile. “Good thing I have the perfect distraction for you on hand.”
This chapter is not as lighthearted as the story used to be, but I think the situation justifies it. Also I need to set up some drama.
I still love the Moshae though. ❤
Chapter 12: Two Stars Glowing In The Dark
“You know, getting laid is not what I’d planned today.”
“Oh, maybe you should put more thought to that for the future."
Song: Labrinth feat. Emeli Sandé – Beneath Your Beautiful
Vetra hadn’t lied when she’d said she knew the best distraction for Sara. Now she was thinking if she was addicted already, because she was sick for the next episode.
Fleet and Flotilla.
Together they’d watched it all night long, since it was Vetra’s favorite series, and she figured Sara might be interested as well – she’d been damn right. In between the episodes, Sara had told her about the Moshae’s decision and her dispute with Cora, to which the turian had shaken her head, but had remained mostly silent. She’d felt for Sara and had agreed there were some tough days to come now, and though the turian was a woman with many talents, to sink into the depths of depression wasn’t one of them, therefore they’d opened another bottle of Vetra’s secret hoard in her small room, laughed at the screen and swooned over the adorable turian trying to court the female quarian.
While spending the evening together, they’d talked about random things. Turned out Vetra had the hots for Kandros, but only in a daydream, and nothing she actually considered. Also, apparently Peebee kept talking to Vetra about her interest in Jaal a lot. Hadn’t he mentioned angara preferred steadfast relationships? Poor Jaal. He’d have a hard time getting her off his back then, Sara thought. Assuming he would realize at all that the asari only wanted to have a nice time, but wasn’t interested in a committed relationship?
Surely, she’d tell him before she'd lead him on, right?
Maybe it was time to sound the asari a little out.
But first of all, she’d have to get over her Fleet and Flotilla addiction and get some sleep.
After a few days, Sara felt a lot better in a psychological way, but her body was protesting against the lack of sleep, because she was too busy either watching new episodes with the turian or chatting to a beer on Liam’s couch. It was too bad the two of them didn’t get along well, because Liam didn’t like that Vetra had taken her younger sister Sid to Andromeda, but “abandoned” her on the Nexus, as he called it. Family was a sensitive topic to him that still made him cry from time to time when he thought about his parents, and yet, they enjoyed spending time together, wallowing in memories and exchanging their favorite pictures of Earth.
The decision of the Moshae didn’t go down well with him though, and even though he didn’t blame her personally, she could still see his disappointment and frustration taking the better of him, and it made Sara wonder if it was the same frustration Cora felt when thinking about the Pathfinder’s actions.
“We have to make things right”, he’d said. “Or Andromeda was a mistake. I can’t stand that.”
Speaking of the Angara, the Moshae still didn’t want to reason with Sara, as she refused to talk to anyone except Jaal, so eventually Sara had given up on her. Oddly enough, Jaal had also stopped to join the group for dinner and hadn’t been around much in general anymore, preferably hiding in the tech lab again. Perhaps it was because of the bad mood that had been up in the air, and since nobody had known what to say at dinner to not add fuel to the fire, they’d remained in silence, and two days later as a result they’d stopped having dinner together for now. At least, it had given Sara the time to catch up on some work.
While still in her night clothes and after SAM constantly reminding her, she finally checked her emails– a few random ones every officer of the Initiative received, one from Tann to impatiently ask for the still missing report of the kett facility mission-
And 32 emails from Peebee.
Paging through them, most of them were uninformative and of the same tenor, like asking how she was doing, what the hell was going on and if she could pass by, their subjects reaching from “The kitchen’s on fire!!!Q&%!” to “Ok cu bye I’ll take off with the escape pod”, followed by “Shit, I’m not going to miss Aya, never mind” that brought a smile on Sara’s face and made her shake her head at the same time.
Later that day, when Sara came into Peebee’s work space, the asari almost jumped at her, because she was so full of life and bubbly.
“Finally! Haven’t heard from you in days”, Peebee said excitedly. “Or anyone, actually. I see all the trouble with the emails wasn’t for nothing.”
“Really, all 32 of them?”, Sara joked.
“Ah well, I guess 3 emails would have done the job too to get you here. I just wanted to make sure.” She gave Sara an innocent smile.
“So, how’s it going with the Remnant core?”, Sara asked instead.
“Oh, Ryder, you’re late to the party, that’s super old news!” She waved it off. “With Jaal’s help I cracked it open days ago. It’s going to help me on a personal project I’m currently working on.”
“What kind of project?”
Peebee chuckled to herself. “I’m sure you’d like to know. But… I’m not telling. It’s a secret. You’ll have to be patient.”
“Mmmh.” Patience was the least of Sara’s strengths. “You sure you don’t wanna tell me?”
Peebee smelled a rat. “Nope. But next time we’re at the Nexus, I might have something to show you, maybe - if you buy me a drink at the Vortex.”
She really did enjoy teasing her.
“But seriously, what’s going on?”, Peebee asked now seemingly on the edge. “I’m trying to find out just anything on this damn ship, but everyone is either in a bad mood or ducking his head. Except Drack. I start to think he doesn’t give a fuck about anything anyway. And Jaal…”
Now that got Sara’s attention. “What about him?”
“Lexi said he only leaves his room to check on the Moshae once in a while. I don’t know, is he back on his “I need to be cautious so I just don’t talk to anyone”-trip? How’s he even getting to the showers without me seeing him? I mean, I don’t see him and I literally stalk that place!”
Sara raised an eyebrow. “Literally, really, Peebee?”
But Sara felt bad for Jaal – he was hurt and that’s why he hid in his little tech lab again. He had cheered her up when she had been sad the day they had returned to the Tempest, so if something depressed him, perhaps she should return the favor?
“What?”, the asari acted the innocent. “What do you care anyways? You’ve got your own shower – not like I’m stalking your ass. But Jaal’s…” She shifted her hips and put her hand on her chin with a dreamy look on her face.
“Do you… have a crush on him?”, Sara asked hesitantly.
“Hell, no!”, the asari exclaimed and gasped. “You know me, I live for the unknown. I just want to do what no one else has done before me. And to be the first to mate with an angara sounds cool enough to me.” Then she looked at Sara in skeptic. “But I’m not planning on reproducing anytime soon… Why, what do you care? Do you have a crush on him?”
“What?”, Sara looked at her in shock, feeling her heart racing in her chest, then she laughed it off. “Of course not.”
Peebee grinned at her cheesily. “Good.”
“It’s just…”, Sara added, “I think he’s interesting and… a great person. I’d prefer if you’d stay away from him if you are only interested in a fling.”
“A little possessive, aren’t we?”, Peebee countered cocky.
She sighed, stumbling at her own words. Why did it feel like her mind was rotating in circles? “Look, it’s your choice… If you both want it, I’m not messing with it, but… he has been hurt before, I think. I know you want no strings attached, but I just think he’s all about strings. I just… don’t want him to get hurt, he deserves better - that’s all, really. All I want is him to be happy. Please don’t break his heart.”
“Oh my god”, Peebee hid her face with one hand to express her vicarious embarrassment and started to walk back and forth in the room. “You so much have the hots for him! So much so that… I can’t take it, Ryder. I can’t decide if I should drink myself into a stupor now or just drift off with the escape pod!”
Holy crap. Awkwardness overload.
“Peebee, relax. Don’t freak out now”, Sara tried to cool her down.
“I know, I need to - I’m all stressed out! I’m really not build for this homesteading, and the coziness, and all those… meaningful conversations! When I was like this back home, I used to make a zero-g chamber, it really chilled me down. Wish I could do that here…”
“The escape pod could be used to create a zero-g chamber”, SAM suddenly responded. “I can initiate the necessary adjustments.”
“Of course! SAM, you’re a genius!”
Excited, Peebee jumped into the pod. “You know, there’s space for two, right?” Peebee gave her an inviting smile.
Sara’s curiosity got the better of her once more. “I thought you’d never ask!”
When Sara joined Peebee in the pod, she closed the pod’s lock behind her and SAM immediately adjusted the gravity to zero. Suddenly, all of Sara’s muscles went lose and free, and every move went with an easiness not even a feather had when drifting in the air. Peebee was right: It was really relaxing, as if literally all the burden felt off her shoulders with the gravity gone.
“Aaah… this feels so good”, Peebee said with a relaxed breath. “I could drift here forever.”
“Yeah, feels amazing”, Sara agreed.
Sara did a few playful head over rotations in the air with little effort, the feeling of it made her laugh, and Peebee joined in here contagiously.
“You know what else would relax me?” The asari turned herself around while drifting through the room and drifted towards Sara before putting the palm of her hands on Sara’s upper chest, right above her breasts. “Just close your eyes… relax… let yourself go.”
“To… play… rock-paper-scissors?”, Sara joked, trying to hide her confusion.
“We could fool around, practice a little”, she went on, while starting to caress Sara’s skin with her hands. “Doesn’t matter if you’re interested in Jaal. I can be utterly discreet. Just two people blowing off steam.”
“You mean like… friends with benefits?”
Peebee threw a seductive smile at her, and for a brief moment Sara understood the sex appeal asari had on every other species. All of a sudden Peebee put one of her hands around her, pressing against Sara’s back while pulling herself closer, and they both wildly floated in circles around themselves, added by a hearty laugh of the asari that made Sara giggle. Her touch was soft and her skin warm, their bodies closer than she’d ever been to the asari before.
Then, Peebee pressed a hushed kiss on Sara’s lips.
“It’s not… I think we shouldn’t…”, Sara stumbled on her own words, surprised and aroused at the same time.
“Sssh…”, Peebee silenced her. “Don’t worry, I understand. Say no more.”
“Peebee, listen, I didn’t mean to-“
Peebee interrupted her with another laugh. “Hey, don’t you know what “say no more” means? Really, I mean it, no explanation necessary.”
“Ok.” Sara was relieved and gave her a shy smile. Wow, she really hadn’t expected the talk with Peebee to get even more awkward than it had already been. So that’s what an asari in her maiden years was like – no surprise lots of men fell for it and admired their species. Sara smirked.
“You know, getting laid is not what I’d planned today.”
“Oh, maybe you should put more thought to that for the future. Unexpected things can happen anytime, you know?” Peebee winked at her.
“Ok. Well. I guess I should be going”, Sara said, still gathering her wits together.
“Ok, sure”, Peebee said with a teasing smile. “Have fun talking to Jaal.”
“I’m not…”, Sara started, but then realized that she was actually right. “I mean, I wanted to, but… not what you think.”
“Oh, what am I thinking then?”, Peebee teased her and gave her a charming smile.
“Yeah, right. I get it”, Sara nervously chuckled. “SAM, could you turn on the gravity again so I can get out?”
SAM did as she asked for, and suddenly they dropped on the ground on their feet again, the pressure on every of her muscles felt suddenly heavier than it had felt before she’d joined Peebee in the escape pod.
“Bear that in mind, Sara!”, Peebee cat-called at her while she went outside. "Anytime!"
If Sara would think of all the times she’d seen the asari’s grin at her, this was by far the hugest.
“Jaal?” Sara carefully entered the tech lab when she saw Jaal kneeling on the ground in front of the kett construct he’d been working on from the beginning.
“Thank you for checking, but I’m all right.”
“Don’t know if I would be”, Sara said in commiseration. “After everything we found out in the facility…” Her words trailed off and the picture of the angara getting exalted by the priest arose in her mind. “After everything we’ve seen…”
“I have to be. How else do we go on?” He stopped his work and stood up to face her. His voice was steady and calm, but there was also a sadness resonating with it.
“You cheered me u when I was down. I’d like to return the favor. I may seem tough, but I have a good shoulder.”
“That’s… kind. You’re kind.” He looked down on the ground, gloominess filled his face. “I really miss my family at times like this.” With a blink of his eye he slowly looked up at her again. “Are you close to your family?”
“I was… am. My family is small. Since my mom and dad are dead, I only have one brother left. He’s… in a medically induced coma. I’m kind of an orphan at the moment.”
“Yeah, well.” Her voice was shaking a little. “That’s what friends are there for I suppose. They’re like family to me.”
“Do you have many friends then?”, he asked instead.
“Well, this random collection of Tempest oddballs can feel like family sometimes. Besides them, I… don’t have many friends... I left most of them back home when I came to Andromeda, and here I didn’t really have the time yet to make new ones.”
“I’m… sorry.” He looked at her as if he felt pity for her.
“It sounds… awful, doesn’t it?” Suddenly she felt very lonely, and her voice broke off.
Before she could realize it, Jaal closed the space between them and took her in an embrace with his massive arms, holding her tight, his big, gloved hands laid on her back, while her head softly leaned against the collar of his rofjinn. She could feel her heart race in her chest, beating against his deep, firm breaths, and she felt all the loneliness of the world fade away, the icy exterior of his was finally completely gone as she nearly melted into his arms.
She wished the moment could last forever, and for once in her lifetime, she felt completely save.
“I take it angara like to hug?”, she asked curiously.
He pulled away a little to look down at her, but his hands still rested on her upper arms.
“We do”, he responded with a chuckle. “We like to express our emotions in a physical way too. Sometimes, we punch each other, and other times, we hug and caress each other.”
“Just, please don’t punch me, Jaal”, she countered with a smirk to light up the mood, and he answered her with another chuckle.
“I won’t”, he promised.
“And do angara… just hug anyone?”, she hesitantly asked, afraid of his answer.
“No, only family – and friends.”
She gave him a bright smile, her eyes meeting his. “Does that mean… we’re friends now?”
The astonishment of her voice rose a beatific smile from him. “Yes. Calling you a friend would be an honor.”
They smiled at each other in complete silence, and Sara wasn’t sure when there had been the last time she’d felt this happy.
“I’m glad”, she finally said.
His hands slowly let go of her, falling to his side again, his gaze fell down, he just stood there as Sara turned to the door to leave.
But something deep inside her unwillingly held her back from leaving just yet.
His eyes met hers again.
“So… you’ll be back to Aya then. I hope you enjoyed staying with us - at least a little, maybe?” A shy smile curled around her lips.
Jaal chuckled. “It’s different, to stay with you than with the Resistance. A little. A little too much, I guess.”
“A little too different or a little too enjoyable?”
Jaal chuckles. “A bit of both. But not too different to not enjoy it, too.”
Both started to laugh, the deep sub sounds of his voice were a vibrating hum. They felt silly to play with the words like this, instead of just speaking straight away what they really wanted to say. It wasn’t a typical angaran reaction to express himself, Sara thought, and maybe he was starting to become a little human-like – just like she was emboldened to speak her mind freely when she was around him like an angara. But even though he wore his heart on his sleeve, saying goodbye wasn’t one of the things he could easily bring himself to say.
“Jaal, there’s… one more thing I wanted to say. That day we met on Aya? You had no reason to trust me, or to join us - hell you didn’t even have to let me walk out alive. I just… I just wanted to say, I’m glad you did what you did. Thank you. For everything.”
And therefore, she turned around once more and quickly left the tech lab, before he could respond to her. She didn’t want him to say goodbye, nor did she want to hear it.
Because she knew she’d miss him sorely.
Chapter 13: Fight A Losing Battle
“Jaal! I swear it started very innocently, but got out of hand quickly.”
Song: Martin Garrix & Bebe Rexha – In The Name Of Love
When they arrived on Aya, the crew and the Moshae walked along the landing dock, there was already a huge welcoming committee waiting for them at the end of it. There were only two faces Sara remembered – the female governor Paraan Shie and Evfra, leader of the Resistance.
“Stars and skies light our way!” The Moshae waved at them from the far distance and the crowd responded immediately, celebrating her return.
“She really knows how to play a crowd”, Sara stated.
“She’s the Moshae”, Jaal said while walking next to her and close to the Moshae, as if his words explained themselves.
“Welcome home”, the governor greeted them.
“I never thought I’d see it again”, the Moshae responded and their left arms crossed in front of them to illustrate their reunion. “Without the Resistance – and the Pathfinder – I wouldn’t be here.”
The crew stepped up to her, right in front of the governor and Evfra.
“We freed more than just the Moshae. And the Pathfinder killed a kett leader”, Jaal explained them triumphantly.
Evfra made an affirmative gesture. “Then we have a lot to celebrate.”
“We’ve been alone against the kett for way too long”, Paaran stated directed at Sara. “You’ve proven it doesn’t have to be that way. Our city will be open to you from now on, please feel free to join our festivities – and it’s time we discussed an alliance between our people.”
“We’ll gladly make room for you on the Nexus, too”, Sara was willing to oblige.
“And we’ll provide an embassy here as well”, Paaran assured her, then they stepped away, taking the Moshae with them and weaving their way through the crowd.
Jaal and Sara looked at each other. “I need to file a few reports first. I’ll meet you later. In the meanwhile, you should see the sights of our city.”
The only question was: Where to start?
Aya’s sight was astonishing. The city’s walkways were surrounded by plants of a completely new biosystem, and it took Sara hours already to scan them with SAM’s help and file the information away for the Nexus as soon until they’d head for the station again. The crew was spread all over the main city. When Sara finally reached the market place, she could see the turian standing in between the angara, already negotiating a trade agreement that included a special deal of offers for the Tempest.
“You doing okay?”, Sara asked to make sure of her welfare.
“Who knew saving a respected member of angaran society would open so many doors?” Sara was glad to see Vetra was taken up in her work and prove herself to be one of the best merchants of the Initiative.
Sara chuckled. “Indeed. I can see you wasted no time to talk to some of their traders already.”
“Just checking things out”, the turian explained. “I’m taking the advantage of the situation as long as they’re still wrapped up in the euphoria of the Moshae’s rescue. Makes negotiating a lot easier.”
“Great to hear. But don’t bargain too hard, we still need to earn their trust first.”
“You’re the boss”, was all Vetra said with a twist of her mandibles that exposed her sharp teeth, before she turned her attention back to the stalls.
Unsurprisingly Drack, Liam and Peebee had straightaway settled for the bar, the “Tavetaan”, where the most common refreshing drink was some kind of nutrition paste that was a larger extraction of the more expensive fruits the angaran plants provided and allowed them to feed all of their people with only a few fruits. When Sara had a chat with the barkeeper, he was willing to provide her the technology so they could use it on the Nexus, making life in Heleus a great deal easier for them. In exchange, the Pathfinder offered him spices and syrups of the Initiative he gladly accepted, and made sure Suvi would transfer the corresponding data to him.
Drack stepped up to her from behind, holding a drink of orange color in one hand that looked surprisingly tasty. “I didn’t expect they would welcome as so fast just by rescuing that woman. Most angara still keep their distance though.”
She gave him the once-over. “Well, you are a bit of an eyesore, Drack. I’d stay away from you too if I were them. Don’t take it personal.”
“Speak for yourself”, he answered back. “When I saw my first human, I couldn’t understand how you keep your blood inside. Skin that thin.” He had a sip of his drink.
“Mmh, by the way, any idea where the others went? I only found Vetra so far.”
“Bet she’s doing good business already”, the krogan said admiringly. “Kid was born to outtrade anyone, doesn’t matter which galaxy. Saw Liam take off with Jaal not long ago. Should be around somewhere here.”
While Sara looked around for her crew members in the Tavetaan, two female angara chit-chatting next to the railing of the bar caught her attention.
“-you heard? Jaal is back on Aya. They should put him on every Resistance recruitment poster. Did he ever contact you?”
Jaal? Did they talk about t-h-e Jaal?
Sara leaned on the railing a few steps away from them and pretended to enjoy the sight of the city, not sure if she ought to be ashamed of herself or just welcome it for “educational” reasons.
“No. That man is impervious to flirtation.”
Yeah, he hadn’t lied about that.
“Why are the good ones always dense?”
Or married. Or six feet under.
“I hear he had a thing for the repository’s curator. Never went anywhere. She’s just as thick.”
“So… Jaal’s available.”
“Stars, you’re hopeless. Where’s that shuttle?”
So even by angaran standards Jaal was pretty handsome it seemed. No surprise she’d caught an eye on him from the beginning.
‘Damn it, she is right.’ She was hopeless indeed. ‘I am hopeless.’
When Sara continued the search for her crew mates, she passed a museum for angaran history that contained a great deal of Remnant artifacts, and while Sara took a quick glance inside, she could see a drunk Peebee strolling through the passageways, the sight of her made her shake her head and chuckle at the same time.
Right after she stepped out of the museum again, SAM’s voice raised in her mind.
“Ryder, you are the subject of a detailed scan by an angara standing nearby.”
It didn’t take Sara long to figure out who it was – a female angara with a blue arm-tool like Jaal’s wiped through its readings without so much as looking at her.
“Hey, do you always scan strangers that pass by?”, Sara confronted her when she’d stepped up to her.
The angara carefully put her tool down to stop scanning, but not to risk losing any data it had received so far. “I wanted to be discreet”, she simply said and finally looked at the Pathfinder, although in annoyance.
“Why? What’s your interest in me?”, Sara asked curiously.
The angara’s annoyance turned into a look as if she questioned Sara’s intelligence. “You’re an alien on my homeworld. Why wouldn’t I be interested?”
“You could’ve asked”, Sara retorted.
“Fine”, she gave in and raised her arm-tool again. “Will you submit to a full—spectrum analysis of your biology then?”
“I have a scanner, too”, Sara said and showed her omni-tool in responce. “Seems only fair you let me go first.”
“You’re bold, Pathfinder. All right, scan me.”
While Sara scanned her, SAM read the results to her, which was nothing special since they already knew their most outstanding features such as their bioelectricity.
“All done”, Sara announced when she was finished. “You’re interesting.”
The female continued her scan of the Pathfinder. “So are you.”
It only took a few seconds until the angara had collected enough information about her and finally stopped, but she looked concerned.
“Family is everything to us”, she said. “Not only the one we have, but also the ones that follow us. With you here now, I wonder what our future generations will inherit?”
Her words were thought-provoking. “Are you implying… Well, I doubt our species would be genetically compatible.”
“I assume it’s a bare possibility”, she said. “But if you think about it, you came all the way here, to my homeworld, against all odds. How small was the possibility we would ever get to meet? Life is special, because it beats the odds regularly. I guess there’s a lot to learn from another. Goodbye, Pathfinder.”
When the angaran scientist went off, Sara gazed after her, her eyes ran over the central plaza and the affluent fountain right in the middle of it, so she decided to take a break and sit down there. Only now when Sara leaned her body over the fountain’s edge, she noticed a small kid in the water’s reflection keeping a wary eye on her – it was obviously a little boy, and she turned around to face him. He seemed to be curious, because even when their eyes met, he quickly looked away for a moment, caught in the act, but then carefully gazed at her again. He kept his distance though.
“Hello there”, Sara introduced herself, a smile played on her lips. “I’m Sara Ryder, Pathfinder of the Initiative. And who are you?”
He remained silent, nervously shifting from one foot to another.
“Okay then. It’s no shame to be wary of strangers”, she said calmly. “But, since I told you my name, would you like to introduce yourself, too?”
“I’m Edaan”, he simply said, then, after a moment of hesitation, he added: “My mothers say you’re an alien – like the kett.”
“Well”, Sara started, “do you think I look like a kett?”
He sized her up suspiciously. “No.”
“And do you think I sound like a kett?”
“No”, he repeated. “I’ve heard them talk. On Voeld, when I sneaked through the tunnels. They sound angry. And evil.”
Sara could only guess what he was talking about.
“And do I smell like a kett?”
Thin ice, Sara. How not to smell like a kett after infiltrating one of their facilities and live on a ship like a nomad?
He stepped up a little closer to her. “Don’t… think so”, he said. He was only an arm’s length away from her now.
“I’m a human”, she explained. “We are nothing like the kett.”
“What is that stuff on your head?”, he asked curiously and it too her a moment to figure out what he meant – her hair of course.
“Can I touch it?” Suddenly all his inhibition had faded away, his eyes had started to sparkle in a way that made her smile even more.
“If you’d like.”
She bent down to him when he moved up to her and reached out for a strand of her hair, his small fingers brushed through it, his eyes widened in fascination.
“It’s soo soft!”
Sara chuckled, feeling flattered, smitten with his charms. Now that the ice was broken, a few more kids stopped at them and eyed them in curiosity with wide galaxy-like eyes. Sara hadn’t realized before how many kids the plaza inhabited. It didn’t take long until she was wrapped up in a group of children who she had to prevent from pulling her hair too eagerly.
Then a murmur went through the group and Edaan shrieked at the sight of the Resistance member who gently weaved his way through them.
“Jaal!”, one of them squeaked. “Can you show us your rifle?”
“How many kett did you kill this time?”, another blurted out and clinged to the angara’s thigh with his small hands.
“Not now, Uvvon”, Jaal turned him down gently and stepped up to Sara. “I need to look after the Pathfinder. She’s our guest.”
“It’s a she!?”, one kid exclaimed and earned a sinister eye from the grown-up, then he applied the attention to the Pathfinder. “I see you were quite successful in seeking yourself company, Ryder.”
Sara found it adorable to see the admiration in the kids’ eye, looking up at Jaal.
“Jaal! I swear it started very innocently”, she explained jokingly, “but got out of hand quickly.”
He chuckled at her words, his smile broad and sweet. “That’s what they’re best at”, he simply said.
He reached out his hand to help her step out of the crowd, the kids darted off one by one, while Sara enjoyed how he pulled her close to him, her arm brushed his side, a flush made its way to her cheeks.
“Did you finish filing your reports?”, she asked while they walked the pedestrian way.
“I did”, he said. “And did you have time to explore the city?”
“Not as much as I’d liked to”, she admitted. “I was so busy with… well, anything but that.”
He chuckled. “Of course. Perhaps, I can show your around?”
A broad smile covered her face. “I’d like that.”
They headed for the market which had taken on a festive look, but Vetra was nowhere to see.
“To be honest…”
“When have you ever not been honest?”, Sara said with a laugh.
“… to see you with children is endearing. It’s nice to look at. You should have some of your own one day.”
Sara felt how she went red in the face. Would he even notice?
“Me and children?”, she laughed it off. “Maybe later, when there’s less Pathfinder things to do… provided that’s ever going to happen. Besides, I can hardly manage my own life. I mean, seriously, my crew can bribe me with a bag of sweets anytime, I’m addicted to the cheesiest series of the whole Milky Way and I couldn’t file my reports in time even if someone paid me for doing so!”
“It’s what makes you human. And unique”, he simply said, no judgment in his voice.
‘Unique? Rather a dorky fail!’, Sara thought sarcastically, but did not dare to say it out loud.
They stopped at a fruit stall, Sara had never seen anything like it, and Jaal purchased a few from the fruit dealer.
“Are those the ones they make the nutrition paste from?”, she asked curiously. “What do you need them for?”
“I was planning to arrange a common feast at the Tempest”, he explained to her while they ambled past the stalls. “Perhaps, the crew would like to learn more about angaran dietary habits?”
“Wait, are you… I thought you’re leaving?”
“I talked to Evfra”, he answered. “I’m not leaving.”
“Really?”, she blurted out in pure surprise and her cheeks flushed with pleasure, but it was barely a real question. “What did he say?”
Jaal stifled a laugh. “He wasn’t very surprised. He agreed tacitly.”
“I’m glad he did”, was all she was able to say because of the huge smile that froze her face into a mask of happiness.
Yes, very dorky, Sara.
“Additionally, I uhm… I’d like your advice on something. To keep my mind busy, rather than worrying.”
She was still so taken in, his words got hardly through to her. “Whatever gets you through”, she said dreamy.
“I’m thinking about to make gifts for everyone.”
“Gifts?” Just now she got back into reality.
“Do… turians like poetry?”, he asked in all seriousness, while they walked through an avenue decorated with flowers. “For Vetra, I was thinking about writing a poem and engraving it on… uhm… I’m not sure yet.”
Vetra and poetry? No way!
“Oh, great idea, Jaal”, she encouraged him in her infatuation. “Who doesn’t like a personalized poem?”
“Ah, great. Maybe I could just recite it for her.”
“Sure, Jaal”, she smirked. “But make sure I’m there for that.”
“Liam seems to like my rofjinn. I might sew him one.”
“You know how to sew?”
“And do krogan like knives? I could craft a ceremonial dagger for Drack.” He looked at her eagerly.
“I’m sure he’d love anything that can cut a kett’s throat”, she simply said.
“Mmh. It’s mainly decorative.”
While the sun shined through the field of flowers above their heads, he glanced at her and it send a warm shiver down her back.
“And what would you like, Ryder?”
The question hit her unexpectedly. “Uhm… you’ve got me stumped. I have no idea.”
“Well, what do you like?”
“I like… traveling, and exploring. But I’m already doing that every day, ain’t I? It’s still exciting.”
“Mmmh.” He hit on an idea. “Let me show you something you might like. Come with me.”
“Oh, sure”, was all she could say, curious about what he had in mind.
“By the way, have you seen any of the others yet?”, she asked him, when they set off into another direction, leaving the fruit market and the avenue behind them.
“I caught Liam on the bridge not long ago teaching Suvi and Kallo an old angaran folk song.” The memory raised a smirk from him. “At least that’s what I told him it was.”
Sara eyed him suspiciously, raising an eyebrow. “What have you been up to?”
“Don’t fret. The marriage can be dissolved by a different song. I’ll try to remember it.”
“You did what?”
A ripple of laughter escaped his throat. “You can look for them later. Now, take a break and enjoy the view with me, Ryder.”
Suddenly he grabbed her arm and pulled her with him to the balustrade they got close to. Apparently, it was an observation deck, because from that point they had a perfect view on Aya’s nature, patchy mist befogged the peak of the distant mountains, in front of it the tropical forest had bored its way through the hilly landscape, carved up by the lava of an active volcano in the far distance that added to the unique scenery.
Sara wondered if Aya needed to be healed at all.
“Well, what do you think?”
“I could get used to it.” She couldn’t take her eyes of the scenery, because it was so astoundingly beautiful.
“We take turns living here. You can see why”, he murmured. When she took a glimpse at him, his eyes went off in the distance, his galaxies trailing over the drifting clouds.
“You’re relaxed here”, she said. “There’s a sparkle in your eye.”
“I am. Thank you. It’s nice of you to notice.” He returned her look, his eyes soft and bright. “I’m lucky I met you.”
Sara chuckled. “It was a coincidence indeed. Landing on this planet. By accident. And on fire.”
“No. You’re special. That’s why I’m lucky.”
Sara shyly looked away and felt a rising blush suffusing her cheeks all the way right up to her ears from embarrassment. In that moment, her hands at the balustrade, the wind blowing in her hair, she felt as if something was shifting deep within her, in her heart, her soul, or whatever was there, transforming into a feeling hadn’t been there before, like the sprout of a rose that was about to blossom in her soul and put down its roots in her heart. It was the scary, but beautiful beginning of a new sensation budding within her she wasn’t sure how to deal with it, or what exactly it was that awoke in her. The only thing she knew was that she’d never felt anything like it before in her life. The world around her was still the same as a moment before, and yet the tiny change within her had changed the world for her.
It was the first time she thought about how it might be if he would kiss her.
Maybe she was still trying to fight a losing battle.
I think someone just fell in love. ♥
Too bad we can't see angaran baby cuties walking around. :( I want them so so bad!
Chapter 14: Falling In And Out Of Love
I promise he’ll want to spank you at the end of the day!”
“Oh gosh, no, Peebee! Just... no!”
Song: Ruth B. – If This Is Love
They stayed a whole week on Aya in which Sara took all the necessary preparations to help establish an embassy for the Initiative. Also, she willingly agreed on taking an angaran diplomat with her to the Nexus, since they’d planned to head for the station as their next destination anyway.
How long had it been that she’d seen Scott for the last time now?
But first, she needed to study the angaran laws and trade regulations more intensely to be able to help make an agreement between their species. Therefore, Sara was busy reading papers all day and night long, mostly staying in the Tempest’s meeting room so she wouldn’t feel so isolated, when her crew was busy enjoying their shore leave.
This evening, their last day of stay, Jaal had arranged his common feast for the Tempest’s crew and for the very first time the whole ship’s crew – even Kallo and Gil - came together for dinner. With a grin, Sara overlooked the situation, this time not in the thick of the actions, thinking that the shore leave did them a power of good – besides the salarian’s obvious disregard of Gil, the tension had significantly decreased, they were talking and laughing together in a relaxed atmosphere, and for the first ever since they rescued the Moshae, Sara felt as if all bets were off again, they had a new goal in mind, and it had a calming way about it.
The Pathfinder left the party early, setting herself to work again in the meeting room where she could her cackling laughter and the rattling of dishes in the far distance. SAM dimmed the light for her that had the perfect brightness to read the data pads without her eyes tiring too fast, and yet she had a hard time to stay awake, half-yawning and with dropping eyelids, her eyes kept on closing and she had to slap her face from time to time to keep herself from falling asleep.
Just a few more pages and she’d be done.
She browsed a few more pages, and then her eyes shut, dropping off to sleep and dozing off to sweet dreams.
Sara started up from her sleep, lifting her head up from the table so that the data pad fell to the ground. It was morning - was it morning? -, why hadn’t SAM woken her up?
While she still gathered her wits, rising in the chair, she felt something sliding down her shoulder, a fabric that apparently had been drawn over her, and her eyes widened in confusion.
It was a rofjinn, with its unique turquoise color.
And she only knew one person with a rofjinn.
Had he… covered her with it like a blanket?
As if she wasn’t crazy enough about him already.
Again, she felt her heart sending a rush of heat through her body, awaking emotions deep within her she’d never felt before. It was scary indeed, to face the unknown, and she wasn’t sure what exactly she was dealing with, or, maybe she had an idea if she would have to guess, but didn’t want to face it. She was the Pathfinder, she had to take on her responsibility, this wasn’t the time for… it.
But even if she gave in, would her affection ever be returned? Would she have the guts at all to ever find out?
At least, she should return his rofjinn to him, she owed him that much.
“Mr. Ama Darav is located in the cargo bay”, SAM told her.
“Thanks SAM”, she said, “but I think you can stop calling him Mr. Ama Darav by now.”
In the cargo bay, Jaal was working on the kett construct again which had obviously been deconstructed and reassembled a couple of times by multiple people as it didn’t look like as if it was still serving any purpose at all, and rather act as an experiment apparatus. Without his cape on, she could see his buff body contour through his tight-fitting clothing that made her sweat and swallow hard.
“Jaal?” She held his rofjinn tight in her hands, reaching it out to him when he let go of the construct to face her. “I wanted to give this back to you.”
“Ah. Thank you for bringing it back”, he said politely and took the rofjinn out of her hands so that they touched for a bare second, and she felt her cheeks turn red.
A shy smile aroused around her lips. “Thank you for… taking care of me.”
“Don’t worry. That’s what friends are there for, right?”, he simply said.
Friends. Yeah, of course. What else had she expected?
“Oh. Yeah of course.”
“I hope you had a restful sleep”, he added. “You seemed tied up in your work a lot recently. I’ve been keeping myself busy as well with working on making more gifts. Perhaps, I should get back to it as soon as I am done here. Do you know by now what you’d like?”
“I’ll let you know as… soon as I know. I should let you go back to it.” She gave him a pleading look. “Talk to you later, maybe at dinner?”
“Of course. Stay strong and clear, Ryder.”
It was the Resistances' slogan, something he’d say to any friend, she was glad to be one of them, he’d really opened up to the crew and seemed to get along with everybody, especially Liam.
Why did it feel like a stab through her heart then when he was only trying to be friendly? Because she wanted more? And what if he would never return her feelings? Perhaps it was better to get rid of them… but how?
Easier said than done.
When the finally docked at the Nexus, Sara escorted the ambassador and his guards, accompanied by Jaal, to the inner of the station along the landing dock until they reached the security control. Even though Sara had made sure to preremit all the information about the angara early before their arrival, the security guards couldn’t help but stare at them, and Sara was just glad the angara didn’t take it as an offense.
“Is something wrong?”, Sara asked.
“I’m sorry, but we’ll have to secure your weapons”, one of the Initiative guards said. “Armed guards aren’t necessary at the station.”
“I prefer to stay armed for now”, the ambassador responded kind but affirmative. “The kett deceived and enslaved us, when they arrived. So, I hope you understand my… precautions.”
“Pathfinder?” The Initiative guards looked at her in confusion.
“Their people have endured much, if we were them, we’d be cautious too.” She gave the ambassador a confirming nod. “If you want to, keep your weapons, we trust you that much.”
He thought about it for a moment. “I want to believe in this alliance”, he finally said. “Please, help me trust in you.”
The Initiative militia looked at each other, then didn’t interfere any longer and let them pass eventually.
Sara brought them to the Cultural Centre, where she was able to hand him to the Initiative’s diplomats as they’d arranged it, the asari ambassador welcoming them with great kindness.
“Thank you for arranging my access to this place”, Jaal said to her while she showed him around a little. “It looks like it would take a lifetime to study everything in here.”
“You won’t get bored, I promise you that. You can find information about all milky way species here”, she said to him with a smirk and walked up to a pillar that showed the blue hologram of a planet she pointed at.
“This is Earth, the human’s birth place. When you scroll through that panel, it will give you all the information you need, like pictures of our greatest city’s, our most famous scientists, artists-”
“Thank you, Ryder”, he assured her again, seeming eager. “But I think I’ll start with the asari. No offense.”
“Oh”, she said a little disappointed. “Sure, Jaal.”
“But eventually, I’m sure I will learn a lot about the other species here, too.”
She chuckled. “Let me know when you get to Elcor Hamlet. I can’t wait to see what you think about it.”
“What is… an Elcor?”, he asked curiously, stretching the word as if it had an interesting sound to it. “And where can I find this Hamlet?”
A soft laugh escaped her throat. “Over there, Jaal. Ah well, I’m sure you’ll find your way around here.”
“You don’t stay?”, he asked.
“I have a… meeting to attend”, she explained hesitantly. It wasn’t a real meeting though, well, not an ordinary one for sure. “Have fun, Jaal.”
“Thank you, Ryder”, he repeated gently, then quickly went off to the direction she’d pointed him, but then stopped when he’d found the part of the exhibition that showed Thessia, the home planet of the asari.
Sara gazed after him, sighing slightly. Why could nothing just be simple?
When Sara entered the med bay on the Hyperion, a cold shiver ran down the spike of her back, feeling humbled and frightened all of a sudden. She didn’t like hospitals, not since she’d seen her mom lay in one of them, dying, and especially not since she had to visit Scott in one of them if she wanted to see him, even if it wasn’t a permanent state.
“Hey Harry”, she greeted the doctor with tan skin and grayed hair. “How you doing? How’s Scott?”
“Glad to see you in one piece, Sara”, he greeted her. “I’m sorry I can’t be with you out there on your mission, but Scott…”
“It’s alright, Harry”, she soothed him. “You take good care of him I see, that’s all that matters.”
“We got him out of his pod”; he explained on, “but I don’t wanna get your hopes up. It will still take a while ‘til he will wake up.”
Scott laid on his med bed, looking almost peacefully as if he was just sleeping normally and would wake up any moment, his eyes were closed, face up to the ceiling, his hands folded together on his chest.
Harry followed her gaze. “I’ll give you two some privacy”, he said caring. “Take your time.”
Sara sat down on Scott’s bed, his breath went steady and placid, and she put one hand on his. The scent of medicines and sterile bedlinen surrounded him.
“Hey Scott”, she said softly. “You sure you wanna sleep through the whole adventure?” She smiled, even though he could not see it, and no reaction of his betrayed otherwise, and sadness lied down on her face.
“I’m sorry you’re still on the Hyperion”, she said to him as if he could hear her. “If things had gone just a little differently, you’d be talking to me now instead of me to you.”
She took a deep breathe, caressing his hand gently. “Things did not… turn out the way we expected them to. The golden worlds didn’t exactly deliver.”
She eyed him, but no reaction betrayed his sleep, no sign of waking up.
“And there’s been some… other complications as well. I’m not sure how to say this, but… dad’s dead, Scott. It was all very sudden. He saved my life and… I’m the new Pathfinder now. But I don’t know what to do, Scott, without you here. I’m sure he’d want to be here now… with us.” Her eyes rested on his hands. “I wonder if he cared after all.”
Suddenly, sweat bathed Scott’s forehead and his eyelids twisted as if he was trying to open them, but couldn’t, then without a warning his hands jerked up, followed by spasmodic convulsions that went through his body and lifted him up from the bed in unsteady beats, as if he was a fish gaffed to the riverbanks, his muscles fighting its way back into the water.
Something was terribly wrong.
“Scott!”, Sara screamed, unable to help him, her hands clinched to his. Harry rushed to her side.
“He’s suffering an attack”, Harry explained when he read the readings of his device whole Scott’s body was still jumping roughly on the bed that pushed Sara off, and tears filled her eyes in the panic. Harry prepared an injection on his desk with deft hands, and before she would even realize what he was doing, he already pushed the injection in Scott’s vein, the attack faded away almost immediately, the spasm stopped as though nothing had happened.
Still in shock, Sara looked at the events as if in trance, a blurry holo vid she could turn off if she just wanted to, not feeling real enough but just enough to be incapable of looking away.
The next thing she felt was Harry firm grip on her shoulder as if to wake her up. He was a doctor – he surely knew what she went through in this moment, perhaps more than she did herself.
“Sara”, he said gently, but vivid. “I’m glad you came. But, for now, it might be better you get out of here. Get some fresh air.” He looked her deep in the eye as to make sure. “Okay?”
She nodded at him absently and it took her a moment until his words fully went through to her. Just now, he let go of her, and while she left the med bay, he looked after her, all the way until she was out of his sight, before he allowed himself to let pity fill his eyes.
Sara took the air transit, her hands still shaking when she had to press the interface for her destination. Fortunately, she was the only one in the cabin, which gave her the very needed time to process the occurrence, lean against the handrail of the transit’s chairs, and let all her emotions flow, ranging from anger to sadness to pure despair, a convulsive sobbing went through her, tears moistened her eyes, then ran down her cheeks bones to her chin, dropping on the floor.
But she couldn’t allow herself to break down now. There was still something she’d have to do.
There always was.
She’d never been inside here. Finally, the Hyperion’s security office had been able to give her access. On the shelves, right above the bedsted, was a collection of milky way space ship models, one of them a famous turian cruiser of the first contact war, and the smell of old books and old coffee cups that still laid in the kitchen’s sink filled the room’s air.
It was the first time she’d entered her father’s quarters on the Nexus.
Her fingers trailed over the bookshelf, pulling one of them out carefully as if it could fall to ashes right in her hand. Treasure Island. Her dad had been a collector of old books, it had been one of his favorite stories. She’d never read it, even though it was such a famous story it had even been published on data pads as well, but Sara had never paid enough attention to chasing stories, digitally or on paper, but instead the real stars of the universe.
Maybe it was time to change that.
She kept the book in her hands, its cover felt abrasive on her skin, while she passed the small kitchen space he had in his room. She remembered his coffee machine mum had bought for him, because he’d always needed caffeine to stay awake and work all day and night, something that stayed in their family, still.
While strolling through the room, she reached his work desk, filled with data pads of all kind of analysis he’d received after they’d arrived in Andromeda.
But there was something else that caught her interest.
When she turned on his father’s system, a blue holo screen appeared that needed her to type in his ID and a password.
“SAM, any idea what will give us access?”
“It’s a date”, SAM confirmed to her. “He chose it to cherish Ellen after her death.”
Sara stared at the screen. SAM didn’t need to say no more, she knew which date it was.
Their date of marriage.
“Fill it in and give me access to the logs, SAM.”
“Access granted”, SAM confirmed.
While Sara browsed through the regular entries, she was more interested in the ones before they’d left the milky way, before her mum had died.
She wanted to know if he’d ever cared about his family.
She found a log entry called “dinner”, something her dad barely attended, and only if he really needed to. A video appeared on the screen, and she could see the recording of a dinner party they had on their home on the Citadel, her parents, Scott and her, all together for once – and for last. She remembered the day, and even though her dad had always been a leader, dealing with family occasions had never been one of his strengths. ‘He’d done it for mum’, she thought.
The next log entry had no headline. When Sara looked at the screen after activating it, she realized why: It was the day they’d visited her mother at the hospital.
The day she was about to die.
Sara had to fight back the tears, seeing her mother like that. She’d amost forgotten how thin and fragile she’d been at the end, and yet she was smiling, spending the last moments with her children on the hospital’s bed, telling them to listen to their father, to always smile, never give in….
And to fall in love. Sara didn’t believe her ears when she heard her mums voice through the speakers.
“Fall in love. At least once.”
The wetness in her eyes became a flowing river, down her cheek bones, down her chin, and little drops landed on her father’s desk, laying there like small oceans.
“SAM”, she called him with weak voice, “send the recording to my system on the Tempest. Add them to log file “Private”, please.”
“As you wish, Pathfinder”, SAM affirmed. “I can also transfer the other of Alec’s logs that are not encrypted to your personal system.”
“Thank you, SAM”, was all she managed to say, when she headed for the exit, leaving the coffee machine, the books and the ship models behind. The doors to his quarters closed behind her and locked themselves, as she walked out in the open of the station, the streets filled with people, and a few stores that had opened since the station was back to life. Sara paused for a moment, staring at a huge hologram in the hallway that showed the commercial of a cinema movie called Easy Rider, where a beautiful asari had to protect her home world from an unknown alien species.
Maybe she could ask Jaal out for a movie tonight?
Sara stood there, clinging to the book in her hands, while its neon lights shined on her skin, as the commercial repeated itself over and over, until she started to forget where she’d come from, or why she stood there, or what the commercial was about again.
A call of her comm pulled her back into reality, while commercial’s headline still appeared countless times.
“Hey Ryder”, it was Peebee’s cheerful voice. “You up for a little surprise? Meet me in my apartment. I send you the coordinates.”
“You have an apartment?”
But before she could respond, Peebee had already dropped the call.
When she went to the coordinates Peebee had sent her, she was indeed standing in an apartment block on the Nexus, a few still available for rent.
“Come on in, it’s open!”
The door’s swished open and Sara entered. The apartment was rather small and obviously a mess which was no surprise given it was Peebee living in here.
“Tadaa!” Enthusiastically the asari twirled around, exposing a Remnant construct next to her. “Meet Poc, my newest project! She is complete.”
Sara was stunned and suspicious at the same time, raising an eyebrow. “She?”
“Looks like a she to me”, Peebee explained eagerly. “I was able to extract a field protocol from the Remnant core, including combat protocols that fight for you. What do you think?”
“Wow, you’ve outdone yourself, Peebee”, Sara had to give her that much. “You should let Suvi and Gil eyeball it, then fast-track the combat model for me.”
“I’d hoped you’d be happy, but to be honest? You don’t look like it at all.”
Sara was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“You can’t fool me, Ryder, I know you’re the Pathfinder and all, but I know a sad person when I look at her. What’s bothering you?”
Sara was hesitating, Peebee wasn’t exactly the person she liked talking about her worries.
“Is it… because of Jaal?”
“No, it’s not”, Sarsa said, giving in with a sigh. “Listen, Peebee, I-”
But Peebee didn’t plan on listening. “I know I probably shouldn’t butt into this, but I won’t let you down on this. In some way, we’re friends I guess, right? I can help you.”
“Peebee, you don’t need to-”
“I can help you turn him on, make him go crazy for you! That’s one of my many talents, you know?”
“Peebee, I don’t-“
“Just take me on the next mission with you, and I’ll make sure at the end of it, he’ll only have eyes for you. Isn’t that what you want after all?”
Sara looked at her in silence for a moment, she was too tired for discussions, or explanations, and it’s not like she’d listen to her anyway, once the asari got started, it was hard to talk her out of it.
Maybe, it wasn’t such a bad idea?
It probably was.
But fuck it.
“You wanna go to Voeld?”, Sara asked in disbelief. “You did look out the window when we were there, right? You saw all the ice and snow, right?”
“You know, Vetra and Drack love the heat, don’t you?”, the asari started, a smirk playing around her lips. “Nothing will make them put a single footstep on that planet! So, you can either decide to Cora with you and get her freaked out over your biotics all the time... or… you take me with you, and I make sure the two of you get some privacy down there. I promise he’ll want to spank you at the end of the day!”
“Oh gosh, no, Peebee! Just... no!”
In that moment, the doors behind her swished open again and an asari came inside, one Peebee addressed as Kalinda, and they exchanged a few not so friendly words, but rather spoke teasingly. When Kalinda left the apartment again, Peebee made clear she’d been the one freeing her out of her stasis pod early, but their once intimate relationship had changed into one of envy and resentment.
“I badly need a drink”, Peebee sighed, seemingly stressed out. “Let’s check out the Vortex. You in? You look like you could use a drink.”
“As long as they have my favorite drink”, Sara said with a smirk. Somehow, seeing Kalinda take off some of Peebee’s hyperactive energy had cheered her up.
“What’s it called?”, the asari asked.
Peebee laughed. “And good friends don’t let friends drink alone!”
The only music they played in the Vortex was a humming electro rock that made the whole place vibrate under its beat – nothing Sara would usually listen to, but it was enough to make her thoughts drift off. At the bar, they found Drack who had ordered a huge pine of an almost black liquor - and it didn’t seem to be his first for today.
“Can’t an aged krogan just be alone for a moment?”, he grunted, his bad breath worth a dragon’s kill.
“C’mon, old man”, Sara deadpanned, “don’t you want some company to feel like a spring chicken?”
“You mean, to feel even older than I already do? No.”
“You have to take care of Ryder for me for a moment”, Peebe explained while already eyeing a group of humans on the other side of the club. “Cheer her up a little, will ya? I have to get myself a few free drinks first!” And with that, Peebee took off, probably to get tight on a couple of drinks she didn’t plan to pay for herself.
“Don’t expect her to come back”, Drack said, eyeing her up. “And what about you? Having a pisser of a day?”
Sara looked at him, then at his pine, discreetly ignoring the question. “Shouldn’t you stay sober at your age? Drink a cup of hot chocolate instead?”
“Livers, I have four. I can drink more than you could ever hold your liquor.”
They both chuckled and Drack took a sip of his pine. “So, what’s up, kid?”, he then asked.
“Oh Drack, don’t get me started… my brother isn’t doing well and the few things my dad left behind doesn’t make me feel any better.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “But I… could need your advice on something.”
“Good advices always come from bad examples. And I’ve seen all the shit of a galaxy, kid.”
“I’m asking for a friend.”
The krogan laughed. “Sure, what do I care?”
“How do krogan deal with… I mean… When you like someone a lot, and you know you shouldn’t, but still do… how do you unlike yourself of that person?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
He pointed at the decoration around his armor’s collar. “Do those bones look like I’m kidding?”
“Not helping, Drack.”
“Might want to get a more human-like advice then, if krogan style doesn’t do it for you”, he said, nodding over to a table at the end of the bar with a group of people sitting there. It was just now that she realized it was Gil, Suvi and Vetra, playing poker.
“Go already”, he added to her curious look at them. “One can drink his pine better here alone.”
Sara padded his arm and threw a smirk at him. “Don’t make me come back to scrape you off the ground, old man.”
When Sara walked over to them, Gil just collected his hard-won price from the table that seemed to be only one of many.
“Hey guys, what’s up?”, Sara asked while sitting down on a free chair.
“Aaah, just another victorious round! You’re really getting better, Vetra. Who’s up for another? You in, Ryder?”
“Yeah, why not”, Sara agreed.
“I’m out”, the turian stated, throwing her cards on the table. “I can’t afford to support your drinking problem any longer!”
Gil faked to be offended by her words. “I don’t have a drinking problem! I drink, I get drunk, I pass out – no problem!”
“You ready to lose your credits?”, Suvi joked at her with a chuckle, then her smile faded when she looked at the Pathfinder. “You ok, Sara? You look... troubled.”
“Is it written on my forehead or something?”, Sara murmured. “I just… had a bad day. Scott had an anaphylactic shock while I was there and…”
“Oh, I’m so sorry”, the redhair tried to comfort her. “I’m sure he’ll get better soon.”
“You Ryders are tough”, Vetra agreed. “I’ve seen you in the field, your kind can take on a lot. Even the old man thinks that.” She waved a hand over to Drack who had his back turned to them in the distance.
“Guys, I might… need your advice on something. I’m asking for a friend.”
The group chuckled in amusement.
“Why the hell does nobody believe me?”
“You don’t even believe it yourself!”, Suvi countered laughingly. “So, what is it? Don’t leave us in the lurch!”
“Ah well…” Sara caught her breath. “If you really like someone, but you know you shouldn’t… how do you get rid of your feelings? Like, the fastest way that doesn’t imply killing anyone?”
“That definitely depends on the person we’re talking about”, Gil said thoughtful. “If it’s Liam, go for it! Or wait, leave him for me.”
“Is it Liam?”, Vetra pumped her.
“You’re such a bad liar, Sara”, Suvi chuckled. “Even worse than… wait.” She stared at her in disbelief. “Jaal!? Are you serious?”
“Not helping, all of you!”
“Sara, about your question…”, the turian started carefully, “why not just ask him about his feelings? Give it a try, go on a date maybe?”
“Ask him?” Sara gasped. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Why not?”, Suvi agreed. “A date would do you good.”
Yeah, why not actually? Was she so scared of getting rejected? Or of the reactions the others would have on her?
Unexpectedly, a call came through her comm at that moment. Not the most appropriate time to pick up, but what if it was important?
“Ryder”, Jaal’s voice appeared in her ear and all of her sadness floated away. “I… this place is so full of life, it’s impressive. What’s that sound in the background?”
“I’m in the Vortex with the crew”, Sara explained hesitantly. “What’s on your mind?”
“I need to speak with you about something. Can we meet?”, he asked eagerly.
“Sure”, she gave in, “Meet me at the docking bay in about ten minutes, I’ll be right there.”
Sara quickly bid goodbye and went out of the club, not wasting any time. She hadn’t told them who had called, but surely they could think of it themselves.
“Sara!” It was Suvi calling her from behind who had followed her all the way out. Sara stopped, facing her.
“What is it?”
Suvi panted as if she’d run all the way to catch up with the Pathfinder.
“I forgot to give you this.” She handed Sara a data pad. “I picked it up at the research station when I was there in the morning. It was deposited there for you. It’s supposed to be an update for SAM’s harddrive core. At least that’s what Dr. Amber told me it was.”
“Thank you, Suvi”, she took the pad from her. “I’ll let SAM read it. Can you extract the data from it, SAM?”
“Confirmed”, he hummed in her head. “Updating now.”
Sara was right about to turn around and leave, when she was suddenly stricken with pain, her head pulsing, twitching as if pierced by a thousand needles, again and again. Holding her head in both hands as if it could stop the pain somehow, she could hear Suvi calling her name, but her voice was slurred and awkward as if talking through water. Her vision blurred, changing colors like exploding rainbows, as she felt something pressing against her knees, the ground, she then realized, and that she would not make it in time for the meeting, that she would never find out what he'd wanted to tell her. Would she ever get to see him smile again? Would he ever think of her, like she did of him right now?
And was it so wrong to think of him that way? To like him more than she was supposed to be? It's what her mother had asked her for after all, wasn't it? To fall in love.
And here she was, falling for him badly.
What do you regret, when all that’s left is a shade of black?
Chapter 15: Face Up
New chapter is up! I'm currently reworking the old chapters, too.
I hope you enjoy a taste of Jaal's desire for Sara. ;)
Stay strong and clear.
Song: Ciara – Paint it Black
Memories. It’s been a while since they’d haunted her.
Alec and Sara stargazed on the hills, like they always used to a long time ago, watching icy small meteoroids passing close to the sun, entering the atmosphere and becoming meteors, while trailing white tails behind them like dying angels that fell from the sky. Her dad told her it was very special to see so many of them at once. He called them shooting stars, said she had a free wish for each of them, but would have to keep it secret if she wanted her wish to come true, talking to her as if she was still his little girl, with sprinkles, long blond braids and eyes that looked up to him in excited admiration.
But at that time, the unworried and innocent child that she was hadn’t known what to wish for, and instead watched the spectacle with awe and gratitude.
At a single blow, the sky full of stars turned into eyes, gazing at her gently and calmly, rather than a raptor eyeing his bait.
But still, an unappeasable hunger laid within them.
Jaal. Why would he appear in one of her memories?
She felt his arms pulling her close to him in his soft, yet, firm grip, holding her against his chest, when he began to gently run his fingers over her back, up from the top all the way down to her hips, his touch leaving hot trails that made her ache for more, and she could feel his lust for her in every of his strokes.
Wait, was this… No. This was no memory.
It was a fantasy. Her fantasy.
With his other hand, he then lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes, meeting his own blue galaxies; they were so deep that she could see suns rising in them, telling her not to resist to the yawning desire she hid carefully within the black hole she called a soul, and yet he wanted her to suck him in and show him all those dark places she kept inside her.
She felt the brush of his lips on her cheek, setting her mind and body on fire like the lightning of a shooting star. His lips wandered to the corner of her mouth, then up to her lips as he began to cover them with hot kisses. From this moment, she could no longer suppress the lusting, longing feelings that started to rush through every inch of her body, and instead abandoned herself into them.
He paused for a moment, smiling gently at her, and she returned the gesture, then pulled him closer and back into a passionate kiss, giving herself fully to him, and without meaning to, she wrapped her leg around his thigh. Smitten with desire, his hands strove urgently under her shirt, then lifted it up, caressing her skin, while pressing his body against hers. They both were driven by rousing passion, both feeling the need to express their overwhelming desire of touching the other.
In her heat and in her passion, neither did the world around her matter anymore, nor did she know if it was real or just a dream, but there was one thing that she was certain of: her lust for him. They’d crushed into each other like two colliding stars, breaking through the others hard shell and pulling off clothes in vehement desire. And like two colliding stars they couldn’t be stopped, driven by a vortex of emotions, until it would consume them completely, leaving only shards of their previous beings.
This time, if she ever got to see a shooting star again, she knew what to wish for.
Gasping for air, Sara shot up in the bed as straight as a pole. It wasn’t her own, she realized quickly, but one of the many beds in the med bay. The smell of disinfectant hung over everything like a cloud. Lexi was right by her side once she saw that the Pathfinder had woken up.
“Welcome back, Sara. How do you feel?” Her voice was gentle, yet professional, when she ran a quick scan of her immediately.
“Your vitals seem stable,” she finally stated. “But your hormone concentration and your blood sugar regulation worry me.”
"I sense a high release of adrenaline and dopamine in your body, Sara," SAM brought to her notice, too.
“Oh, thank you for pointing that out, SAM,” Sara said sarcastically, then to Lexi, “Was I… did I die?”
“Again? No, not this time, but it took you a while to get back on track.”
“How long exactly?”
"12 hours and 14 minutes, to be precise," SAM replied, sounding unimpressed, although it was probably unintentionally.
“That long?” Sara took in a deep breath. “What happened?”
Just in that moment, Jaal stormed into the med bay, and when he saw her sitting on the bed, he seemed relieved, and his fine facial features relaxed visibly.
“Sara! I was worried about you.” He came right up to her and surprisingly, he took one of her hands, which she’d had in her lap, in the palms of his own. “Are you well?” He gave her a pleading look.
Had he just called her by her first name? He’d never done that before. Was she still dreaming maybe?
Lexi did not seem to approve much of his unauthorized entering.
“Jaal, I told you to stay away for now, the Pathfinder needs to rest to fully recover,” then turned to Sara, “I had to kick him out regularly when you were still in a coma, but he just keeps coming back.”
“It’s fine.” A sly smile played around her lips. “I don’t mind him here at all.”
The asari looked at them suspiciously, furrowing her brow. “It’s not only about what you want, Ryder. I’m still your doctor, and I instruct you to avoid any stress. You need to rest before I’ll ever let you leave that bed, do you understand? That’s why I don’t want him here.”
“It’s fine, Lexi, I feel better already. Besides, he doesn’t stress me any more than you do.”
“I sense an increasing regularity of the Pathfinder’s heartbeat regarding Mr. Ama Darav,” SAM analyzed without any external show of emotion.
“I think I already told you that you can stop calling him Mr. Ama Darav by now, SAM,” she said tight-lipped.
At the same moment, the doors swished open again and Suvi entered the med bay. She looked even more worried than Jaal had been, her cheeks were twitching, and her red eyes betrayed her lack of sleep.
“Sara, you’re awake! I’m so relieved!” She came next to Jaal, a beaming smile covering her face, but hesitated suddenly when she saw him holding Sara’s hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did I… interrupt you?”
“No, not at all,” Jaal gave a quick response, then slowly let go of Sara’s hand. “I only wanted to check on the Pathfinder, like you.”
“How many more of you are planning to disturb my patient’s rest today?” Lexi bristled at her question, then sighed resignedly. “I guess I can’t stop all of you from walking in here. Fine, I give you some privacy. But keep it short.”
Lexi went off to her work space when Suvi continued, slightly confused. “Ooh ok, don’t worry, I’m out in a minute. I just… I’m so, so sorry, Sara! It’s all my fault.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Sara replied, shaking her head soothingly. “You did nothing wrong. What happened anyway? I only remember that Jaal called me, and that you handed me a datapad afterwards. Did I drink too much, maybe?”
“That’s exactly why it’s all my fault,” Suvi exclaimed, clearly ashamed of her actions, as her eyes met the floor in front of her feet. “The datapad I gave you? Turns out it had a computer virus on it that got transferred to SAM when he analyzed the data.” Her voice slightly trembled. “Kallo looked into it and he says that… apparently it was… it was made to turn off SAM’s program and delete all of his setups. Whoever invented that virus and left the datapad for you wanted to kill him, Sara.”
Sara’s eyes widened in disbelief. Why would anyone want to do that?
“I should’ve checked it before, I’m so sorry!” Suddenly, Suvi seemed close to tears.
Jaal couldn’t help but express his feelings immediately, so that the muscles of his face twitched wildy in frustration and concern. “That’s… terrifying. Who would want to kill your SAM?”
“Sadly, we don’t know yet,” Suvi explained disappointingly, not able to keep her countenance. “But I promise we won’t rest until we find out who did that. Kallo also found a message that was left on the datapad. Apparently, it’s a fanatic hacker who wants to eliminate every artificial intelligence that exists.”
“SAM might not be an individuum of flesh and blood,” Jaal said, “but he certainly is intelligent, and therefore, deserves to live. Killing him is no less a murder than killing a person.”
The humans nodded in agreement, but the guilt in Suvi’s facial expression didn’t fade away so easily.
“Please, don’t hate me now.” Her voice was a pleading question. “When Cora hears about this, she’ll probably tear me from limb from limb.”
Sara shook her head vigorously in dissent. “Leave Cora to me, Suvi, I’ll explain it to her. And I don’t hate you. You didn’t even do anything!”
“I agree,” Jaal assured. “Everyone knows how much you care for your friends, and that you’d never let anything bad happen to them.”
A faint smile curled the redhead’s lips. “Thank you, both of you. I’ll leave you two on your own now.” She turned to the door, but looked back one more time. “See you later, Sara.” And with that, she left.
Jaal and Sara gazed after her, before their eyes met again, and while the thought of him standing so close to her simply to check if she was alright rose a blush on her cheeks, she could also not oversee the concern that still laid in his eyes. Something troubled him, and it wasn’t the hacker’s virus.
“I’m happy you’re here”, she then said softly, holding his gaze, but didn’t dare to look him too deep in the eye, afraid to lose herself in his mysterious, mismatched galaxies again. Yet, against her will, the sight of him brought a smile to her face. “Always looking out for me,” she added.
A soft smile showed on his face, too. “I was hoping so.”
But the moment only lasted for a short period, then his little smile disappeared again, and his fine features were taken over by sorrowful thoughts once more.
“I know you have enough concerns on your mind already,” he started, “but if you really want to stay in Heleus and make it your home, I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with more enemies than just the Archon.”
Sara let his words sink in for a moment, before she asked him. “Who do you mean?” Then a thought struck her. “Are you talking about the ones we met on Havarl? The Roekaar?”
“Yes.” The word came out of his mouth as a slowly rolling hum, as if he had difficulties collecting his thoughts, and needed to focus on what he wanted to say. “They won’t stop fighting you until you deal with their leader, Akksul. But he hates all aliens. He’ll never allow you to stay.”
His statement gave her food for thought. “You seem to know a lot about him.”
“We studied together under the Moshae. But, unlike me, he was a good student. The best, actually. He was a fast learner, but also very clever and cunning.” He snorted, and Sara couldn’t quite figure if he was angry or amused. “She always had a blind spot when it came to him.”
“What happened to him that he hates aliens so much?”
“It’s a long story.” He sighed loudly, as if he didn’t know where to start. “Years ago, Akksul was captured by the Kett. He spent a year in a forced labor camp before he managed to escape. He has scars that would give you an idea of the torture he suffered from.”
“I can’t even blame him”, Sara said sympathetically. “After everything he must’ve gone through, I don’t know how I would feel if I were him.”
“The Kett did this to him, not you”, Jaal reasoned with her, and she caught herself enjoying the sound of his soft-throaty voice. “Unlike the Kett, you are kind and gentle. When Akksul returned, he no longer cared about anything, except destroying the Kett. His hate blinds him to the differences, but it doesn’t mean you’re anything alike. I know you’re not.”
“Why didn’t he join the Resistance if he’s committed to fight the Kett?”
“Akksul is not the type to follow orders… and I think he was bitter we weren’t able to rescue him. Still, he can’t seem to forget what they did to him; instead his whole character and actions are influenced by it… and since your people arrived, his hate of aliens has grown stronger - as did his cause.”
“And how do you think we can change his mind?” Sara asked confused, still affected by the melodious tone of his voice that was like music to her ears. For the first time of her life, she then realized, she had fallen head over heels in love, and awfully, out of all the people in the galaxy, it had to be a hypersensitive, yet very muscular and high on legs alien with a gentleness and courtesy that made her knees begin to buckle and melt into a puddle whenever she was around him.
“He doesn’t sound like someone the Initiative can reason with,” she quickly added to distract the attention away from her. “Even though I’d love to give it a try. Do you think it would help if I talk to him?”
“I admire your courage, but Akksul is dangerous,” Jaal explained, “and he lacks Evfra’s pragmatism. He’ll likely make you want to kill him. But if Heleus is to be your home, I don’t see another way than to confront him in person. I know a recluse on Havarl who escaped with Akksul from the Kett. Her name is Thaldyr. She might know how to contact him.”
Sara couldn’t help but notice the concern resonating in his voice.
“Ok, then let’s not waste any more time, right? Do me a favor and tell Kallo to head for Havarl.”
“I…” Suddenly, he seemed flustered, and he nervously cleared his throat. “I already gave Kallo the navpoint. We’re on our way there since you fainted.”
“How…” First, she looked at him, confused and startled, then she narrowed her eyes to small slits that glanced at him angrily. “You already told him, without my permission? Are you the new Pathfinder now?”
“No. I only told him we already talked about it, and that you gave the command.”
“That isn’t exactly the truth, Jaal.” Sara folded her arms, his miserable attempt to shuffle out of the situation conjured up a smirk on her lips. “And here I thought you could never tell a lie. Would have saved you lots of trouble if I never woke up again. You sneaky little bastard. And don’t try to tell me Liam didn’t explain that expression to you yet, because I’m dead certain he did.”
“I told no lie.” He turned up his nose at it. “Well, technically, I did, but I assumed you would agree with me, and now you did. It saved us a lot of time.”
“But you couldn’t have known,” Sara countered teasingly.
“That is certainly true, but there is no alternative but to deal with the Roekaar, one way or another. I supposed you would prefer the peaceful option.”
He was right. There was only one way she wanted to deal with the situation, one that didn’t call for turmoil or bloodshed. After all, he knew her very well by now, and the thought of it filled her heart with joy, yet frightened her at the time.
Suddenly, he took her hand in his palms again, then gently caressed its back with the two of his non-fused fingers, so that a warm shiver ran down her spine, feeling alternately red-hot and cold like an emotional roller coaster that took her on a ride. Swallowing hard, she tried to suppress her emotions, resisting to the overwhelming feeling to drag him down to her and lose herself in his hugs and kisses, like she’d done in her fantasy. Already imagining it set her soul on fire, nourished by her ardent desire.
What might be on his mind right mind? she wondered, then nervously bit her lower lip; she couldn’t let her curiosity get the better of her again, or even worse, lay her heart at his feet, not now, not here.
But perhaps another day, at a better time and place? She was confused by her feelings and didn’t know what to do. Was it better to say something and wish she hadn’t, or to say nothing and wish she had?
At this very moment, Sara carefully weighed the facts before she finally made a decision: She wanted to allow her emotions to express themselves, without any fear, and deal with the consequences instead, just like he did.
“I’ll make it up to you,” he softly spoke after a while, his fingers still brushing the back of her hand, his touch made her feel as if her veins were teeming with ants. “I promise.”
“You don’t have to make anything up to me,” she whispered under his touch.
His eyes met hers again, the sight of them filled her heart with light and brightness. “But I want to.”
How could she ever not have complete confidence in him?
Again, the door to the med bay opened up.
Damn, what a bad timing.
It was Cora who’d entered, quickly observing the recovery room, when she caught the two of them holding hands. She clearly tried to hide her surprise, but if Cora wasn’t one thing, it was making a good actor; the confusion was painfully obvious and writ large in her face, and Sara, gently but steady, pulled her hand out of Jaal’s palms to keep him out of trouble.
“Didn’t know it’s ‘open day’ in the med bay today,” Lexi exclaimed from her work bench, admittedly annoyed by the large number of visitors.
Cora quickly cleared her throat when she approached them, not paying attention to Lexi. “I’m dying to know what happened.”
“You want the short version, or the long one?” Sara asked, trying to light up the mood, but by the look Cora gave her, she could tell she wasn’t up for jokes.
“Ok, here it is: I had a crappy day at the Citadel, so I went for some drinks with the crew, then, when I wanted to leave, Suvi gave me a datapad that turned out to be carrying a virus, which lapsed me into coma, but now I woke up again. Happy ending!”
Cora gasped, a witless, open-mouthed expression covered her face.
“You have to be more careful, Sara! You could’ve died! Again… Do you have any idea what that would mean? This is a very serious matter, Sara, are you sure you even realize that? We can’t afford to lose another Pathfinder…” She kept on talking, and Sara resignedly listened to her, while also rolling her eyes.
“To make sure,” she continued. “I’ll restrict you from any future uploads of SAM’s hard drive for now, unless Kallo and Suvi find a full-on save way to scan them in advance. Apropos, I’ll need to have a serious conversation with the two of them.”
Cora took a deep breath, and when no one dared to respond to her, she glared at Jaal. “I think it’s best if the Pathfinder and I continue this in privacy, if you don’t mind.” She clearly tried to sound polite, but obviously didn’t succeed much.
“Of course,” was all he said, and with a last reassuring look at Sara, he made his way towards the door.
“What was this about?” she addressed to Sara once he was out of their sight. “And why are we going to Havarl? Is there anything I should know about? I thought…” She sighed heavily. “Sara, I understand you want someone around you, someone to comfort you, but-”
“I’m sorry my dad didn’t choose you, ok?” Sara suddenly countered, surprised by the intensity of her own words, but that didn’t stop her nonetheless. “But I can’t duck my head and grovel to you until the end of my life. You’re not the Pathfinder, I am, and therefore, I have to make the decisions. And I say: no restrictions. No more pretending. I’ve had enough of it.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cora hissed at her, yet she couldn’t hide the fact that Sara’s speech had shaken her walls of confidence. “I know I’m not the Pathfinder, but in case you forgot about it, I’m still the second in command, and if we want to make things right, we have to stick to our goals. Why don’t you listen to me?”
“Because I don’t want you to restrict me, Cora. I’m tired of your drama, Cora, I really am.”
“Drama? I am trying to protect you!” Cora started to stroll around in the room like a lion in a cage, trying to regather her self-consciousness. “Sara, think of-”
“I thought enough about it, Cora, really,” Sara interfered before she could finish her sentence. “Actually, I’m afraid I start to overthink it, so it’s time to stop that and start acting instead. I suggest you do the same and get over it.”
The words hit Cora like a bolt from the sky. Even though she tried to save face, her attempt failed miserably, and therefore, she swallowed hard on the suppressed anger and her wounded pride that overwhelmed her.
„It seems that you take more after Alec than I thought you do,” she then said drily. “But don’t forget you’re not him. You should take all the support you can get, if you don’t want to be swapped off your feet.”
“So? Then I’ll have to get up on my feet again after the fall. But you’re right, I’m not my father. Still, he taught me one thing or another, and one of them was not to depend on anyone but myself.”
Having nothing more to add, Sara got up on her feet and left the med bay without looking back. Cora didn’t move, still in thoughts, as if she was frozen to the spot.
Lexi, who had thoroughly listened to the conversation, stood up from her work space and approached Cora.
“Why didn’t you try to stop her?” the second in command hissed at her in her still ongoing anger. “She needs to rest by all means.”
“Doesn’t help if she stays against her will”, was all the doctor said, then, after a moment of silence, she added, “You know, from a psychological perspective, it doesn’t help to force her to do what you want. It will only make her defensive, as if she needs to prove something to you. She’ll start to rebel against you, like teenagers like to confront their parents.”
“Didn’t know you were a therapist, too,” Cora stated, still not convinced.
“You begin to extend your profession when you look at a thousand-year lifespan.” The asari chuckled. “You should treat her like a friend, not like a commander. Be there for her, listen to her.”
Cora sighed slightly, feeling defeated. “I’m trying. But this is no joke. The whole Initiative is at stake here.”
“And she’ll have it her way, Harper”, Lexi replied. “You can only decide either to fight her, or to support her.”
Deeply in thoughts, Cora looked over to the med bay’s door as if Sara could still be standing there, or if she was about to come in again any second, but Cora knew better than to expect that.
While she stood there, memories of Alec crossed her mind, and that she’d stepped in the sleeping pod just for him, because she’d believed in all of his visions of a new home and a new beginning, because that’s what she’d wanted for herself: After her suspension from the asari commando, she’d strolled through the milky way, not knowing her fate, but Alec had helped her to face a new challenge, to step out of her self-pity and start feel useful again.
What would he do if he was standing here right now, instead of her? What would he’ve wanted her to do?
And so, Cora made her decision, silently to herself only, because she knew better than to tell anyone, and then she headed back to her rose garden in the bio lab, the only place where she felt secure and at home.
Chapter 16: Beat As One Together
Song: Sia – Blank Page
Sara took a deep breath, filling her lungs with Havarl’s fresh air. The planet’s beauty truly hadn’t lessened since the last time she’d been here, instead it was quite the opposite; the luminal plants seemed to shine brighter than ever before, and the ringing out songs sung by alien creatures in the far distance didn’t sound sad anymore, but peaceful. She hadn’t realized before how good it felt to be standing in the open nature and simply breathe in. Maybe this was exactly what she needed, a distraction from all the responsibility, and it felt good to be back instead of rushing to the next destination.
While they sneaked through the underbrush, shrouded in the blue-burning torchlight of the trees, Sara remembered her first time being here, when Jaal had still questioned her motives, just like any other angara seemed to do. And now, she’d convinced him of her true intentions, or, more than that, they’d become true friends who crouched side by side through the weeds, completely trusting and depending on each other.
Jaal remained close to her all the time, closer than he usually did, because she could feel how his bioelectricity raised the small hairs of her upper arm even through her armor, and she couldn’t get rid of the thought if there might be another reason for his behavior than the kett patrolling through the jungle and aiming to kill them.
Focus, Sara. For god’s sake, focus! She could almost hear Cora’s admonitory words, clearly as crystal they echoed in her mind. ‘This is a serious matter, Sara. We have to make things right.’
She really didn’t want to screw things up this time, and this, she knew for sure, wasn’t because Cora had said so, or because the Initiative needed her to. She wanted to make things right for her own sake, and even more so for Jaal.
Because he made her feel special, and save, and beautiful. And because she had feelings for him. And nothing in this world would make her deny them any longer.
The leaves of a luminal fern touched her shoulder, and little, glowing raindrops ran from there along her arm all the way down to her fingertips. Here, somewhere in the middle of the jungle, the world was painted in purple and sapphire blue, and it was hard to believe that somewhere beneath this peaceful place there were kett strolling through the jungle, ready to kill them at sight.
“We’re close,” he whispered, his lips close to her ear while he pointed in the distance, and Sara wondered if he could see anything in the darkness of the night that she couldn’t.
“Do you think she’ll help us?” Sara suddenly asked, pushing another branch of fern away. She couldn’t help but voice her concern. “If she’s with Akksul, she might not be willing to help us. Because of… me.”
“It’s not because of you.” She felt his breath against her armor, even though she could barely see him in the dim light of the tree’s glow. “But because the kett did as many horrible things to her as they did to Akksul. That’s why her hate blinds her.”
Sara slightly nodded at his words, unsure if he was able to spot it at all. For a moment, she hesitated, and when she stood too long at one spot, her boots slowly sank in the moist and soft soil.
“What’s living under the kett been like for you?” she continued.
His head turned to her, vividly taking in her shape. “Do you really want to hear about these things? They’re painful.”
“I’d like to know more about you. Try me.”
His glance carried towards the sky, up to the celestial sphere above them, while his face remained strangely passive. “It’s like living on unstable ground. Every day brings more horrible news. I part company with someone, not knowing if I’ll ever see them again. Like when my father vanished from my life.” He returned his gaze to her. “That happens for an angara child somewhere every single day.”
She could feel her breathe stop under their intense eye contact. Squatted next to her, they were so close to each other that she could’ve kissed him, if she’d truly wanted to.
“So why didn’t you fight when the kett came?” she quickly added, before her thoughts could become their own reality.
“They didn’t give us a reason to – until they did. Then it was too late. The kett are ruthless, masters at knowing exactly when and how to strike. Even now, we have to be extremely careful.” He continued to crouch, closely followed by Sara, anxious not to cause any noise at every step. “Perhaps you think we were weak?”
“No. I think you were brave,” she came straight out. “And the Archon came with them?”
“We think so. Resistance intel on that is unclear, and few have… seen him in person.”
“And lived to tell?”
“And lived to tell.”
They followed an unswerving course, but Sara couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that something was bothering him. She found it to be a strange thought, to believe that she could feel his emotions. It was little more than instinct, yet clearly apparent.
“What’s wrong, Jaal?” The words left her lips before she’d actually intended to say them.
“I… have a bad feeling about this.”
“About what, exactly?”
“You. And the Archon.” He sighed heavily, deeply concerned. “You’ve met him already. If he finds out about your secret, to use Remnant tech… I’m afraid he won’t let you walk away just like that.”
“I’m afraid so, too. But we won’t let fear stop us, right? All in all, he’s just a person, too, and if you blow up his head, he’s going to die just like any other person.” For a moment, Sara was perplexed at her own words. “I’m afraid I just quoted Drack.”
Her words drew a chuckle from him, and he seemed a little relieved. “I suppose so.”
They came near a clearing, and Sara immediately sensed the quick change in Jaal’s body posture, as he peered through the bushes.
“Kett.” The little word left his lips like a spoken curse. “Three of them near the entrance, that’s where Thaldyr is supposed to be hiding. And I spot another two near a large tent. Mmh…”
“What?” The undergrowth was too densely leafed at her position to see anything through it, so she impatiently awaited his report. “What do you see?”
“Seems like they’re recovering from a fight. This might be our chance.”
“Five versus two, piece of cake,” joked Sara, which earned her a puzzled look from the angara.
“What does… cake have to do with this?”
She had a hard time trying to suppress a giggle. “Never mind, Jaal. Let’s not waste any more time. Let’s go.”
He nodded at her. “We should take down the three near Thaldyr’s door. The other two at the tent may not be fast enough to help them, but we have to be quick.”
In tacit agreement, they sneaked out of the bushes, holding their weapons in a tight grip. They stayed as low as possible, becoming one with the environment, as the element of surprise was their only ally in the face of death.
But it proved to be a powerful advantage. The kett didn’t expect them even the slightest, and Sara and Jaal were able to take them down in a quick ambush. When the kett near the tent stormed forward to support their already dead comrades, they didn’t seem prepared at all, and they surely in no way expected the wave of Eezo that hit them as soon as they came close and swept them off their feet into the merciless abyss of the jungle. Sara hadn’t realized what she was doing until they already vanished into the darkness of the night, and instead was fascinated by her own ability to use biotics, even though it was obviously due to a lack of willpower, but in the thick of the fight, she’d felt the adrenaline pump and her heart shoot into her throat, while she still tasted the fear on the tip of her tongue, slowly replaced by the sweet taste of victory, and it felt overwhelming to be so powerful.
“Think that’s it. Good work,” Jaal’s words broke the spell that held her thoughts. “I see you are getting better at this. It is impressive, to watch you fight like this.”
“Thank you,” she replied as the Eezo ran out of her veins, slowly but steady. Then she spotted a dead body on the ground, one that wasn’t a kett. When she started a quick scan, she didn’t need SAM’s interpretation to know what, or, who, laid before her.
“Roekaar. They died fighting.”
“Akksul must have sent them to watch over Thaldyr.”
The door to the hideout which the kett had been guarding was locked, but with SAM’s help it was easy to break the code.
“Don’t come closer.” A female angara, apparently Thaldyr, laid on a bed on the other side of the small room, and Sara immediately had the feeling that something was seriously wrong. When they came closer, nevertheless her warning, she suddenly realized why; the female’s arms were covered with cuts, one of them so deep that it made Sara wince, and her blood ran in thick strands along her skin down on the bed, where it sank in the mattress’ foam.
She looked weak, and exhausted, but as soon as Sara reached out for her, Thaldyr proved her still existing strength, and immediately swept away the human’s hand with a blow quick as lightning.
“Don’t touch me!”
“You need medical attention,” Sara explained. Or you will die.
Thaldyr simply scoffed at her. “It’s too late for that. I made sure of it.”
Jaal looked at her in confusion at first, then the meaning of her words slowly dawned upon him. “Your wounds… they’re self-inflicted?”
“The kett.” She winced in pain, as if the fact to simply speak their name caused her anguish. “I can’t go back. I won’t.”
“Hush now, sister,” Jaal said with great compassion, then approached her and gently held her hand in the palms of his own, like carrying a bird with broken wings and legs that was about to die no matter he’d try to help him.
“The kett are dead,” he continued with a voice as soft as an angel’s, and Sara watched Thaldyr’s breathing become calmer. He was a mage, and the words were his spell, Sara realized, one he’d cast over her, too. “They can’t take you. We won’t let them.”
“You sound like him. So confident. So sure.”
“You mean Akksul?” Sara asked her.
“He saved me.” The female was friendly now, her acrimony was like it had been erased. “Gave me a chance to live… and die on my own terms.”
“We need to find him, Thaldyr.”
But Jaal’s word were out of reach for her, as they exchanged a last beam of bioelectricity through their connected hands, then her body sank in the mattress of her bed, and her beautiful blue eyes lost their shining gleam.
Now that she was dead, he put her hand to rest on her chest and closed her eyes. “Isharay, brave one.”
Her death seemed so senseless to Sara, and could’ve been avoided, if they’d just arrived here a little earlier. “Even in the end, she was devoted to him.”
Jaal scoffed. “And Akksul is using that devotion to spread hate.” He sighed heavily, his previous confidence was now at stake. “The only other person who could reach him is the Moshae. I was hoping to keep her out of this. Come on. Let’s go.”
When they went outside again, Sara sent a quick voice mail to Kallo, to pick them up with a shuttle. The sky above them brightened and appeared in layers of crimson, as if it was painted with the shed blood of the dead. Jaal looked up, observing the clouds that passed by, and little insects which looked like fireflies glowed and blinked in the distance.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t save her,” Sara finally said and broke the silence between them. “You must think everything we do ends unsuccessfully.”
“Don’t worry,” he replied, all calm and restrained. “We couldn’t protect her from herself. Still, it matters that we don’t stop trying. I’ve never really felt I had a purpose – but here, with you, I do.”
“What about the Resistance?”
He nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The question seemed to make him feel uneasy. “My place in the Resistance is… not what I’d like.”
For a moment, Sara simply stood there and blinked, unable to process his words. “But… all the kids on Aya looked up to you. Heck, so far, everyone I met thinks highly of you.”
“Sure…” He essayed a smile towards her, her grey eyes staring back at his, and he felt highly flattered when he realized that she hadn’t simply said so to comfort him – but because she truly believed it. “But you are going to do something important, Ryder. I feel it. This is where I should be. With you, I feel like I can make a difference.”
“Have you never felt that way before?” she simply asked, not astonished at his sincerity for once, as she’d gotten used to it, but at his low self-esteem, and why she’d never noticed it before. “Didn’t you always want to be a fighter?”
“I… don’t like to talk about it,” he replied rather reluctant. “But I’m not a fighter, not really. But the war with the kett created chaos, and therefore our education is chaotic. I’m not really anything. But… that’s an excuse. The truth is, I don’t know what I want, yet. For my life. At my age.”
For a moment, they simply stood there, next to each other, watching the fireflies swing through the air like little shooting stars, and listening to the songs of the jungle. In the far distance, Sara could hear the jets of the approaching shuttle. Probably only a few more minutes and Kallo would pick them up.
“Is that the reason why you joined us?” she asked then.
“I must admit that I hoped you would… inspire me.” Their heads turned, and when their eyes met, he showed a shy smile, then looked as if he was going to ask something as his lips parted in a silent gasp, but held back, looking embarrassed. When the words finally left his lips, Sara wasn’t sure if it was the same questions he’d intended to ask in the first place. “Do you know what you want? For your life?”
“No, not at all.” She chuckled. “There was a time when I thought the Initiative was all I wanted. But now, to be honest, I don’t know if it’s in any way what I expected. I guess it’s not, not even a little. For some strange reason, I thought everything would be easier. I would watch my dad find us the golden worlds we hoped for, and we’d all just live in peace shortly after.” Her gaze followed one of the fireflies, when it came so close that her armor reflected the sapphire-like glow.
“Now, I feel like I have to carry the responsibility of the whole Initiative, and without me everything is going to hell. And I wonder: why me, out of all the people? How am I supposed to keep up a promise I didn’t even make? Heck, I can’t even answer my own emails on time!”
The wind swirled all the fireflies up in the sky, as if her shouting had scared them away, and they stayed there like little stars upon them.
“But who is moving on, if not us?” There was a light in her eyes when she spoke. “Who else is going to do what needs to be done? The Resistance needs you, Jaal, and… I like having you around. Specifically you.” She smiled at him.
Her words seemingly flattered him, yet there was a last spark of hesitation, to think that she was paying him a compliment, and not a recognition of his good work as a crew mate. “Because of my… skill and knowledge?”
His question coaxed a smile out of her. “Not really.”
“Because you enjoy spending time with me as much as I do with you.”
His sentence swept away all the hard-earned confidence she was able to build during their time together with a single blow, and all of a sudden, her knees felt weak again, and her heart was a racer on its dash to the finish line. “You do?” She felt her face flush with warmth.
“Yes. You’re fascinating. And special.” He smiled. “And strange."
“Aw, thanks.” Suddenly, she couldn’t look him in the eye any longer, the sparkle that laid in them was too much for her to bear.
“And I mean it.”
The engine noise of the landing shuttle saved her from the awkward silence that was about to follow, and she felt both relieved and sad that the moment they’ve had was over already, now that Kallo picked them up. On their fly back to the Tempest, they remained in silence most of the time, only exchanging a few cursory sentences, but the shy smiles and brief glances they shared had no need for detailed explanations.
No matter what was happening between them, she knew she had to focus on the new task that was before them, and no matter what was to come, she was absolutely sure that from now on, they would stand united, and beat as one together.