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We're The Same

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Ain Ryder was sitting in her cabin with her face in her hands. She hadn't asked for this... any of this. All she had wanted to do was come to Andromeda and start over away from the Milky Way. Away from the prying eyes, away from the disgrace that the AI research had given the Ryder name. Just away from everything. Now she was stuck in a galaxy so far from home. No, Andromeda was their home now. This terrible galaxy with its unknown terrain, plants, minerals, and just everything. She felt like she wanted to scream, but if she fell apart, she knew that her crew would too. It wasn't just her problem. It was all of their problem. Not just her team, but the colonists. Ain felt like crying in addition to her screaming. Scott was in a coma, their dad was dead, their mother; dead. Right now, Ain felt so alone. All the worlds had been a bust and it was a race against time. If they didn't find a way to grow fruit and vegetables, they'd eventually starve. There were women, men, and children that were still in cryo. They had traveled 400 years for this, and it felt like it was her sole duty in order to save this whole fucking galaxy. Truthfully, the guys at the Nexus had every reason to worry. Vegetables and fruits couldn't grow in the terrain that awaited when they arrived and there were still so many in cryo. She rubbed her temples, turning to look out her window. Even though it was beautiful, behind its beauty was a terrible menace. The Kett, the Scourge, and the Unknown.

The only shining beacon of light that Ain had was the vaults. Even though it was pessimistic, it was realistic that before the vaults could end up "curing" the planets they would all be dead. Feeling tears prick behind her eyes, she dug the heel of her hands into them hoping to push them back. This couldn't be happening... Everything they had thought and worked so hard for was gone. Ain just couldn't get passed it. Eos wasn't enough to even begin to start making a home in Andromeda, most of the beings that were taken out of cryo still lived on the Nexus too terrified to leave after hearing the disturbing news of Andromeda.

"Mom..." Ain begged, feeling the tears start again. If she was going to cry, she was going to do it in her cabin away from all her companions. "I... I don't know what to do. Dad's dead. Scott's in a coma and Andromeda, it... it isn't like anything that we imagined. It's terrible." Her tears turned into quiet sobs and she leaned down into her lap, crying, while her light brown hair caressed her tattooed neck as if trying to console her. "What should I do? I'm not fit to be a Pathfinder. I don't know..." Ain couldn't hold back her tears anymore and continued to cry silently making sure that the others didn't hear her. All her mind kept screaming was fuck this. Fuck Andromeda. Fuck the Habitats. Fuck the Kett. Fuck it all!

"Ryder, you seem to be distressed." SAM echoed in her head.

"Of course I'm distressed!" Ain bit back. She knew she shouldn't really take out her problems and anger on SAM. It wasn't his fault that everything had turned to shit. SAM couldn't handle complex emotions yet, and her emotions were all sorts of complex right now. "Everything is going wrong! Andromeda! My family! The Nexus! Cryo! All of it!" For a moment, all she heard on their private channel was silence. SAM wasn't one for silence.

"I am sorry, Ryder. Perhaps that was... insensitive of me." SAM muttered in her head. He seemed to be genuinely sorry, well, how sorry an AI could be anyway. Even though SAM was far from being a regular human, at least he could sense emotional distress instead of just physiological stress. Maybe that had something to do with him being linked to her father for so long. Just as Ain was about to apologize to SAM for biting at him in the first place, she heard a voice coming through her intercom.

"Ryder, we're heading into the Onaon System soon. You might wanna be here." Kallo's voice came through the intercom. Quickly, Ain dried her tears and blinked any new tears that were trying to form. Sighing, she left her room and climbed up the ladder to the bridge. She didn't understand why the Tempest's architecture was slightly awkward. Ain entered the door, hearing it close behind her. She stood in her place in front of the Tempest's window, looking around.

"Take us in, Kallo."

"Roger."

Everything was normal and Ain was waiting to see the sight of stars in the unfamiliar cluster. Of course, she wouldn't be so lucky. The first thing they were met with was the Scourge spanning out in front of them like an electric spider web. The Tempest began to strain under the stress of being near it. If that wasn't enough, Kallo gave a warning,
"On course with an unknown object." All Ain could see was the Scourge, whatever this unknown object was couldn't be good.

"Make corrections! SAM, are you on this?" Ryder asked, gripping onto the bar in front of her so hard her knuckles turned white, the Tempest shaking around her.

"Collision imminent."

"All stop, now!" Ryder commanded and grunted, lurching forward as the Tempest stopped.

When she looked up, she just stared with her mouth agape. A massive green ship was in front of them, and Ain's eyes widened, scanning the space in front of her. From the sheer size and vastness of the ship in front of her, she backed up like it was going to swallow her whole. From the size, it was a rather safe assumption to make. It could, in fact, devour her and her ship whole. What else could be waiting for them in this galaxy? This was crazy!

"Kett ships, a dozen.. no, more." Suvi evaluated.

Well, fuck me...

Ain wanted to say something, but the space around them was filled with Kett ships and the terror that was rising in her throat silenced her. They were surrounding the Tempest, most likely to keep her there in an effort to prevent escape.

"They're pinning us against the Scourge!" Kallo exclaimed, looking up at the ships. Of course. It had to be worse. Much, much worse. The Scourge could rip them apart in a matter of seconds if they pulled too close like they had never even been there.

"They are scanning us, Pathfinder." SAM announced.

"Then scan them the fuck back!" Ain screamed. Yeah, real mature. Panic mode was in full force. If she didn't think or could find a way out of this soon, they would end up being barbeque from the Scourge. If they were done, the whole entire mass of people they had brought from the Milky Way would be done as well. She was the only Pathfinder they had. Footsteps could be heard as her fellow crew members ran to the bridge, skidding to a halt upon seeing the ships in front of them. The consoles that Kallo and Suvi were on seemed to be malfunctioning, preventing escape. When she turned around, all Ain saw was a massive Kett on the comm screen.

"Shit..." She muttered under her breath.

"Where is the one that activated the Remnant?" The surprisingly eloquent Kett inquired. "The DNA signature is there." The Remnant? Was that what the hell they were really called? Those things in that vault? All she knew was that they had tried to kill her and her friends. What did he even want with these vaults or Remnant? Her fellow crew members stepped forward, around her as if backing her up. Perhaps they had felt her nervousness and were ready to keep her straight if her shaking legs buckled. Normally she wasn't this easily scared, but everything happening at one time had her mind working on overload.

"You're the one in my way, get the hell out of it!" Ain warned, feeling some of her determination and coherent thoughts running through her mind. Probably not the best move, and surprise surprise, she had been right. Of course, she had to be right about something terrible. The Tempest lurched forward more, making all of them stumble forward and into each other.

"They've locked navigation." Suvi said, starting to visibly panic. A fair reaction considering.

"We're being steered into their ship!"

"Shit shit shit..." Ain murmured, her eyes darting around at the ships in the space in front of her. All she had to see was an opening and maybe they could get the hell out. Maybe if she stalled, she would be able to find a way out of this. "Just tell me what you want!" Ain demanded and frowned, trying her best to sound intimidating. Even she had to admit that she had sounded pathetic.

"I will not explain what you can't understand." This Kett seemed to be a rather important one. His eyes were hollow and all he sought were answers and their death if he didn't like said answers or if they crossed him. So far, Ain had effectively done both. What the hell was SAM doing? Why wasn't he trying to get them out of here? As if on cue, she heard SAM's voice in their personal channel.

"Ryder, I have almost regained control of the ship. I will need a few more seconds." Ain wanted to cheer for joy but kept her elation under control. Turning her eyes from her friends and back to the Kett, stalling, maybe she would be able to get some information from him. Perhaps later in helping with life in Andromeda somehow.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, attacking us?" Ain yelled, slamming her hands against the bar that she had grabbed onto earlier. "Trying to capture us like we're some type of animal!" The creature's eye twitched, almost like he was ready to kill them right then and there but was holding back.

"Enough! Your defiance is naive and reckless. Your day of greatness starts today." Day of greatness? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Before he could reign them in further, the lights on the Tempest began to shine once more and Suvi and Kallo's consoles regained their life.

"Ryder, I have plotted a central course through the Scourge."

There was no time to think of the possible dangers.

"Do it!" Ain yelled. The smaller Kett ships seemed to be losing their patience and were closing in around them while the main Kett looked aggravated.

The Tempest turned around, jetting passed the Kett ships that had been at their side. Wasting no time, the smaller ships thrust after them. As damaging as it would be, Ain knew that their only way out of their problem would be through the Scourge. Looking back at her her friends, they had all braced for the earthquake-like shaking the Tempest was going through. The Tempest dipped and wound through all the twists and branches this side of the electric spider web had to offer. Light screaming and cursing were heard around the bridge. From all the jerking, if they survived, Ain wouldn't surprised if they all suffered from whiplash.

"What happened?" Cora asked when an explosion was heard. Was that the Tempest?

"An enemy ship was destroyed, along with our sensors." Suvi explained.

Ain could feel the Scourge practically wrapping around the Tempest with every passing second. There was a small bit of light near the end and she wasn't sure if it was an actual light of a metaphorical "light at the end of the tunnel" that her mind was trying to coerce her to see.

"This will be tight." SAM said.

"Kallo!" Vetra warned, holding onto the back of his chair.

With another explosion behind them, its force blew the Tempest the rest of the way out of the Scourge's clutches, sending them back into the vastness of foreign space. While breathing a sigh of relief, her crew was cheering from behind her; high fives and slaps on the back could be heard. They weren't done yet though. So many questions were running through her mind; Who the hell was that? What did he want? What did he mean by Remnant? What about The Day of Greatness? What did he seem to know that he didn't think that she would understand? Alluding from that, Ryder could say with almost complete certainty that they had been here a long time, and maybe were the ones that had created either the Scourge or had helped damage, Andromeda. One thing she knew for sure was that they-especially the big guy-weren't to be taken lightly.

“Ryder! We've got problems down here.” Gil came over the intercom. Ain was so frazzled from the meeting that they had just been through and the travel through the Scourge that she looked around, trying to find his voice. Realizing how stressed she was only when Vetra put a hand on her shoulder, she ended up sighing. “You need to get us to a port now.”

Great.

She needed to think of a way to get them to safety. Even though they had escaped that Kett, the Scourge did a number on the Tempest and they were running on borrowed time again. Looking a little further away, there seemed to be a planet; red and menacing. It was cracked and it looked like it had been cracked right down the middle. Was it the Kett that did something like that? Could they even do something like that? Or was it something worse, something worse than the Kett. Sighing for what felt like the thousandth time that day, she rubbed her temples.

“We don't have much choice, Gill give it what you can and take us down.”

Not surprising, the atmosphere seemed to be in just as bad condition as the outer surface of the planet. Ain just kept repeating to herself that they just needed to touch down and they could get down to repairs. Then they could plot their next move.

“The sensors are damaged, but I think this is the vault's coordinates.” Ain closed her eyes, a sense of relief washing over her. Alright, this was going to kill two birds with one stone; repairs and the next vault. Pushing forward into the atmosphere, practically holding her breath from wanting to touch down so bad, she almost didn't hear Suvi speaking.

“Guys, we're being... contacted.” Ain went rigid.

“What now?!” She yelled, looking around. Bulbous ships, three from the looks of it surrounded them, almost like an escort. A very hostile escort. Ain was ready to pull her hair out. “You've gotta be fucking kidding me...” She murmured. Leaving one fleet of ships just to run into some more? Were these Kett too? The ships didn't really seem to match the design she had seen from the other ones, but that didn't mean that they were necessarily friendly either. Taking a deep breath, she gripped onto the bars tighter trying to rearrange her thoughts into something akin to being a leader instead of a frazzled young adult. “We have to land,” She grunted out of irritation. “Open a comm.”

“Tov jagalesto.” A strange language that she had never heard came from sounded through the comm. Great... Whatever they were saying didn't seem to be a genuine question, request, or simple thoughts about the weather. “Tov jagalesto!” This time it was more of a warning.

Something like, get your ass down here before we kill you?

Who the hell are you?

The fuck do you want?

Shaking the thoughts from her head, she tried to sound calm and professional. The last thing she needed to do was piss off another species. If these people were nice and could be potential allies, that would be an immense help to the settling in the Andromeda galaxy.

“Look, we're visitors from another galaxy.” Okay, probably not the best way to start out a conversation, but it would have to do. There was no time for tea talk. “Our intentions are peaceful.” Please believe us. If they didn't, the Tempest... well, Ain didn't want to think about what could happen if they weren't let on the planet. Or worse, got into a battle with the strange ships.

Silence.

After what felt like an eternity, the strange language came from the comm again,
“Tov noleseto.” Ryder met eye contact with all of her companions, they all seemed to be thinking the same thing that she was; Is that something good... or bad? Before she could really make a decision, Kallo seemed to tip something in the “good” range of favor,

“They've sent us a nav point.”

“Good. Set us down.”

Not leaving them alone, the Tempest was guarded, actually... more like imprisoned by the ships that guided them through the cracked, volcanic surface of the planet.

“Why give us the nav point then?” She mumbled under her breath, but something far better quickly demanded her attention. Ryder leaned forward seeing a small patch of Heaven in the middle of all the death and destruction. Had they actually died and were crossing over into Heaven? “Holy shit... It's beautiful.” The Tempest carefully sat down, making sure that they didn't upset the ships that were surrounding them. Despite the beauty, Ryder had to focus on other matters at the moment. Figuring out who the hell had just let them land in this beautiful place along where the hell this vault was at. She backed up and headed away from her companions.

“Wait.. you're surely not heading out there on your own.” Liam said, grabbing onto Ain's arm. He was a good friend, and she was glad that he was worried about her. She took a deep breath and gently pulled his hand from her arm. “I... don't want a repeat of last time.” Her eyes turned towards Cora and Liam. They knew they remembered the scrambled, frantic way they had navigated around Habitat 7, trying to find each other and a way off the fucked up surface. “Anyway, I'm the Pathfinder, First Contact is on me, remember?” Ain gave an awkward chuckle and held up both her thumbs, trying to convince them-and maybe herself-that everything was going to be okay. Perhaps in the midst of this shit storm, this would finally be the stroke of luck and the light in the dark they had been praying for. She carefully walked out of the Tempest, hands up in a peaceful manner. Hopefully, that gesture didn't mean the complete opposite in this galaxy and showed a sign of surrender and peace to these... people? Their anatomy was weird and unlike anything she had ever seen in the Milky Way.

“Tosko shubiyn vat.” Ryder opened her mouth, unsure whether to say “yes”, “no”, “my name is Ain Ryder”. One of the people put up their fist, all the other's guns still pointed at her.

“Getus Gualtam lyhar.” Whatever they had just scanned her for, Ain kept her hands up. These were the first beings they had seen that were native to Andromeda that hadn't shot them upon sight. The last thing she wanted to do right now was fuck that up.

“Do I.. need to take my shoes off? Or, am I okay?” Ryder asked, unsure again of what she had just been scanned for.

“E hempta das.”

“Maesem roa.” The same one-a woman-that had scanned her stood by her side and with guns still at the ready began to walk. Using common sense, Ain walked with them. She could feel her pulse in her temples and her heart racing. Her mouth was dry and she hoped she wasn't sweating as bad as she felt. Ain had to briskly walk in order to keep up with them so they wouldn't get angry. Their legs are long... holy shit. A breeze blew through the air, gently touching Ain's face. The weather was beautiful, gentle, elegant even. The sound of water flowing nearby gave her a rush of hope just as strong as those falls sounded. Planets could be habitable in this galaxy.

“I am Paaran Shie.” One of the aliens spoke, understandable to her this time. The relief was so great, it was almost audible. “Governor of Aya.” Ain wanted to ask if that was the name of this... town? Or if it was the name of the planet, but with how on edge they all seemed to be, it didn't seem like the smartest move in the book. Mom and Dad would be proud of her, hell even Scott would be too for actually thinking before she made decisions. “We are the Angara.” So they were... Angara? Interesting. Ethereal, beautiful, with extremely large eyes. Astoundingly beautiful and definitely not in the Milky Way at all. She almost had to force herself to respond because she was so focused on the way their words flowed from them, just as elegant as their stances.

“H-Hello.” Ain cleared her throat. “I'm a Pathfinder, with the Andromeda Initiate. My name is Ryder. Ain Ryder.” Calm. Courteous. Gentle. Everything she should've been. Slowly, she lowered her hands, giving Paaran Shie a small smile, hoping it would reach across not only species but galaxies in the meaning. “The Initiative--”

“Yes, I have heard of your journey. You crossed dark space, correct?” It wasn't really a question, but she didn't know if the Angara knew rhetoric or not so she dipped her head slightly in respect and nodded.

“Yes, ma'am.”

A large shadow moved and stood in front of Paaran Shie.

“Jaal, I have this in hand.” She tried to calm the rather... large Angara, but he held his hand up. He didn't look too happy, even less so than the other Angara that were around her.

“Evfra saw the ship come in and sent me to find out what's going on.” This man, Angara... uh, Jaal explained. Whoever this Evfra was must be a rather respected... man? Paaran Shie didn't press the issue and before she knew it, Jaal was coming down the steps to her.

“She is a Human, from another galaxy.” Paaran Shie explained, but Jaal didn't turn back to her and kept his eyes on Ain who had to physically force herself not to step back away from him. She wanted to show that she wasn't scared of them. Then again, with guns pressed against her back, the glares some had been giving her, and the very large Angara in front of her were knocking down notch by notch her no-fear state. “A 'Pathfinder'.”

Face-to-face with Jaal, well more like... chest to face, she could only stare. A strange purple hue to his body even more saturated than an Asari's body enraptured her. His eyes were a bright blue, the ocean would have some competition and they reminded her of cat eyes with the way that they slit in the pupil. Strange markings adorned his head and she couldn't help but wonder if it was natural a battle wound or tribal markings. She could feel his gaze on every single part of her face and Ain prayed that he wouldn't be able to see the light pink blush dusting her cheeks.

“Hmm...” He murmured while examining her face, hair, neck, and straying back up to her face. His voice had a rather interesting back tone, almost like a gravel tone but was accented at the same time. Paaran Shie didn't have this sort of tone to her voice. Was it exclusive to Jaal or was it something that all male Angara possessed? “Aya is protected. Hidden. What do you want?”

Okay, scratch Jaal being a nice guy.

“I apologize...” Ain said, not looking away from Jaal's eyes. They had captivated her. She had never seen anything like them, or him before, even among the other Angara that she had seen. “For... landing here the way we did, on fire no less. That wasn't the plan.” Another small smile and she hoped that would smooth this rather awkward phase over with.

“Good to know.” Jaal said, his eyes also never leaving her's. “Because if it was, that would be a very bad plan.” He had moved closer and Ain's own blue eyes widened. He was close, very, extremely, intensely close. This wasn't the plan either. Then Ain caught the hint of a returned small smile on his lips before he turned around. Did... he just... smile? Could the Angara do that too?

Of course, they probably can, Idiot. They're not exactly devoid of emotion of physical expressions of such. I-I mean smiling of course! Okay, scratch scratching of Jaal not being nice. I'm going to give myself a headache...

“I'm going to inform Evfra. He'll be waiting for you in his office in the Resistance Headquarters.” Jaal informed. “I'll meet you there.”

“I will accompany you through our city.” Paaran Shie spoke, Ain blinking her eyes from Jaal's retreating frame back to the regal-like Angara. “Your crew will stay on your ship. Follow me.” Finally, maybe they were getting somewhere.

And of course, the guys with guns are following me too... Do I look like I'm packing heat? I'm wearing sweatpants, headphones, and a fucking Blast-O's tank top...This is going to be a long, long day.

Ain looked at the blue sky above them and listened to the falls and the birds flying. At least the beautiful weather might help her calm down and press back the fact that she felt like she was going to vomit. She just hoped she knew what she was getting herself into, and that the Angara could be allies...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ain couldn't help her eyes from looking back and forth along Aya's walls. The Angara around were all sorts of different colors and sometimes even a mixture of colors. She wondered if it was a genetic thing or if it was something else. Her knowledge was bound by what she knew in the Milky Way 400 years ago. Her mind wandered briefly to how things have changed in the Milky Way since then. The steps and whispers around her making her keenly aware that she was, in fact, not there anymore. If she was being honest with herself, the looks she was getting and the hushed whispers coming from the many Angara were making her nervous and extremely uncomfortable. Paraan Shie seemed to notice the anxiety she was facing and clasped her hands together, walking slower to let Ain catch up to her.

"Forgive us," she had begun "the last alien that had come to us from another galaxy was the Kett."

Ain couldn't blame herself for wanting to defend her people, and in truth, she really could understand. The First Contact War between the Turians and Humans had been from fear and misunderstanding. Now Vetra was one of her best friends. Whenever a new species had encountered another fear always set in along with worry. With the Angara, the Kett had tried to commit genocide to the Angara and were still trying. If it was the other way around, Ain knew she would be defending Humans. Still, the Angara had such large eyes and so many staring at her made her nervous. What if she stepped forward too fast? Not fast enough? What if she coughed and they took it as a way to get them sick or some way to harm them? She couldn't be too careful since she didn't want to upset potential allies and maybe even friends.

"I understand Paraan Shie, Ma'am," Ain said and dipped her head in respect again. The Angara seemed to have respect deeply embedded into their culture. Slightly, she froze when Paraan Shie gave her a once over. She looked at the guards that were behind Ain and waved them off. They hesitated for a moment, obviously not liking the idea of leaving their governor directly unattended with an alien there. Looking around, there were still guards placed everywhere making it obvious that Ain wasn't allowed to stray from her guide's side to explore or look around lest she be warned or even shot dead. "We have also had our own run-ins with the Kett." Paraan Shie's movement of trust made Ain exhale gently. This was a step forward in the right direction.

"Many people died at their hands then." Paraan Shie nodded in understanding without even having to ask the question. A solemn look crossed her big eyes, respect and honor soaking into them. Even though they were aliens and Ain was technically being held at gunpoint-even if not directly anymore-and Paraan Shie was still willing to honor them with her own moment of silence. Incredible. They were truly an incredible people. The more she walked with the governor, the more she hoped to have the Angara on their side.

"Aya is beautiful, Ma'am," Ain commented, looking at the flora, the fauna, and the beautiful architecture that they had started to climb their way into. It seemed like paradise, but of course, she was sure there was more to the story. Jaal had said it was hidden and protected. That could only mean they had been invaded and harmed, maybe even massacred before.

"It is the last jewel we have." Ain had wanted to ask what Paraan Shie had meant, but the beautiful woman had already spoken again. "This is where I leave you, Pathfinder. You will see Evfra; take this door." Despite the somewhat tense conversation all the way there, she received a smile and gave one in return.

Ain walked into the building, hearing another conversation coming from deeper inside. It sounded like Jaal speaking, and it sounded like it was coming closer. A more nervous part of her wanted to hide and eavesdrop, but that wasn't a way to gain someone's trust. She would have to breathe and keep her chest and head high, reminding herself that she was indeed a Pathfinder. Just as Paraan Shie had said. But maybe just a little hiding and eavesdropping wouldn't be so bad. She would only have to go slower and scoot a little to the side, right? Then when they were finished, she could just continue like normal. It wasn't like she could hide in plain sight either. Ain saw a little alcove that she could hide in for the meantime. It was out of sight from the front door as well as from where the sight of the conversation was coming from. 

"They're bullies, but this situation is now your fault. Don't get kicked out Moraan-not because of them."

"But you're telling me to be weak!"

"No, I'm telling you to be strong through your cunning and heart. Okay?" Ain heard more steps coming towards her and she started to panic. If she got caught hiding it would be a little bit harder to convince the Angara that she was trustworthy. Jaal spoke up again before she could get too worried. "Hey." The footsteps retreated and Ain found this the time to get out of her spot and head slower up the stairs for the rest of the conversation that Jaal and this "Moraan" seemed to be having. He handed something to Jaal.

"It really is the best one in the Resistance."

"I know."

Ain picked up a regular pace at the stairs and came face to throat with another Angara. At least she was more this one's height. Using common sense, she supposed this was Moraan. Ain gave a small bow in respect to the younger Angara and a smile. Moraan stopped for a moment in shock; stunned and blinking. He smiled before glancing back at Jaal and heading out of the building to who knew where. She hoped those smiles were meaningful and that she had done something right. Like her previous worries, she knew that she was walking on a tightrope with barely any balance. All she wanted to do was show that they could trust each other and that she did indeed respect them. Her eyes turned to Jaal who had holstered what looked like a Kett rifle and she was met with fiercely locked eye contact. Her throat got fuzzy again, and she forgot how to breathe. Clearing her throat must've been the right thing to do because Jaal spoke, thankfully breaking the silence before it could really begin.

"Our experiences with the Kett have made us naturally distrustful of all aliens."

It was kinda awkward hearing them being called "aliens", but in truth, that's what they were. The Angara were the natives and Humans, Salarians, Asari, and Turian; they were the aliens now and they really didn't have a choice but to get used to it.

"Yes, that's what Paraan Shie was saying. it's completely understandable."

"Hmm..." Was it something that she had said?

"I mean, we've had our own dealings with the Kett. Many good friends and soldiers died."

"Then... you really do understand," Jaal said and a somewhat confused expression covered his face. Was he doubting?

Duh Ain, he literally just said that they were naturally distrustful of all aliens. That includes you now Idiot. Think!

Perhaps sensing Ain's awkwardness, Jaal continued.

"When the Archon came to Heleus, he demolished our sovereign state-took what he wanted, as if we were nothing."

"The Archon?" Ain asked. "We met a Kett that seemed to be higher on the chain of command than the others. Was that--"

"The Archon. Yes." Jaal said and gestured with his hand, walking next to her as he continued. He supposed Jaal was leading them to this "Evfra's" office. "Now, the Kett mercilessly abduct the Angara. Often... we never see our people again."

"W-Wait, I heard that right, right?" Ain said, blinking her eyes. Her brows furrowed, trying to dissect what she had just heard. "The Kett kidnap your people? Steal them?"

"Yes, and the Resistance fights them every day with everything that we have."

"Very admirable." Silence filled them again, only the footsteps echoed through the hall. "... what is it the Kett are after?"

"You should save your questions for Evfra."

Ain couldn't help but wonder what kind of person Evfra was. She didn't have to wonder long before his gruff voice rang out in the building.

"Kadara be damned! I won't lose Voeld!" This sort of behavior seemed to be normal since Jaal nor the other Angara around him were shaken in any way. Ain's gaze traveled to what he was looking at, but couldn't understand any of it. Even if she could, she doubted that this man would've wanted any input that she had to offer.

"Evfra, this is one of the aliens of the Milky Way-A Pathfinder." Ain coughed slightly, trying to stifle a laugh from the way that Jaal had said "Milky Way". She blinked her eyes and looked at the Angara, her smile dropping when she saw the two large scars upon his face. It was from an attack of some sort; Kett or perhaps indigenous life forms that they had yet to run into. Either way, he didn't look too friendly. From Moraan, to Evfra, to Jaal, and Paraan Shie; the Angara could come in all flavors. Ain could only wonder what the crew on the Tempest would think of them.

"Pathfinder." Ain couldn't tell whether Evfra's tone held curiosity or resentment. She hoped it was the former, or she could feel the brewings of racism on the horizon already. "Bold move, coming to Aya."

"We traveled a long way, Sir. We had to be bold enough to leave the Milky Way. have to be bold enough to save them. Our ship was almost on fire, and we needed somewhere to land."

A sound of... approval? Could she really hope? That hope was dashed with another harsh tone. She wanted to chalk it up to it just being the undertone of all male Angara, but from the way Moraan spoke she couldn't make that assumption. Jaal and Evfra just seemed to hate her she supposed. It really wasn't fair since they didn't get a chance to know them. They hadn't shot them up first chance they had gotten like the Kett. Ain tried to see it from their point of view but with Evfra's tone, it was making it difficult. It wasn't like they had wanted all these problems either.

"Never mind how you got here-why are you here?"

"We set a small colony on Eos, trying to get a foothold here in Andromeda, somewhere to start to put down roots. It was highly radiated and couldn't hold life for anyone." Ain began to explain. "There we found a sort of vault and I brought it back online, it somehow regulated the atmosphere so we could really start our colony. The map gave us coordinates here where there was supposed to be another vault."

"Remnant. The recent intelligence that we've gathered supports that claim."

As far as Ain knew, they had only activated the first vault since the monoliths weren't powered. Eos and other planets like it were toxic to all human life. It would be hard to believe that anyone else had gotten a way to activate them. So how did they know? They couldn't have followed them considering they were ready to shoot them. They had been here longer, maybe there was something in Native lore? Evfra was watching her every move, waiting for her.

"From what the map showed, there's a vault on Aya and it's... different somehow."

Evfra made a grunt and turned from her, staring out the window at the beautiful scenery. She didn't think that she would ever get used to seeing this. Then again, she didn't know how much she would be traveling here either, or if she would even make it back to the Tempest alive. She could picture her friends pacing back and forth, arguing about if they should send someone to go and try to find her.

"Yes. There is a 'vault' on Aya, but its entrance was sealed years ago. We... can't help you."

"The Moshae could." Seeing the look of confusion at the term, he nodded as if understanding forgetting that he would have to elaborate on almost anything and everything that had to do with them, their culture, or even their planet. "She is our most revered scientist and elder. She knows of this vault."

Evfra about faced and glared at not only Ain but now at Jaal too. A sensitive topic to Evfra perhaps? That would have to be filed in her mental notebook. His voice was practically a growl when he stomped over to where Jaal was.

"Now the Kett have her, and our rescue attempts have failed. She's lost to us. And you."

No. There's no way... the Moshae is our only hope now. We need to find her. Even if it doesn't improve relations with the Angara... I can't let someone just stay in Kett hands when they're being looked for and missed.

"Let me at least show you what I can do." Ain said, taking a step forward which only seemed to anger him more. Bad move. "I won't take one step without your approval."

"You have no idea what you're dealing with! The Angara learned years ago the dangers of messing with the vaults and the Kett for that matter."

Can't argue there... Good job, Ain. Thank you, Ain. You're welcome, Ain.... Dumbass. Of course, it wouldn't be that ea--

"Evfra...I... I feel this alien is extraordinary."

Jaal's voice jarred her and Ain couldn't thank the stars enough that he was turned away from her so that he wouldn't see the pink blush returning to cover her cheeks. Extraordinary? After he had been so quick to get in her face at their meeting. He had smiled after that and hadn't been as hostile towards her since then. Maybe it was just the fact that someone had actually given her a compliment instead of a curveball one. It was nice to get a direct compliment. Even if that wasn't what Jaal was hoping for, she hoped it would be safe to at least take it as that.

"What they say that is."

Well... there went that feeling of approval.

"The Moshae would want us to be brave and not argue among ourselves. She wouldn't want us to let this chance pass, Evfra. You know it as well as I."

I'm getting a headache. Great, looks like Evfra's getting one too. Good... Jackass.

"Let me assess this alien. I'll be your eyes. I know you can spare me."

"Fine, but when it tries to kill you, be prepared to strike first."

I'm right here you know... I was right, you are a jackass. A dildo. I'd call you a dick Evfra, but you're not real enough.

His footsteps retreated quickly, not from fear, but from anger. Ain had to seriously fight the urge to stick out her tongue at him. He could just be so childish! Oh.. well, maybe that wasn't the best insult considering... But still! If the Moshae was as important as Jaal said, then there was no way that they should just give up. She was revered. A scientist and an elder. A friend and maybe even a mother. Anger boiled in her mind. Evfra had been serious about just giving up.

"I am Jaal Ama Darav. I'll be your envoy through Angaran space."

"H-Hey... I-I mean, hello." Ain cleared her throat and wiped her hands down her sweatpants. "Ryder. A-Ain Ryder."

"A-Ain? Quite a name."

"No, uh... just Ain."

"Ah."

Silence. Great...

"Thank you for trusting me." Ryder smiled, hoping to at least get a smile back to prove that they were on good terms. Hopefully?

"I don't. But I can always kill you in your sleep."

"Ha...ha." Ain said, cold sweat pricking on the back of her neck. She saw no humor in his eyes. "R-Right..."

Together, Ain walked out of the building with Jaal by her side. Every now and then she stole glances at him. Had that been a terrible attempt at humor? No.. probably not. The whispers from the Angara only increased in volume with Jaal at her side. She had caught Jaal giving her side glances as well which had resulted in her quickly looking away from him. Following him back to the dock, they were stopped. It seemed to be Jaal's friend and she moved slightly away, not wanting to interrupt or eavesdrop on their conversation.

Not like I didn't do that a little while ago... But... that doesn't count. Just because.

"Jaal... you think the Moshae is alive?"

"I'm sure of it."

"Don't kill yourself trying to bring her home."

"No promises."

The Moshae is someone so important that people would die for her? Or was it just Jaal in particular. He seemed different from the other Angara, but she still didn't know if that was a good thing. Maybe he really was waiting for a time to kill her in her sleep. How ironic that she would sleep 400 years to only be killed in her sleep.

"Ryder, the ship is all fixed up."

"Alrighty, Gil. Thanks." Ain smiled and looked at the Tempest. She looked at Jaal who seemed mesmerized.

"Your ship is..." A deep chuckle rumbled from Jaal's throat and Ain looked at the nearest... anything to capture her attention. "we have nothing like it."

"Oh uh... wait until you see the inside."

"It gets better?"

"U-Uh, yeah. I.. I think so." Ain stammered and looked at the Tempest. "I'll introduce you to the rest of my crew."

Please don't embarrass me, guys...

Ain walked onto the ship with Jaal, stunning Vetra who had been waiting anxiously for her return. She walked with Jaal to the conference room, with glances from everyone that they passed. Maybe Jaal would get how she felt now. It wasn't like she wanted him to feel awkward, but letting him know what it felt like to be gawked at may have been a little payback for subjecting her to Evfra. She looked up and saw Cora.

"Can you get everyone together for me? We need to have a meeting." Ain said and watched Cora jog off, Vetra hadn't been far behind, her eyes wide.

Ain stood at the communication device, pacing back and forth while one by one her friends arrived. Jaal had stayed near Ain, but not too close for someone to insinuate that they were even acquaintances. Each one that passed, had given Jaal a look of worry and maybe a hint of fear. She scratched the back of her head, looking at him with a bit of apology in her eyes. They were the Natives here, and as much as she wanted to give him a little payback a little bit ago, she remembered how uncomfortable it had been and felt bad about it.

"Okay, guys..." Ain began.

"What were you thinking?!" Peebee exclaimed, looking at everyone. "You brought an alien here?"

Oh. My. God. I'm going to let Jaal kill you in your sleep.

"They're the natives here. We're the aliens, Peebee." Ain tried to remind.

"It can't be that bad." Cora tried to reason.

"Are you serious?! This is one of the worst things that could happen."

"I think you're being a little overdramatic..." Cora said.

"Am I?!"

"Look, all I'm trying to say is that this First Contact went a whole hell of a lot better than the other one."

"Only slightly." Liam said.

"A lot better." Cora corrected, glaring at him.

"I wanted to look around." Peebee frowned, folding her arms.

Oh. My. God. So much for not embarrassing me.

"And now we have another mouth to feed... Whatever he eats." Drack said, glaring at Jaal. That was just Krogan nature, Ain hoped he didn't take offense to it. The last thing they needed was for an Angara and Krogan to go at it on the ship. Though, like she was cursed, one by one they all looked at Jaal who was looking at them shrouded in the shadows.

"Do the translators not work?" Vetra asked and Ain shook her head in disbelief.

"They work."

Ain slammed her hands down on the table.

"Can we not talk about Jaal like he isn't here!" A strange sound came from over in Jaal's direction. She didn't want to find out what it was. "Just... focus guys. Can't we all just try to play nice?"

"Play nice? Seriously? We're going to have to fight with him. What if he gets mad and shoots us!" Peebee exclaimed. Why did she always have to yell?

"Then don't do anything stupid dammit!"

Drack laughed which caused Ain to relax a bit. Or maybe it was because "Grandpa" Drack found it funny to watch Ain flounder around trying to regain control. Yeah, that seemed more like what he'd do.

"Ryder, we followed our best lead here and now... we don't even have that!" Cora said.

"Jaal has been kind enough to help us get into the vault."

"How are we supposed to do that Ain if we're leaving the planet it's on?" Vetra asked, switching her weight from her left to right hip.

"That's... a fair point, Jaal?" Ain asked. Everything had happened so fast from Habitat 7 until now. Usually, a Pathfinder had training and she didn't. Her training was literally on the job life or death.

"... Seriously, Ain?" Vetra asked with a sigh.

A slam from beside her stopped everyone. It was Liam.

"Enough! Ain's right! Let's just hear it from Jaal himself."

Ain turned to Jaal with a smile while Liam gave him a nod. She saw all eyes turned to Jaal. These were the most guarded stares she had ever seen.

"One day, about eighty years ago, the Archon and the Kett arrived in Heleus. Then the horror began."

Wait... then that means that what we saw when we looked at Andromeda had been true. They had been looking from before the Archon and Kett even arrived in Andromeda. Damn... Who could've predicted that?

"You mean... they declared war?" Cora asked.

"Nothing so defined."

"Jaal said back on Aya that the Kett kidnap Angara, and that they're never heard from again. Guys... what if it were us?"

"Look, Buttercup, I'll fight Kett all day long, but that ain't a plan." Drack said and folded his arms.

"Yeah Ryder, we need in that vault!" Peebee said.

This is going downhill fast...

"Surprisingly, I'm with Peebee on this one. Our own mission takes priority." Cora frowned.

Great. Awesome way to make a first impression. How was she going to explain to Jaal that her crew wasn't a bunch of complete assholes?

"We do have a plan! Kinda... Sort of... Right, Jaal?" Ain looked at him, practically begging for him to save her at this point.

"Since the Resistance is stretched thin, I was given the task of traveling to two of our worlds-and you will accompany me."

"Havarl and Voeld." Ain said and brought up the worlds on the holo-screen in front of them.

"Still don't see how this helps us." Drack said.

"If you help me, Evfra will see you as trustworthy. You want that."

Right... the dildo's approval.

"Hmm."

"Voeld used to be-before the Scourge-a bustling world full of technology and life."

"... now?" Vetra said, almost afraid to ask.

"It... It is not the ground center for our war against the Kett. Havarl is the birthplace of the Angara. Lately, it has started to deteriorate. We suspect Remnant."

"Now we're talkin'!" Peebee exclaimed.

"Shut up..." Vetra mumbled.

"We've recently lost contact with our scientists." Jaal explained.

"So we help you, you vouch for us, right? 'Cause Jaal wants inside Aya's vault too, right?"

"Ain, your call." Drack said.

Ain had been listening on the sidelines the whole time like she wasn't even the commander or captain or whatever of this damn ship. She felt aggravated all over again. Her blood was rushing faster and her heart rate was increasing with every bit of anger that boiled in her body.

"Oh, really? Is it my turn to speak now?" Ain said sarcastically, looking at her friend's surprised looks. "I figured you'd all just talk amongst yourselves without letting me tell you the reasons behind me doing what I'm doing." She turned when she felt Liam's hand on her shoulder.

"... We'll be here for you. Whatever you choose."

Ain rubbed her temples in aggravation.

"Jaal, please give Kallo the nav points." She said and turned to walk away. "Dismissed."

Ain was pulling out boxes from the tech lab, sweat pricking her hairline. About 30 minutes had passed since her team had gone back to their stations. Conversation had stopped among each other besides Vetra agreeing to take Jaal on a tour of the ship. With the extra boxes, Ain was making a stack against a wall. Sighing, she wiped her sweat with the back of her hand, grabbing another box. She couldn't believe her team had treated Jaal like that. He didn't have to come on their ship and help them. The Moshae was someone from their culture after all. Someone who was going to help them get into the vault. If Cora and Peebee had just shut up for a minute, maybe she could have explained that better. They had all made terrible first impressions-save Liam and maybe Vetra. This was life or death after all, for all of them; Jaal included. Why would he just travel on a random ship full of unknowns for him if she didn't want to help someone at least? He'd go back to Aya and tell all the Angara what terrible people the Pathfinder and her team were, and then there would go that chance of making an alliance between the only benevolent species they had encountered. Honestly, she wanted to hit something. Peebee and Cora seemed like good candidates, but she couldn't snap like that. Once again, everything seemed to be going wrong.

"Ain? What are you doing?" Hearing Vetra's voice didn't make her turn around. She continued to move boxes, pushing them with all her force and causing the stack of boxes to turn into two, then three.

"Moving boxes." She muttered, aggravation heavy in her tone. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see both Vetra and Jaal's eyes following her every movement.

"I can see that, smart ass. Why?"

"Jaal has to stay somewhere. No one wants to stay in the barracks, and the Tech Lab is spacious and secluded, away from people who treat others terribly." Ain emphasized with another harsh push to a box. She was surprised Vetra had acted the way that she had. Peebee, she had expected. Cora had surprised her, but not as much as Vetra had. She probably would've lost it in the meeting had Liam not been there to be on her side. Jaal and Vetra had frozen where they stood. When Ain looked back at the lab, she saw that it was 99% cleared out. She was about to go back in to get the last couple boxes, but Vetra had beaten her to it, bringing them out and putting them on the stack. Ryder turned and looked at Jaal, awkward eyes looking downward.

"There. All clear." Vetra said and sighed. "I gotta go call my sister, Ain. I'll talk to you later."

Ain was trying to catch her breath from all the heavy moving she had done. She folded her arms and cleared her throat,

"Despite how terribly my crew treated you when you came onboard... I hope you find you like staying here." She gestured to the cleared out Tech Lab. "I... Well, I hope that you'll be able to consider it may be a 'home'. You know and maybe not try to kill us in our sleep. Feel free to decorate or whatever however you please. It's your space Jaal."

"This is... unexpected, but appreciated." Jaal said and looked at the box of things that he had brought, shifting his rifle on his back.

"There are some other things in those boxes that you could use. Blankets, lights, things like that. They're labeled so... feel free to go through them to try to make your space more like home."

"I thank you, Ryder."

"If there's anything you need Jaal, my cabin is downstairs." Ain's face flushed a deep red realizing the innuendo she had just created. "I-I mean, like... i-if there's anything I can do to make things easier, I-I uh..." Ain rubbed her hand down her face. She was terrible at meeting and communicating with new people. This is why she hardly had any friends.

"Thank you." Jaal said again before heading into the Tech Lab.

Good job, Ryder. Good. Job.

"Ryder, you seem to be distressed." SAM came over their personal channel.

"Shut up SAM." Ain murmured, heading back towards her cabin. She needed to think; Havarl or Voeld? They both needed help, like yesterday. As.. Pathfinder, it was her duty to make the decision... and her's alone.

I don't want to be a burden...

Chapter Text

Ain was pacing back and forth in her cabin for what felt like hours. A couple times she had actually looked down to see if there were marks on the floor from where her shoes had been making a path. Nothing. If she kept on though, it might just happen. There was so much on her mind. They had just met an alien species that was actually native to Andromeda and one actually signed up to help them into a vault. A vault on their own planet which it seemed like they couldn't get to without the crew's help. It was sad in a way, something that you're trying to get into on your own home and you need the help of some 400-year-old aliens in order to do so. The Angara got dealt a bad hand, but thankfully they were still willing to help. Jaal was brave to travel with them even if he was giving updates to the others.

Either they're super hard up for help, or they're just as curious about us as we are about them. I'm going to go for the latter so I don't give myself more of a headache than I already have.

Sighing, Ain sat at the edge of her bed. Being Pathfinder was all about making choices, she knew that. She just didn't expect that six million choices would be given to her all at one time. Ain shook her head. Being the only Pathfinder to actually show up to the Nexus was a big feat in itself and now she had to take on the duty of all the Pathfinders. Now she had the choice of which planet to help first. Havarl or Voeld? Perhaps she could just do a coin toss in order to get it done and over with. Then again, the Angara were important to them and to Jaal so she figured she couldn't really leave it up to a coin toss. Jaal... I should probably go talk to him, see how he's adjusting. Then again... He's probably stressed enough as it is and doesn't want an alien hovering over him.

Back to the pacing she went. Great. Now there was another choice that she had to make. Talk to Jaal or not? Havarl or Voeld? It wasn't like she could ask Jaal either since they both seemed rather important. It wouldn't be very professional either. She had already made a fool out of herself in the meeting where he met the crew. To be honest, Ain wouldn't be surprised if Jaal thought she was an incompetent leader. Sometimes she thought the same. It wasn't that Ryder expected being a Pathfinder to be a walk in the park, but maybe she just expected to get some backup from her crew instead of taking verbal jabs at each other every few minutes.

Okay, I'll go talk to Jaal. Maybe he's hoping someone does check up on him. Maybe it'll make him feel like he is now part of the Tempest's crew. Right. Okay.

Steeling herself, Ain left her cabin and climbed that godforsaken ladder and headed across the bridge to the central part of the Tempest. When she left her cabin, she had a full on idea that she was going to walk right in there and talk to Jaal. She took a step forward and then turned around and walked towards where Cora's room was. Rocking back and forth on her heels a couple times, she tried to steel herself once again. Her hands were sweaty and she grunted in disapproval, wiping them on her pants.

“You can do this.” She told herself before heading towards the Tech Lab again. “It is your ship after all.” Even she thought it was pathetic that she had to remind herself of that. Once again, she froze right at the door and through the process, she went of a mild retreat and a minor charge.

This time she willed her feet to take a step forward, just as the door opened and the large Angara stood in the threshold. She hadn't been expecting that and her legs worked faster than her brain and she ran into him, falling to the floor with an undignified oof. Ain chanced a look up and saw that she had indeed run into Jaal and he was above her now, blinking in what looked like confusion. He reached out a hand without a word and Ain took it, being pulled up instantly like she weighed absolutely nothing.

“Is that how Humans greet people?” Jaal asked and Ain couldn't help but let out a small laugh.

“No, I'm just uncoordinated sometimes.” A few moments of silence passed between them before Jaal spoke again. She couldn't tell if it was humor or if he was being serious.

“I hope you are more coordinated with a gun than you are on your feet.” With those words, he walked back into the Tech Lab. Ain was almost tempted to turn tail and head back to her cabin for more pacing thinking, but she followed him inside.

Whatever Jaal had been working on before, he had gone right back to it like their encounter hadn't even happened. Ain rocked back and forth on her feet a couple of times before clearing her throat and looking over at his back. Broad and strong. A soldier's back. Honestly, Ain could respect that.

“Was there somewhere you were heading?” She asked. “I hope I didn't interrupt it.”

“I heard frantic footsteps outside my door and went to see what it was.”

“Frantic foot-oh...” Ain trailed off. She had been freaking out so much that Jaal had been able to hear it. Talk about embarrassing! Silence once again. They'd really have to work on that. The Tempest's crew wasn't really silent, and she hoped that Jaal would warm up to them and break out of his shell a little bit. It would be easier to trust each other then, or maybe that's when he would break out of his shell was when he trusted them more.

“So... Jaal.” Ain began, continuing to rock on her feet and pursing her lips. She had come all the way up here and made a fool out of herself. The least she could do was try to have a conversation with him. Right? That couldn't be too hard... right?

“So...” His voice seemed uninterested, but Ain wouldn't give up.

I will make you talk a little dammit...

“I uh... well, I came to visit.”

“I see.”

“I mean, I uh... we just haven't had a chance to talk alone,” Ain said and cleared her throat, hoping that didn't sound as weird to him as it just had to her. When he turned to her, she tried to play it off like she didn't see the innuendo there and continued. “Are you comfortable in here?”

“Yes, you chose a room well.”

Well, that's a fucking relief. Cheers to me...

“Well, I'm glad.”

“It is strange to be here. You're all aliens.” Ain nodded and smiled at him, trying to seem more approachable and friendlier than she had in the meeting a few hours back.

“Well that's true, but you're alien to us. So there.” Ain laughed slightly, earning a strange look from him. He hasn't really heard a human laugh, so he was probably surprised at how it sounded.

Jaal made a grunt of... disapproval? Approval? Contempt? Ain barely spoke English sometimes and she was going to have to learn the subtleties of Angara.

“We can... look at it as a starting point.” He said, his sentence breaking every couple of words.

The awkwardness is real... maybe this wasn't a good idea. I don't have very many of them lately. Maybe I should've just went and talked to Vetra, asked her opinion on the whole thing. Oh, but she was calling her sister... that's right.

“Perhaps since we're all aliens, it depends then on what kind of alien we are.”

Ain furrowed her brows and watched Jaal's eyes stare into her own almost searching for something. A hint of possible betrayal maybe? She couldn't really blame him, but she wanted to assure him that it would be fine no matter what and that they didn't have any intention of harming him. After all, she should be the one worried. He had kinda sorta threatened to kill her in her sleep.

“What do you mean?”

“What indeed?”

“You really didn't have any clue about what kind of people we were Jaal, but you volunteered to help anyway,” Ain said and smiled, hoping that could begin to smooth out the awkwardness. “Thank you.”

Then, of course, Jaal had to shock her with another verbal curveball. It seemed like he was good at that, perhaps an Angaran specialty or maybe it was just his specialty.

“Perhaps it had nothing to do with you.” What the hell was that supposed to mean? She was starting to feel like this conversation was going in circles and she was talking to a philosophical brick wall. Getting angry wouldn't help anything though, so she reminded herself once again that he had every right in the whole galaxy to be cautious of them.

“So uh... what does that mean?”

“...”

“You wanna tell me?” Ain probed, hoping to get a little more information out of him.

“I do not.” If she had've been at a desk or table, she would've thwacked her head against it. That... wasn't really what she had been expecting.

I'm going to start having to expect the unexpected with him.

The silence filled the Tech Lab again and only the small sounds of the Tempest could be heard. Ain made small popping sounds with her lips and looked around, trying to find something in the air to give her ideas on what to talk about as she quickly shoved her shaking hands in her pockets. From her peripheral vision, she could see that he hadn't taken his eyes off of her. His gaze was intense, not in a romantic way, but in a “you make one strange move that borders on hostile and I'll kill you”.

Great way to give yourself nightmares. Good job.

She cleared her throat and spoke again, hoping to at least get a conversation going this time.

“So... how do you know Moshae Sejfa?” This seemed to be a good topic because Jaal wasted no time in answering that question.
“She's our greatest mind on the Remnant. I was her student.”

Ain blinked. That had taken her by surprise. She didn't know what Angaran children looked like, but she thought of a small Jaal in class taking tests on Remnant with Moshae Sejfa despite the fact that she didn't really want to. More than likely, he was an adult student training under her and she cursed her imaginative mind thinking of strange things. In all honesty, it was just curiosity for the race.

“You? A student?”

“We do learn things.”

Ain waved her hands in front of her. Of course, she opened her mouth and inserted her foot. That was another of her specialties lately.

“I didn't mean it like that. I meant you were a student for learning Remnant?”

A small chuckle came from Jaal and a small smile came to his face. It seemed that he was still fond of the memories that he had been her student.

“A little, but... I was terrible. I quit. Or, she threw me out. One of those, but it depends on who you ask.” Ain chuckled slightly too. Even though she didn't know Jaal very well, she didn't have a hard time believing that. “Despite that, we're still very close.”

Of course, just as Ain thought they were getting a good conversation going, Jaal dropped it. He didn't want to let more slip than was necessary. She could understand and respect that, but a little small talk here and there couldn't hurt. It would make things less awkward and build the trust bridge.

I'm putting forth effort here Jaal... meet me halfway man.

Her eyes looked over at the station he had been at and saw the rifle that Moraan had given him back on Aya in the Resistance headquarters.

“So... is uh... that your rifle?”

Well duh, who else's would it be?

“It is now. It was Kett. I made some modifications to it.”

“Impressive,” Ain admitted. The weapon did seem like it could take down some Kett or some larger enemies.

“I like to tinker-get my hands on something and take it apart.”

Despite her wanting to, a light pink dusted her cheeks. It wasn't really the words that got to her since she knew what he had meant, it was just the innuendo of it and how he had no real emotion on his face when he said it.

Get a grip.

It may or may not have had something to do with the way he had said it, emphasizing certain words here and there. She remained professional though. It wasn't like she had a thing for Jaal, it was more the words and his voice, not him personally though.

“Well, that's a useful skill to have. Um... please don't take apart my ship though. Okay?” Ain requested with a small laugh.

Surprising enough, she got one in return that made her breath hitch in her throat. She didn't know if the Angara even had the capability to laugh since she hadn't really heard any of them do one except for that dildo's angry sound that he passed as a laugh, but that was more of a huff really.

“I will not. I volunteered for this. It's... exciting.”

Whoa... didn't see that coming.

“There's something unique about you-uneasy, raw-but somehow profound.”

Ain cleared her throat and smiled at Jaal, trying to hide her nervousness. She hadn't really gotten a lot of compliments in her whole lifetime, but especially since coming to Andromeda. Vetra and Liam were really the only ones who truly supported her, and she could feel it, but sometimes she even wondered about them like during the meeting with Jaal.

“Wow um... thanks. I'm going to take that as a compliment.”

“It is,”

Wow uh. Okay then. Shit... what the hell do I say now?

“Angara feel deeply. Honestly, we have more trouble hiding our emotions than actually showing them.” That was definitely different from any other species in the Milky Way. Most of them were secretive like everyone had a hidden agenda. Then again, it could just be because Ain was paranoid and somewhat ashamed of what their name had become with their Dad's AI research.

Jaal had laughed and given some information about the Angara. It felt like maybe things were going to go well especially if this kept up.

“I should get back to my work.” He said and Ain nodded, suddenly feeling about keeping him for so long. It was only about two minutes, but still. She had no idea what he was working on. It could've been super important.

“I'm sorry.” Ain chuckled. “Well, as if I didn't have enough on my plate, I guess I could add deciphering alien psychology.”

Jaal looked at Ain and from what she could see, he looked confused.

“Plate? What plate?” He asked and Ain snorted a small laugh and shook her head.

“Exactly.” She said and smiled. “It's a saying.”

“But why a plate?”

“I uh... don't know.”

“Then why do you say it?” Ain rubbed her hand down her face and sighed.

“It's just a saying.”

“Hmm, I see. This is something I will have to learn. See you later, Ryder.” Jaal said and turned and went back to his workstation.

Ain was about to leave when she turned back around to face Jaal. He had dodged the whole reason on why she had come here in the first place.

Oh, you're good...

She took a few more steps until she was right behind him. He turned and faced her and they were met with chest to face again.

“Yes?”

“Can you tell me more about yourself?”

“Why?” His tone seemed more hostile than it had earlier.

“W-Well... I'm curious. After all, we're going to be... working together, so I... I mean it's normal to know the people you work with.” Ain backpedaled trying to salvage this. She didn't know how short of a fuse that Jaal had. “I mean, are you like... hiding something?” She said only half joking.

“Maybe. That would make sense.”

She cleared her throat again and took her position of bouncing on her heels again gently, more like a rocking motion.

“W-What? You're messing with me... right?”

Jaal folded his arms and shifted his weight from left to right side. Ain wasn't sure if that was a good thing.

“Possibly...” He then cleared his throat before he spoke again. “What does that mean?”

“It... Well, it's another saying. It means that you're saying something just to make me uncomfortable.”

“Ah. Then, no. Evfra warned me to be cautious. I am... not very good at being cautious.

“Well, I-”

“That's enough. Until we've established better trust in each other.” Without saying another word, he turned back to his workstation.

Ain felt defeated and sighed audibly behind Jaal. His tinkering stopped momentarily upon hearing her sigh, but she was too deflated to really take notice. She turned and left the lab, feeling the door close behind her and separate her further from a potential friend. She supposed it was something else that she was unable to do. It wasn't that she wasn't expecting Jaal to be wary, but it seemed like he didn't even want to try being friends.

“Dammit...” Ain muttered and headed to the bridge. Apparently, she had a certain look in her eyes because both Kallo and Suvi turned to her. While Kallo watched her, Suvi stopped typing on her console.

“Are you alright?”

“... Fine.” Ain dismissed Suvi's question and would have to go and apologize to her later since her eyes turned downward and she muttered a “sorry” under her breath before beginning to type again. “Kallo... take us to Havarl.” She said.

“...Roger.” Kallo said and watched as Ain stood at her position and watched the stars go by. She sighed and shook her head. Kallo and Suvi said nothing, but she knew that her sigh had been audible. She stared at Havarl and frowned. It was sad that Havarl had turned from a beautiful and prosperous planet to a war front. “Havarl in sight.”

“Scan Havarl, SAM,” Ain said and frowned when she saw the data appear on her screen. She exhaled. It was in even worse shape than she had expected. Ain rubbed at the tattoo on her neck and felt a twinge of sadness in her stomach.

I miss you, little bro... When you wake up, I promise that things will be better.

Ain thanked Kallo and Suvi and turned around. Without saying anything, she retreated from the bridge and went to go to her locker. Seeing 'Ain Ryder' on her locker just filled her with more trepidation. She put her headphones in the locker and looked at her armor and weapons. Ain was in the middle of putting her armor on when Jaal and Cora came into the room with her. Silence filled the room between them, Ain was still a little salty about the meeting before. Okay, she was more than a little salty, she was marinated. She grabbed her pistol and examined it, taking out the block and checking it. Slamming it back in, she laid it on top of the locker. Doing the same to the rifle, she was ready to go. After she had holstered them on her back, she put the helmet back into the locker. Thanks to the preliminary scan of Havarl, it was breathable.

“I'm sorry, Ryder,” Cora said, and Ain stopped from her words. “We all acted... childish around Jaal. It wasn't professional and it was just plain rude.”

Ain brushed a couple strands of stray hair from her face and frowned. She gripped onto the locker and slammed it. Sorry? That was all that she was going to say? It wasn't just rude or unprofessional. It was just... she didn't even think there was a word for what it was.

“Oh, you're going to act like I'm in charge now and apologize to me? I expected Peebee to be a little unprofessional, but you? It's ridiculous. Is this how you would've been as Pathfinder too? Maybe it's good that Dad didn't make you Pathfinder.” Ain said, making sure that there was enough venom in her voice to shock Cora. She had always tried to remain neutral with her friends, but that meeting had been too much. The Angara were the only allies that they could've had in Andromeda, and with the way that they treated Jaal, it wouldn't shock her if he reported how they had acted to Evfra. They hadn't even begun to get on the Angara's good side and they could've already ruined it.

“Ryder, I-”

“You know what Cora? Fuck it.” Ain said and glared at Cora. “And just fuck all your guys' attitudes. You do realize that Jaal is our only hope of getting into the vault on Aya or having a fucking I don't know alliance here in Andromeda. In case you forgot, we're all alone out here.”

Cora didn't even try to say anything in response. Ain wasn't sure if she had just been that shocked or if it had something to do with the fact that she was getting out of there before she lost her temper and ended up straight up decking Cora in the face. Just before she left, she turned back to her teammate and pointed at her, bringing back her glare.
“I have enough to deal with in hoping that we can at least become friends with Jaal, but now I have to deal with you and our other supposed friends. I shouldn't have to be your guys' parents and calm you children do. If you hadn't noticed, this isn't exactly easy for me either!” Ain about-faced and left, running into Peebee.

“Ryder, I-”

“Move,” Ain said and pushed passed Peebee, and walked to the deck where she'd get off with her teammates. She didn't care who came with her. She was equally pissed off at all of them. Honestly, she was getting pissed at Jaal the more that she had thought about it. She stood and waited adjusting the arms of her armor and making sure that everything was on the up and up. She folded her arms after her check was alright.

“Ain,” Vetra said behind her, walking behind her friend.

“Ryder.” The voice behind her was Jaal.

Saying nothing, she left from the hanger and got her first look at Havarl. The flora and fauna around Havarl was more abundant than in Aya. Even though it was beautiful, it was rather foreboding with the heavy rain around them. Her hair was already soaked and clinging to her face and they had just barely gotten off of the Tempest.

Great. Just fucking great.

This day had just gotten off to a bad start and was getting worse and worse. She unholstered her pistol and held it at the ready and looked around. Growling surrounded her and her teammates. The heavy rain made it harder to see and was obscuring her vision. When the Wraith appeared in front of her from its cloaking, it jumped directly at Ain. She didn't really have any time to react and felt the hot, stinging pain of flesh splitting against her face. Two more Wraiths came from around them, then three, and then a pack. The others came for Vetra and Jaal. Ain had been tackled to the ground by the Wraith that had attacked her and was trying to pry its way passed her armor in order to tear her own body apart. She struggled and turned her face away from the Wraith only missing a fraction of his scratching, now brandishing many scratches on her armor. With some difficulty, she managed to get her pistol that had flown a few inches away. She took it and just as the Wraith was about to attack her again, shot it through the chin. It fell limp onto her body earning a grunt of pain from Ain. She pushed it off of her body and stood up ignoring Vetra's or Jaal's hand and stood up. The army of Wraiths was around her and she felt slightly bad that she couldn't contribute much to the fight since she had been pinned down. The forever pelting rain attacked the cuts on her face, making them sting. She rubbed her arm against her face trying to get the blood away from it, but it trailed down to her neck.

“Ain, are you alright?” Vetra asked, looking at her best friend.

“Fine,” Ain said and exhaled. “Jaal, will you lead us to the scientists?”

“Yes, of course.”

Silence had filled the space around them as Jaal headed towards the scientists. Since Jaal's legs were so much longer, she had to use her jump-jets in order to keep up next to him and Vetra who had legs just as long. They were practically running, but she could understand the urgency. Evfra knew that Havarl was in trouble and it had to be urgent, or she believed that she wouldn't have gotten Jaal or that he wouldn't have volunteered. After a few minutes, a building had come into view. It was dark and she could only think of two possibilities; the dark was penetrating into the metal of the building or that there was no power. At the door, she used her Omni-tool in order to open the door and from what she saw, it had to be the first reason although it looked like the second reason was coming up quickly. Tapping on her tool, she was about to scan the surrounding building and technology in order to gain a better understanding, but she heard a voice. It was pitiful and was almost begging. Turning the corner, she saw a female Angara in front of a console who looked like she was almost in tears and didn't pay any attention to the small party that was approaching her.

“None of these readings show any change. How could there not be a change?”

Ain moved closer to her so that she could see that they wanted to talk to her. The woman turned around and turned from gazing at Ain and Vetra to look at Jaal.

“Jaal? What are you doing here,” She asked, her tone had changed and was instantly guarded and almost at the point of venomous when her gaze scanned over Ain and Vetra again. “and in the company of these... people?”

“Kiiran, this is Pathfinder Ain Ryder. She is from... very far away.” Jaal answered, ignoring the tone in her voice.

Ain dipped her head in respect, she wanted to show respect to this woman just as she had to Paaran Shie and had tried to show to Evfra.

“Ryder, this is Kiiran Dals, the lead scientist at Daar Pelaav.”

Ain wanted to ask what “Daar Pelaav” was, but that didn't seem like the pressing concern at that moment. The scientists were and right now that included Kiiran, even if they both didn't like it and Kiiran made it apparent in her look that she didn't like it as much as Ain didn't.

At least that's something that we both can agree on.

“I'm honored to meet you, as a fellow person as well as a representative of the Andromeda Initiative.”

From the silence that was between them all, she instantly worried that she had done or said something wrong. The Angara were apparently just as fond of silences as they were showing their feelings.

“Are all their people this formal?”

“I... I don't think so.” Jaal said and looked at Kiiran. “Where's the rest of the team? Ryder has experience with Remnant, we might be able to help with the investigation.”

“The team? Haven't you heard? While they were exploring the monolith, something went terribly wrong.”

“Wrong?” Ain asked, worry entering her system.

“They were... caught in some kind of Remnant field. A stasis field. Unresponsive and frozen in place.” Kiiran said, her eyes falling as well as her face.

“I can help you,” Ain said.

“It's true, we'll go and help the scientists,” Vetra said, the first time she had spoken during the whole ordeal.

“The scientists... they're not dead?”

“Vital signs are steady and the neural patterns showed the same patterns as someone in deep sleep.” Kiiran sighed. “We subjected them to various stimuli. Even injections of kichari, but... nothing.”

Kichari? Where's my Angaran almanac and dictionary?

“Ryder says that she's activated and worked with Remnant vaults.” Jaal tried to vouch for her, at least, that's what Ain was hoping that he was trying to do.

Kiiran slightly scoffed,
“Ocean of fish, one will have gems in its mouth.” Instead of being harsher, she just sighed. “But if you think the alien can help, I'll set skepticism aside. The monolith is not too far from here. See what you can do, but... please be careful. We don't know what caused the stasis field, so we cannot predict if it will trigger again.”

“Alright.” Ain nodded.

She turned around and left. The monolith couldn't be that hard to find, after all, it was a huge ass structure that lifted into the sky. It made her wonder for a moment that if the heavy rain and lightning had anything to do with the vault being inactive. It would be something else to ponder and if it was, she would have to fix it. After all, the scientists were having enough problems as it was and the rain couldn't be good for experiments or equipment. Jaal and Vetra were following close behind. Ain shielded her eyes from the pouring rain, and thankfully she had been right about something for once. The monolith was in view and she could use its height in order to navigate to it.

“Do you think that scientists will be okay?” Vetra asked Jaal.

“I am... unsure. The whole situation is making it rather uneasy.”

Ain used her jump-jets in order to get to the monolith. She smiled, glad that they were getting somewhere. A nearby building called for her. This one was completely without power and was messy like whoever was there had been trying to escape. She flicked on her tool's flashlight and looked around the corners, what she saw shocked her. She had been warned about the stasis field, but it was still shocking. The Angara were frozen and their expressions of fear and terror were immortalized in their frozen state.

“Damn... This is worse than I thought.” Ain murmured.

“It is! We have to do something.” Jaal said and got closer to his frozen people.

“Don't worry Jaal. We will.” Vetra assured.

Ain didn't respond. Her eyes scanned over the frozen Angara once more before turning away and leaving the building and headed to the monolith again. When she examined the console at the center and flicked through the runes on it, some of them were corrupted. Scanning around, she was able to find them, jumping onto the spires of metal encircling them. The last one, she slid and knocked her knee against the metal, grunting in pain. She wasn't going to let it show that she was in pain though. It wasn't something she needed their help with. When Ain scanned the glyph at the top, a loud crack of lightning nearby enough to lighten the monolith startled her. A worried gasp escaped her parted lips as she slipped, her boots trying to grab enough traction to stop herself from falling. A scream tore through the air, her steps failing and she fell from the monolith.

“Ain!”

“Ryder!”

Ryder, if you hit the ground, more than likely your spine will break.” SAM echoed in their private channel, making her worry more.

“Thanks for the information, SAM!” Ain managed to answer.

It felt like forever that she was falling and Ain was waiting for the ground to meet her back. Would the pain be enough to knock her out? Would she just be unable to move and still be painfully aware of her situation? Or... would she die? Sounds of footsteps shuffled around beneath her, barely audible against the heavy rain. She closed her eyes and felt her back hit something, but there wasn't as much pain as she thought there would be and she didn't hear a crack of feel a crack. Oddly enough, she felt something on her lower back, maybe it was the start of her paralysis. When her blue eyes opened, it was hard to see at first considering the rain. Blinking multiple times, she brought her vision into focus. Blue met blue, just a few inches apart from each other. The air that she had been trying to gather in her lungs left her. Her chest was against another and she was sure that the other would be able to feel her heart about to push right out of her chest. When her bearings cleared, she could see that the feeling on her lower back was a hand. Her mouth gaped open and closed, trying to find words, but nothing came.

“Are you alright?” A pained voice came from Jaal, and she could only imagine how he was feeling. He had broken her fall. Honestly, had saved her. The fall may have killed her.

“Y-Yes, I... I think so.” Ain said, trying to let her lungs gather air again. She moved unsteady and pushed herself off of him and stood up. Slightly, she staggered and felt Vetra grab a hold of her. She turned and looked at Vetra and nodded her thanks before going back to the console. The glyphs that she had scanned uncorrupted the ones on the screen. Working slowly but steadily, she managed to successfully enter the correct solution. A voice from behind her begat her attention.

“Readings off the monitors and-” The Angara looked at the small party. Did Ain see a flicker of terror in his eyes? “Skkut! Skkutting stars! What? Who are... How did...”

“I'm glad I could help. I'm Ain Ryder-”

“Who? I don't understand. I-”

“I'm a Pathfinder from the Andromeda Initiative. I'm... from another galaxy.”

Why did I say that? The poor guy is already freaking out enough as it was without telling him there are two aliens in front of him with one of his own.

“Another... Another galaxy?”

“Our intentions are peaceful. Just... take a moment. Regain your thoughts and bearings.”

The last thing we need is for him to shoot us out of panic. I don't know if I could run away quick enough...

“It's just so hard to believe. More aliens... out of nowhere. Just... poof!” The Angara said, obviously distressed. “And... Jaal?”

You gotta calm down man. You're really raising your blood pressure to unsafe levels.

“Do none of you remember getting frozen?”

“Frozen? What are you talking about? We were just working on the monolith and then-then you appeared.”

“I think it would be better if you returned to Pelaav. Kiiran will want to know that you're alright. It may set her mind at ease.”

The Angara grunted and held his head,
“You... may be right. I feel a headache coming on. A real head splitter. Oh, I didn't introduce myself. I am Torvar, an assistant. Thank you.” He said before gathering up his fellow scientists and leaving.

“We should make sure that they safely return to the station. We don't know what lingering effects they may have from the stasis field.”

“That's a good idea. We wouldn't want to have saved them just for them to croak before getting back to safety.” Vetra said, leaving with her team.

“'Croak'?” Jaal asked, still unfamiliar with the terms they used. “They are not frogs. How would they croak?”

“It's uh... It means to die.”

“Oh. Yes. That would be bad.”

Ain led her teammates away from the monolith and thankfully before more silence could befall them, Jaal spoke.

“This... SAM of yours,” Jaal began. The confusion was almost its own force with how evident it was in his voice. “How does it allow you to interface with the Remnant?”

“Well,” Ain began, stopping her jogging for a moment and letting it turn into a slow walk. “It's sorta hard to explain, but SAM works with analysis and decoding as well as translation.”

“Yes, it does seem rather complicated.”

When Ain returned to the scientist's base, she was glad to see that they had all made it back okay. She breathed a sigh of relief and watched them talk among each other asking various questions if they felt okay, or if they were scared about what had happened, etc. She saw that Torvar was talking with Kiiran. Even though she didn't want to disrupt their conversation, it was rather important to check in with her.

“What do you mean “gray, spiky aliens”? Kett?” Kiiran had asked Torvar.

Gray, spiky aliens? That didn't sound like any kind of Kett we've seen. Oh shit... please don't tell me there are more kinds out there. I don't know if I can deal with Build a Kett dot com on the extranet.

“No... these were different. We saw them just before we froze while doing a survey of the area.” Torvar and Kiiran looked at Ryder when she approached. “Like that one.” He pointed at Vetra.

“What? Turians? Out here?” Vetra asked. Surely it had to be a mistake.

“What if the Turian ark crashed here?” Ain asked.

“I suppose it's possible, but wouldn't we see at least a trace of one more Turian if a whole ark crashed here?”

“... I guess you got me there.”

See if I throw any ideas out there to you anymore if you're in a pickle Vetra.

“Talk about that later, right now, I want to thank you for saving my team,” Kiiran said, taking a step closer to Ryder.

“You weren't lying. Kiiran told us everything; even showed us pictures.”

Why the hell would we lie about you being trapped in a frozen crystal like stasis thingy?

“I apologize for the rude and indifferent welcome that you received from me when you first arrived.”

“Well, after all the shit you've dealt with, I wouldn't have blamed you if you shot me.”

“Yes, you would have,” Jaal said.

“W-Well, maybe a little.” This earned a small laugh from Kiiran.

“It is good to see aliens that are willing to help and accept our people.”

A compliment? Awesome, two in one day.

“Ryder, with what you have done here with Remnant, saving the scientists, and with your SAM... It should be enough to convince Evfra that you are an asset. We should speak to him as soon as possible, perhaps on the Tempest?”

Oh. Right. The dildo. Great, I have to talk to him...

“Yeah... sure.”

“Kiiran, if Ryder can use the Remnant, couldn't she use it to fix the monoliths, perhaps stop Havarl's decline?”

“Wait, what? Havarl's decline?”

“That can be talked about later.” Kiiran sighed and rubbed her head. “This will take time to explain. We can discuss it in more detail when you have time.”

Well... good luck having that talk with me then Kiiran, because I barely have enough time to shit.

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Don't forget to talk to Torvar about... what did you call them?”

“Turians,” Vetra said with a harsh undertone. Obviously, she didn't like her race being called “them”. She could understand, if it was about Humans, she would've felt the same way.

Ain decided that she could talk to Torvar later. Right now, getting to the Moshae was the top priority. She bid a farewell to the Angara and got back into the Hanger and onto the Tempest. She could see that Vetra was worried about her fellow people as she fidgeted with her hands.

“Vetra, I promise as soon as we get the Moshae to safety, we'll go and ask about the Turians,” Ain assured. Even though they had their differences and she was still salty, she had to think of it from Vetra's point of view-her best friend. Her people were missing, thousands of them and the only lead they had on it was on the planet that they were leaving. Ain hated making promises since Andromeda had been one huge broken promise. Her words, however, seemed to calm Vetra's worries and she nodded.

“Thanks, Ain. I know you'll stick to that.”

When the Hanger had gotten back into the Tempest, Vetra walked off sadly back towards her room. Without saying anything to Jaal, just giving him a quick nod, they had to call the dildo-uh Evfra. She sighed and walked to the communications center with Jaal and already felt a migraine coming on from dealing with him.

“Leaving Havarl. The bridge is yours, Pathfinder.” Kallo said and the familiar sensation of the Tempest taking off could be felt.

When Ain looked at the communications device, she wanted to turn around and leave. She knew that she had to call the dildo and see if there was anything else about the Moshae. Jaal had been sending reports to Evfra, which she didn't necessarily mind. She might though if he had something smart to say about it though, and she really wasn't in a mood to deal with his sarcasm. Her body was aching and she just wanted to get a shower or something.

I should probably talk to Jaal about what happened on Havarl.

Ain cleared her throat when she heard Jaal take his place next to her and folded his hands behind his back. He didn't look at her and didn't say anything. He stared at the device and waited for the call to be made. It only made little beads of sweat prick the back of her neck and her forehead. This really wasn't how she wanted things to go.

Okay, scratch that.

When Evfra appeared on the screen, she tried her best to smile and act like everything was alright. She tried to make sure that she wasn't nervous or tired because she knew that Evfra would jump on her at any sign of weakness that he could see.

“Commander.”

“Pathfinder. Jaal's been keeping me updated on your “adventures”, your “good deeds” on our behalf.”

Internally, Ain smirked and laughed and had to forcefully prevent herself from sticking her tongue out at him or saying “I told you so”. That wouldn't really go over well with him. She thought for the thousandth time that she wished Scott was there, that way that she could talk to him about how much she hated the man in front of her, and just vent to him.

“I meant them, I wanted to show you and for you to know that you can trust me.” It was true, she did want to help the Angara when they were in trouble. She didn't really like seeing anyone in trouble-alien or no. It hadn't had anything to do with the potential friends or alliance at the time. All she wanted was for no one else to be harmed by the Remnant or by the Kett. The Angara had suffered enough at their hands, and if she could prevent even one death from them, it would make her feel good. Useful even.

“You went out of your way to save that scientist's team... A selfless act.”

Whoa whoa whoa, hold the fucking phone. Was that just a compliment? From the dildo? Did he really just... whoa okay. Chill out. Don't get your panties in a bunch, Ain.

“But your true agenda is clear-to explore Aya's vault. Jaal says that you want to help the Moshae. Why should I let you?”

And there he goes.

“Why should you let me?” Ain asked, resting her hands on the edge of the communicator. Did he really just ask that? Did she have to get shook nasty at him for him to understand that this wasn't a time for him to be well him and to look at the bigger picture? “Are you serious? Your attempts have failed, you even said that.” She could feel Jaal looking at her, almost willing her to calm down, but she was just so pissed that he had the audacity to say that to her. “So you're willing to just let her die without sending someone in who could make a difference and try to help her. Jaal's informed you about what I can do against the Kett and the Remnant. Is this a chance you want to take just for an ego trip?”

“... She is rather bull-headed, Jaal.” A laugh came from the companion at her side and she saw him nod out of her peripheral vision. Was that an Angaran compliment? Or an insult?

“Look, all I'm trying to say is that this benefits us both. We can save the Moshae and prove we can be trusted, and we gain an ally and a friend.”

“A friend might be stretching it, Pathfinder... But I see your point. Keep up your promises and our bond may continue to grow.” Evfra sighed.

Was that a sigh of defeat? Good.

“Very well... We've traced the Moshae to a special Kett facility on Voeld.”

“Special? How?”

“These facilities are protected by a barrier. The technology of it, we... haven't been able to crack. We're close, but its adaptability to our processors outstrip the speed of them.”

Pathfinder, adding my processor to their program would no doubt make a difference.”

“Evfra, I can help. Admit it, you really need help on this one, respectfully of course.”

“Respectfully, of course, the Angara don't need anything from you. We take care of our own.”

“Like you're taking care of the Moshae? Or the scientists on Havarl?”

“How dare-”

“With the processing power of my AI, I can guarantee that shield will break. You can stand there arguing with me, or I can go and help get Moshae Sejfa back. Your choice and time is of the essence.”

Leader or not, I'm not going to bow for his bullshit anymore. Fuck that. He can parade his power and ego around all he wants, but at the end of the day, his bull-headed attitude is going to get Moshae Sejfa killed.

“An... AI? Of course... That makes sense.”

“SAM is physically connected to me, so I need to go too. Also... I want to.”

Evfra paused and seemed to be thinking.

Shocker. I didn't know he could do that.

“It was risky to be honest about your AI. With that... it honestly makes you different than the Kett.”

“That's only what I've been saying this whole time.”

“You're welcome on the mission.”

He just ignored me, didn't he? Breathe. Smile. Breathe. Be respectful.

“Thank you.”

“There will be a team to meet on Voeld. They will take you to the Kett facility. Stay strong and clear...” His attention turned elsewhere. “Jaal, keep an eye on the Pathfinder. Her attitude is going to get her in trouble.”

“Indeed.”

“Goodbye.”

The connection cut off and Ain walked over to the nearby couch and plopped down on it, resting her elbows on her knees and putting her face in her hands. She had slept for 400 years and right now, she felt like she could sleep 400 more. In addition to her aching body, she was now gaining an aching headache.

“So...” Jaal's sudden voice caused Ain to look up at him with tired eyes. Either he was about to ream her out for talking to Evfra like that or he was about to bring up what happened on Havarl. “You've gained Evfra's trust. No easy feat.”

Okay. So neither. Maybe Jaal didn't really feel awkward about the whole situation back at the monolith.

“Trust, yes. Approval? No. I don't think he likes me.”

“Well, the way you talked to him was... Unexpected. I am unsure whether he likes you now for your... brashness or if he is stuck in his ways. You should be more worried about the Roekaar anyway.”

“You mean the defective Resistance members? Evfra made it seem like you had experiences with them.”

“Not really defective Resistance, but... more like a good group of Angara led astray. They drive to expel all alien life from Andromeda. Now, that includes you. For the experience...? I know their leader. Akksul. We studied together with the Moshae.” Jaal made a small sound; something between a scoff and a laugh. “Unlike me though, he was a good student. The best, actually.”

“So that would mean, he knows about Remnant?”

“He did.”

Okay? The hell does that mean?

Jaal sighed and rubbed his head. “This is going to take a long time to explain. It's a rather long story.”

“Give me the Reader's Digest version.”

“The... what?”

“The short version.”

“Akksul was... captured by the Kett. He spent a year in a forced labor camp before he managed to escape.”

“Wow. I can't imagine what it was like or what he went through... but, it does better explain his hatred for aliens.”

“He has... scars that would give you an idea.” Ain visibly shuddered at the thought. The Kett were ruthless enough to kill someone in cold blood without a second thought, she didn't want to know what would happen to someone that was being deliberately kept alive to work all the while being sent to the brink of death from pain. “When Akksul came back, he had changed. He no longer cared about the Remnant. Or anything. All he cared about was destroying the Kett.”

“Why didn't he just join the Resistance instead of forming the Roekaar?”

“Akksul hasn't really ever been one to take orders. I... also think he was bitter that we were unable to rescue him.” Jaal's eyes averted to the ground. It must have hurt to have a fellow Angara taken and all your attempts to rescue them fail. Just like what was happening to the Moshae. A fellow student and maybe even a friend who now more than likely hated many of his fellow Angara for not being able to rescue him. “We didn't really give them much thought. After all, the only aliens in the galaxy were the Kett.”

“Until we arrived.”

“Until your people arrived. Now, their cause has grown rapidly.”

“Is there any way to convince Akksul I'm not a threat, although unorthodox, I did that for Evfra.” If she could find a way to not hurt any Angara, she would do whatever she could. She had met some very nice ones who would smile at her and thank her. Kiiran, Moraan, Paaran Shie, Jaal. There had to be more of them. A smile spread on Jaal's lips, but it was more strained and sad than a true smile.

“I admire your courage... I really do. Akksul is dangerous and he lacks Evfra's pragmatism.” Ain felt her own eyes widen when Jaal's gaze turned into a direction that she hadn't seen from him yet; angry, sad, devastated, and boiling with understanding. “He'll make you want to kill him.”

“Despite that, I have to try.”

“If Heleus is to be your home, I suppose you'll have to deal with the Roekaar one way or another.”

Was that an approval?

“There is a recluse on Havarl who escaped from the Kett with Akksul. Her name is Thaldyr. She may know how to contact him. I shall send you the nav point.”

Are you kidding me? We just left there! Why didn't you tell me that when we were there?!

“Kallo is already taking us to Voeld. I'll go to talk to Thaldyr when I have the time.” Ain promised and put her hands on her sides. She hadn't even changed out of her armor. When she got back from Voeld, she'd have to get some sleep.

“Understood. I thank you.”

“So, Jaal I-”

“Ryder, we've reached Voeld.” Kallo came over the intercom.

Son of a bitch.

“I guess we'll talk about it later.”

Ain went to the bridge to observe the details of the scan done on Voeld. Thankfully, it was another planet that they'd be able to breathe on. Even though the helmet protected her head, she hated wearing it because it severely cut her peripheral vision down. If she wanted to avoid an incident like the one on Havarl, she'd have to keep her wits about her.

“Take us down.”

“Roger.”

They hadn't accounted, despite the scan, all the snow and ice. The descent had been a little too fast and the Tempest had bumped into the ice, skidding across it and sending the inside of the Tempest into an earthquake like frenzy. Ain staggered around, trying to keep her balance.

“Jesus hot sauce Christmas cake.” She said when the tremors stopped and they had landed safely. Exhaling, she shook her head and tried to send the bile back into her stomach where it belonged instead of spreading it all over the floor of her ship.

“We're good! We're good!” Kallo said, raising up from where he had hunkered down in his seat.

Heading back down to the hanger, instead of bringing Vetra along this time since she was sure her best friend wanted to be left alone, she'd bring Liam. He had been aching for some action ever since they left Aya. When the Hanger opened, Ain gasped and coughed. Okay, maybe it had been a good idea to wear a helmet. The air was freezing out here and she could already feel her lips becoming chapped and cracked. The heat on the inside of her suit just barely keeping her body from freezing.

“Shit... It's cold as fuck out here.” Liam commented, exhaling and focusing his eyes on the large puff of air his body had expelled. It was colder than anything they had experienced on Earth or any colony in Heleus or the Milky Way.

The blizzard would no doubt freeze them soon if they didn't get out of it. Folding her arms in an attempt to bundle herself up, she squinted her eyes. There were lights on the path like they were a signal to go.

Pathfinder, I believe you should head that way,” SAM said.

“Yeah, SAM. I'm aware!” Ain exclaimed, straining to hear her own voice through the snow.

Ain trudged through the snow, it gripping around her calves as she walked. This wasn't a joke. If she had've known Voeld would be this cold she would've... well, she didn't know, but she would've figured something out. She tried to jog or run in order to keep her blood from freezing, but she only almost fell and had to have Liam catch her.

“Watch out, Ain! We don't need you to turn into a Popsicle!”

“You're right!” Ain laughed. “I'm sure I wouldn't taste very good anyway.”

“I didn't say that!” Liam said. “I'm sure saltiness and sarcasm is a good tasting combination.”

Ain was glad that she could play the blush on her cheeks off with a potential windburn. She was sure that Liam hadn't meant it like that, but she was just getting so easily flustered these days. It had to be the support that she was being given with the almost constant doubt and anger that she was receiving from the Angara, her own crew, and the people on the Nexus. The three of them made their way through the snow, seeing two figures in the distance.

“Evfra instructed us that we were to take you to the Kett facility. It's on the other side of the planet, are you ready to go?”

“W-Well, Y-Y-Yeah.” Ain stammered, trying to talk from her chattering teeth. They were hauled onto a small transport ship. Thankfully, it was heated and some warmth began to seep into her bones and her blood and she leaned back in her seat, feeling more like a human again. She looked over when she felt a hand rubbing her back.

“Starting to thaw out?” Liam asked, his own teeth had stopped chattering.

“Yeah. Damn...” She murmured.

Ain could feel the Angara pilots judging her and Liam. She looked over at Jaal who was standing next to her, even though there was a seat by Liam and one on her other side, where he was standing. Was he nervous and that's why he was standing?

“So... no one has ever seen the inside of one of these facilities? Really?”

“No, not any of them that have lived to tell the tale. They're known as “the disappeared”. Those are the prisoners of war.”

“Damn... That's heavy.” Liam frowned, leaning on his knees. “We gotta make sure we shut that thing down so that they can't take anymore Angara.”

“We've liberated small Kett camps before, but never one of these facilities.” The Angara that had previously introduced himself as Commander Heckt spoke. “We lost so many fighters trying... The price was too high to try again.”

“You made the right call,” Liam assured. “Many would make the same choice you did.”

“I'd like to believe that the Kett take the important Angara from here to their home cluster.”

“Why?”

“What? As slaves?” Jaal asked, drowning out Ain's question. He didn't seem to like the idea of choosing to believe that either. If that was what happened, it was a slim chance that Moshae Sejfa was still in the facility.

“I-I guess...” The Angara-Darwin-said. Obviously, he hadn't thought this all the way through.

“Death is better.”

“Maybe Darwin just wants to believe that the disappeared are still living somewhere,” Liam said, smiling at Darwin who had given a small, sad smile in response. Ain clasped Liam's shoulder.

“Liam's right, Jaal. We can't just give in to all around despair. There's gotta be some hope.” Ain said and looked into Jaal's eyes. He seemed to be intently listening to what she was saying. “It's why they fight... and why we're here.”

“You're right,” Commander Heckt said. “It's why we're honored and excited to be part of this mission.”

“We're here,” The pilot said, interrupting the potentially heated conversation. “Let's make this quick though, the storm is getting worse.”

Ain stood up and was mentally preparing herself for the cold that they were about to dive right back into. Hopefully, since the wind had stopped, she wouldn't have the air knocked out of her anymore. She'd need every breath that she could manage. The facility would be crawling with Kett. It could be more than they've ever faced, and in an enclosed space, it would be worse.

“Once we're through the shield, Jaal you take point.” Ain smiled when he nodded. “We'll look for Moshae Sejfa. Let's... just try to be safe, okay? We'll get home.”

“Pathfinder, no one joins the Resistance to stay safe.” Another Angara-Skaelv-spoke, taking a step towards her almost like she was challenging her. If Ain wasn't going to take that from Evfra, she wasn't going to take it from this Angara either.

“I'm sure no one joins the Resistance to throw their life away without cares.” Ain bit back.

“Good luck, radio me when you're ready to leave.” The pilot said and dropped them off.

The shuttle's door opened and they were thrust back into the cold again. Ain jumped up and down in place, trying to keep her blood flowing before it could freeze. She rubbed her hands together. The snow was significantly lower here and she could jog and run. That would be good for her body temperature. If it wasn't for her possible death, she would've been able to take in the scenery. Even if Voeld was enough to kill someone who stayed out too long, the sky was blue and beautiful. The cliffs were sprinkled with snow.

Almost like a powdered doughnut. Oh damn... now I'm hungry. Did anyone bring doughnuts from the Milky Way? Or... do they have doughnuts here? Ah! Focus!

Ain looked around and saw an interface point in a sort of pipe-like structure. She walked over and brought up her Omni-tool to hack into the shield. She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck.

“Run Angaran shield disable program,” Ain said through her slowly chattering teeth.

“Adding my processor to the program,” SAM announced and nothing happened. Ain looked around and bounced on the balls of her feet. “Standby.” Again, nothing happened. “Continue to standby.”

“Uh, SAM?”

“Continue to standby.”

“Please don't embarrass me in front of my new friends.” Ain practically begged. The shield was hacked and she let out a puff of relief. They hadn't come out with a plan B in case the hacking hadn't worked.

“I have created a small hole in the shield.”

Ain laughed and jogged into the small hole with the rest of the team. She smiled and rubbed her arms. Examining the building, she could see it was well built. There would be a lot of force met, and many rooms that they could go exploring in.

“It worked!” Ain said and sighed. “I mean, uh... of course, it worked.”

Ryder, you did not sound convincing.”

“Ha! Awesome, now we're getting somewhere.” Liam said and high-fived Ain. He held a hand out to get one from Jaal, but he looked at the hand and away. Well, that didn't go as planned. Ain breathed in and headed inside, taking out her pistol.

“Let's celebrate when we're out of here, okay? Come on, team. Focus.” Commander Heckt said.

“I agree,” Jaal said.

Sourpusses.

Ain climbed her way into the facility. The growls from the Kett could already be heard and they weren't even 100 feet into the building. She gripped onto her pistol and walked in. Everything seemed to be fine in the room they entered until she felt a bullet graze her shoulder only being diverted from piercing from the shields. All in a clamor, Kett filled the room. Different shapes and sizes were everywhere. Ain hid behind one of the walls and waited, trying to find a break. What she didn't expect was a Kett about 5 feet from her. It had been completely cloaked, unlike the Wraith where she could at least see a silhouette. She siphoned some of his shields into her own when it tried to pierce her again with bullets. It staggered him enough for Ain to shot him dead. She turned and shot at Kett, sharpshooting a couple to save Jaal and Liam. Sweat was falling down her forehead. She jumped and shifted to another side of the room. She took out her rifle and knelt down, looking through the scope. She could see reinforcements coming from the hall. If they had filled the room, they would be overwhelmed. With one pull for each enemy, they fell before they could enter the room. The growling had subsided and then quit completely. She holstered her gun and looked at her team.

“Well... that was fun,” Liam said, breaking the silence among them.

Ain laughed and jumped down to the middle of the room. The Angara, besides Jaal, went to look around and look for a console. Ain stopped and heard a voice, the voice of the Archon. She pulled out her pistol and saw a holographic image of the Kett. It didn't seem to recognize her, and from a scan, she saw it was a recording.

It is your Day of Greatness. You are purity.” The hologram continued to spout propaganda. The Day of Greatness... The Archon had said that to her when they had met the first time. She looked around, seeing abandoned Angaran things around the floor. She holstered her pistol once more and moved some of the Angaran things around, trying to find something. She couldn't find anything of relevance.

“If we were a surprise, I doubt we are anymore,” Ain said when she had rejoined the rest of her team. That battle had rung through the whole building and they had probably alerted every single Kett in the building. Hopefully, that wouldn't quicken any Angaran deaths if there were any others captured in here. From the half-opened containers, she hoped that there was, that way they could be brought back home to their families.

“You are the best chance at finding Moshae Sejfa. We will attack head-on and provide a distraction.” Commander Heckt said. He was willing to leave the fate of the most revered woman there was in Angaran culture to two aliens and only one of their own against an army of Kett? This could be a rather significant display of trust. It worried her, what if attacking them head-on resulted in their deaths?

“I mean it's a good plan, but... are you sure?”

Commander Heckt smiled at her. A true, genuine smile. It was the first time one of the military Angara besides Jaal had given her a true smile.
“I'm sure... this is going to be fun.” The comment surprised Ain since he had been so focused on the task at hand without any room for joking, even though Ain believed that it could bring up the morale so it wasn't all doom and gloom. The door opened and Commander Heckt nodded at them. “Kick in the front door.” He said and turned and left with the others, the doors closing behind them.

“Good luck...” She whispered. Internally, she hoped with everything that she was that they would be able to meet back at the shuttle and head home after saving the Moshae.

“They're brave.” Liam complimented.

“Can they really cause enough trouble to keep the Kett occupied and stay safe?” Ryder asked.

“They will do anything to save the Moshae. Count on them being able to keep the Kett distracted.” Jaal said.

“Pathfinder, the program that I used to breach the shield could overload and destroy the facility,” SAM informed. “However, the pulse would be lethal to Angaran physiology.” Ain felt a drop in her stomach like an lead anvil had fallen in there. That didn't feel good, and she felt like she would have to make a terrible choice.

“That... isn't something I like.”

“Why would we need to know that?” Liam asked, heading further into the facility with Ain.

Running through the halls, many of the doors locked. It was most likely from the distraction the others were causing that the alerts had locked some of the more important doors. When they unlocked a smaller door, they entered a hall, but the door shut and locked behind them. A vat of smoking material was near the ceiling.

“SAM? What is going on?”

“It's a decontamination protocol. The chamber is locked until the cycle has run its course.”

“So, in other words-” Liam began, looking around the chamber.

“We're trapped... shit. I hate that.”

“Noted.”

“Can we break the window?” Liam asked, kicking it gently. It made a thunk sound that wasn't natural from hitting glass. Then again, nothing about the Kett was normal.

“No. The seal is invulnerable.”

“Decontamination? What could that be for?” Jaal asked, looking around just as curious as the rest of them.

“No idea, though I'm not sure that I want to know,” Ain said and looked at the vat that continued to spout out the smoke.

“...Germophobes?” Liam said with a shrug.

Finally, the door opened and Ain felt like a weight was lifted off her shoulders. She hated being secluded to one small area. Even though the Tempest was small, she was free to go wherever she pleased. The anxiety left her with a shaking breath. Two pairs of eyes could be felt from her teammates staring at her. She walked into another room and stopped, tilting her head to the side from the strange architecture.

“Call me crazy, but... does this look like a classroom to you?” Liam asked, looking at the desks and brushing his hand against them. There wasn't any dust so it had to have been used recently.

“A classroom? For what?” Jaal asked. Of course, they didn't have the answers. “What is that on the wall?”

“No idea.”

“It seems to be a stasis pod,” SAM informed.

“So... stasis pod school?” Ain asked and raised a brow, staring at the pod at the front of the classroom.

“Maybe that guy was right and they are shipping the Angara back home,” Liam said and walked closer, staring at the pod with squinting eyes.

“Maybe...” Jaal sounded either happy or thoughtful. Maybe both. Perhaps Jaal was right and death would be better. Who knows what was happening to the Angara that was going to the Kett's home cluster. They didn't even know where that was, so if they were... they were as good as gone. There would be no way to save them. That made Ain feel more powerless than anything, having someone alive and them being out of her reach so far that she literally could not help them.

In another room, it looked like a barracks of some sort. Like a commune that they would all live in. Was this a scientific facility? The more that they explored, the more that it seemed to be a strange sort of dorm or house for the Kett. Why shape it like this? Why have a shield around it? There had to be something here besides beds, classrooms, and holographic images of the Archon to warrant that shield. It was just a matter of finding it. Something important would most likely be at the heart of the facility or as far back as they could go. Part of her didn't want to know what it was that they would find, but the other part of her just had to know. That would most likely be where the Moshae was kept.

“Well, should we toss the place Jaal?” Ain asked, scanning some of the furniture only to confirm their suspicions that it was hardly anything remarkable.

“Whatever that means, it doesn't seem violent enough.”

“Oh.”

The facility was huge. The hallways were long, and she was thankful that more of the rooms weren't open. Her legs were already starting to hurt her already aching body. She bent over and exhaled. Ain rubbed the back of her neck and looked around. All she wanted to do was rest, but she willed herself to move forward. Ain stared at what she thought was an outline and heard a growl and a Wraith jumped from its cloaking. She had moved out of the way this time, shooting at it with Liam until it was dead.

“Ugly little fuckers aren't they?” Liam asked and laughed.

Another door opened to reveal another strange room. This one seemed more facility like than home like. All chairs were pointed to a window at the front. It was a bright white and looked more like a screen than anything else. Jaal and Liam were looking around, trying to find any evidence that they could. She walked to the front and found a console. Touching a few buttons with uncertainty, the white-like screen turned into a window. Running footsteps came to her side; Jaal, Liam, and herself were now staring at the scene before them. A large golden statue adorned the middle of... a church? What would the Kett even worship? The Archon? Stepping forward, many Kett surrounded four Angara. Just below the statue was four pods.

“What? What is this...?” Jaal asked, his voice lowering into a whisper like if he spoke louder, it would shatter what they were seeing.

“It... It looks like some sort of religious ritual.” Liam said, his voice just as low.

The Kett dressed in red turned around and looked at the Angara. They hadn't been noticed yet.
“Fortunate welcome! Step forward.”

The Angara stepped forward.

What?! Are the Angara willingly listening to the Kett?

“I am humbled before you, you who are the Chosen. Chosen by the Archon. Chosen to be exalted.”

Chosen? What the hell does that mean? Chosen for exaltation?

“What is their exaltation?” Liam asked, pressing himself closer to the screen.

“They're listening to that Kett...” Jaal said, his eyes never moved from the Angara and the Kett in the red.

In a chorus, the Kett around the Angara chanted “chosen to be exalted”. Without any hesitation on the Angara's part, the passed the Kett and the one in the red and stepped into the pods. They didn't let any sounds of protest or terror. Ain's brows furrowed and her eyes scanned over and over the scene. Why were the Angara listening? Why weren't they in chains or shackled or anything? The pods closed behind the Angara.

“What? Why aren't they resisting?” Jaal asked, stepping away from the window. He had noticed it too, and his eyes darted back and forth. His breathing was becoming erratic and Ain could see that he was becoming unstable and angry, but he was also confused.

“What in the actual fuck?” Ain muttered under her breath.

“The Angara seemed entranced,” Liam noted. Leave it to Liam to try and calm people down. It was one of his dominant traits. He was right, they had seemed different than normal. Was this what they did? They entranced them somehow and then did that... whatever to them?

“I know the Moshae. She isn't down there.”

Ain breathed a sigh of relief. There wasn't a way that they could've gotten down to her if she had been down there. She would've already been in one of those pods for whatever those four Angara were doing. The window itself was invulnerable. Jaal pointed in the distance where those Angara were now resting in the pods.
“Maybe in one of those pods.”

“It's a good lead.”

Suddenly, Commander Heckt's voice came from their radio. Ain looked down and listened to their voice. She hadn't heard from them and Ain had been worried that something had happened to them and she had lost her new friends.
“You wanted a distraction? We just set our plan on fire.”

“What does that mean?” Liam asked, just before hearing the sounds of explosions over the radio. It rocked the facility and Ain stumbled with her friends. Through the window, she could see the red-garbed Kett looking around for the source of the explosion.

“That. It means that.”

“Impossible!” The Kett exclaimed and looked around.

A holographic image of the Archon appeared behind the other Kett. She looked terrified of the man, he seemed to be above them all, like their leader. Unlike the image of the Archon in the lobby she had seen spouting propaganda, this was the actual Archon.

“Explain!” He demanded, his eyes staring down at the woman who had knelt before him, even from up in the loft Ain could see that the Archon knew he was intimidating and reveled in it.

“We've been breached! We will defend the temple-”

So it's a temple.

The Archon held up his hand to stop the woman from continuing and scanned the masses of Kett that were in the temple with her. His eyes looked back down and frowned.
“Is the Moshae among these?”

“No, it awaits final exaltation.”

“No...” Jaal whispered.

“Final exaltation?” Ain asked, gripping onto her pistol. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could tell that Jaal was having a hard time keeping it together and if a wrong word was said to him, he would blow up at them.

“Then proceed immediately and bring it to me.” The Archon's voice didn't hold any room for argument. Whatever they were going to do to the Moshae, they needed to get to her quickly. The woman turned and retreated from the temple, the others standing and following her out. The pods of sleeping Angara remained which only left the temple with a darker nature than a religious sanctuary should have.

“Final exaltation! What is final!? What are we doing? We have to save the Angara!”

“Jaal, calm do-”

“Don't tell me to calm down, Ryder!” Jaal yelled. “These are my people! Not yours! You couldn't possibly understand!” She hadn't heard Jaal yell before and it stunned her. Hot tears pricked the back of her eyes and she froze on the spot. Usually, she didn't cry that easily, but she thought that they were making progress as friends, and he suddenly said something that cut her deep. She was pulled behind Liam slightly.

“Why are you yelling at Ain? It's not her fault!” Liam argued, keeping the stunned Ryder behind his back. The glares between the two were real and sparks were practically flying between them. Both were fueled by emotion; one of protection and another of anger.

“You! You can't understand either! You're both just aliens! This would be different if it were your people, but they're mine. Why would you care about people that aren't yours? All you care for is your own.” Jaal bit back at Liam.

“Look, you need to back off. We're going to go down there to see where those pods go, so chill.” Liam warned. This seemed to cool Jaal enough for him to not yell. He looked behind Liam to see Ain's eyes looking down at the floor.

“Fine.”

As they continued through the facility, none of them said anything. Tensions were still high among them. One room after another, more beds, more storage rooms, locked doors, and some rooms that were so broken and wrecked that they were unable to be recognized as what they once were. In one room though, things looked different. It looked more like a lab. Ain scanned the room and saw syringes with an unidentified liquid in them. The tables had little restraints on them. In Ain's mind, this would be where the Angara would be strapped to in order to undergo whatever treatment made them into what they saw in the temple. It was hard to imagine. Not the images of it, but hard to stomach the idea of the Angara going through this. She swallowed the lump in her throat and continued further. With another door opened, they were in another decontamination chamber. Out of the window, a high ranking Kett was there. Ain ducked with Liam against the window to stay out of sight. It was a large chamber, reaching higher than they could see towards the sky. The Kett in the middle of two others was chanting something in a strange language before they grabbed what looked like... syringes. From what she saw in the lab, she didn't want to know what she was going to do with those.

“I'm working on stopping the protocol, Ryder,” SAM informed. The quicker that they could get into that room, the more that they would be able to understand. The Kett levitated into the air with the syringes in her hands.

“What in the actual hell?” Liam said, his eyes widening. The Kett hovered in front of the pod. It opened in pieces to reveal an Angara that looked like they were sleeping. Their arms were crossed in front of them and their eyes were closed, but soon they opened. That Angara was almost the same hue as Jaal which made it harder to watch. A look of horror crossed the face of the floating Angara. The Kett reared back and slammed the syringes of that liquid into the Angara's chest. A loud gasp and scream ripped its way from that Angara's chest, and Ain was sure that she was going to hear that in her dreams until the day that she died. Whatever that Kett had injected into his chest, it had turned the veins in his body black. He squinted his eyes shut and grunted from the undoubtedly extreme pain he was facing. He gasped and choked for breath. Ain peeked up from her space higher to see that his bones looked like they were cracking and reforming themselves. The purple hue faded and his body was covered in what looked like a tar color. The only color left on his body was those bright blue eyes. Ain glanced at Jaal and he was standing up with his hand on the glass. The Angara fell to the ground and stood up and Ain covered her mouth so she wouldn't let out a sound that would alert them. That Angara... it was a Kett.

“Oh my God...” Liam said and rubbed Ain's back, seeing her expression.

The door opened and Jaal was the first one out. Ain and Liam followed and took cover behind one of the crates that were in the room.
“Save the Angara! Don't kill him!”

“Jaal, he's the one shooting at us!” Liam exclaimed, dodging some more bullets and shooting at the Kett that had changed the Angara. “He isn't an Angara anymore... The Kett changed him.” There wasn't any way to save him now, and they all knew it.

“Monsters! Villains! Die!” Jaal yelled. The three shot at the Kett, including the newly changed one until they were dead.

“Don't lose yourself, stay focused!” Liam exclaimed.

When all the Kett were dead, they carefully approached the Kett that had been an Angara not five minutes ago. Ain watched in sadness when Jaal collapsed to his knees over the Kett, staring at his face. She reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and hesitated for a moment before touching it gently. She didn't want to set him off again.
“Jaal?” She whispered. He said nothing, he looked at her hand and then turned to look back at the Kett. She had never seen such an expression of sadness on a being before.

“They... are us.” He whispered, his voice breaking. He leaned back on his knees further and began to cry. No, that was too light of a word. He was weeping, sobs tore through him and Ain and Liam could only watch, unable to say any word of comfort that would be sufficient. Liam and Ain had to look away from him so they didn't cry as well. Ain looked back at Liam and spoke gently, letting Jaal cry for his new found knowledge and for the fallen.

“The Moshae... she could be in one of these pods. I'll keep scanning for her.” Ain said and then glanced at Jaal and then turned her gaze back to Liam. “Stay with him.” She walked away and continued to scan the pods while listening to her comrade's conversation.

“They're us.”

“It... Yeah, they are.” Liam said, kneeling next to him.

“How many have I killed not knowing?” Jaal asked, shaking his head. “I didn't know. I swear I didn't.”

Jaal, we aren't blaming you.

Ain had moved further down in the rows of pods and wasn't able to hear the rest of the conversation between the two. She gasped, looking at the readings on one of the Angara that she had remotely scanned.
“Liam! Jaal! I found her! Come down here.” Ain said. When she saw her teammates, she pointed with her gun. “It's her! Go!” She had no idea what the Moshae looked like, but from the special treatment that she was getting, using common sense she could deduce that she was, in fact, the Moshae. Knowing what they Kett could do to the Angara, it was all the more important to get in there. She didn't seem to be aware of what was happening right now and was being suspended by... something in front of three Kett. Ain ran to the door and slammed against it with all the force that she had. “SAM, get me into that room now!” She yelled, continuing to slam into the door, harder than the last time.

“Initiating decontamination bypass hack.”

Jaal took his gun and slammed it against the window screaming at the top of his lungs. Ain didn't stop slamming herself against the door and Liam had come to join her.

“Goddammit! Open!” Liam yelled at the door that hadn't budged. It felt like SAM was taking forever in order to open the damned door.

The Kett in the red had grabbed the Moshae as she was lowered to the ground just as the door was released. They rushed into the room and were attacked by Kett.

“Get the hell out of the way!” Ain yelled. Every second that they were fighting these Kett, the woman was getting away with Moshae Sejfa.

“She has Moshae Sejfa. Moshae Sejfa, we're coming for you!” Jaal exclaimed.

After all the Kett were destroyed, the ran into the next room and activated a lift. Ain exited the lift with the others and looked around. They had to save her. They just had to. Not for the vault anymore, but because now that they knew about the Kett, she would do anything to make sure that another Angara didn't have to go through that.

“SAM?”

“I was able to access the facility plans at the last terminal. The best guess would be the shuttle launch area above.”

Shit... they're planning to get her out of here. Take her to another facility perhaps? Are there really more of these kinds around? If so, how many?

Another door into a lift that would bring them to the launch area. When they arrived, Ain couldn't believe her eyes. The place was swarming with Kett and the woman in red was attacking them now. It was their last stand to take the Moshae. The Kett in red hit hard and with the force field around her, none of their bullets could touch her.
“Take out that orb!” Ain ordered. Sooner, rather than later, the woman fell. Without another second to waste, Ain ran towards the Moshae and knelt beside her. “Take it easy. It's alright... I've got you.”

“No one has ever returned from inside Kett walls.” The Moshae said, leaning up with Ain's help to look her in the eyes.

“There's always a first for everything,” Ain said and let the Moshae wrap an arm around her neck and waited until she was fully latched before helping the revered woman up. “Let's get you out of here, the scenery is terrible.” This earned a small smile from her, but it fell almost just as quick.

“I'm not the only one here. They took the whole cell.” Her eyes turned to Jaal.

“Vital signs are bad. Her immune system has been decimated.” Ain didn't say anything but kept a tight grip on the Moshae making sure she didn't fall. Her immune system being in terrible shape would explain why she was so out of it.

“You... will not take it.” Ain turned to see that the woman in red had stood up, orange glowing in her hand. “It is meant for the Archon alone.” The Kett had been about to attack them before Liam had surprised her with a gun to her head and let a taunting smirk rise to his lips. Acknowledging defeat, the Kett lowered the attack she had been preparing.

“She's coming with us,” Ain said and watched as her other arm was taken by Jaal. They were leaving when the Moshae suddenly stopped.

“Wait, I want to know why the Archon-”

“Arrogant simpletons!” The Kett in red spat at them. “This is a gift! Who are you to deny it?”

“You turned them into monsters that fight their own people!” Ain exclaimed, glaring at the Kett.

“These Chosen join with us to become great beyond your ability to understand. Like them, I was once wretched, and now the exalted DNA of our great Archon entwines with mine. I stand on the shoulders of His greatness. As they do. As one day, you will.”

Ain glared at the Kett and gently let go of the Moshae. She took steps towards her and looked up at her, no sign that she was intimidated in her eyes.
“Except, I'm going to fuck your shit up. How's that for great?” She asked, all the while Liam kept his gun at the Kett's head.

“Pathfinder, I am tracking multiple inbound Kett cruisers.”

“You will all be exalted.”

Ain rolled her eyes and shook her head.

This kinda shit is the reason I stopped going to church.

“SAM, is there an off switch to this horror palace?”

“I have accessed the EM field. I can overload at your command.”

Ain opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by Jaal.

“You promised that you would get our people out!” He exclaimed.

...This is why I hate making promises... I always get stuck with the shitty choices.

“Jaal, there isn't enough time to open hundreds of pods, let alone help the Angara that are inside of them,” Liam said and looked at Jaal. He didn't like the choice odds either.

“Wait! Leave my sacred temple intact and I will open the pods of the Chosen. Take them-just leave this holy place standing.” The Kett said.

“No! Even if I die, this place must be destroyed.” Moshae Sejfa said.

Shit...Can't we all just agree on one fucking thing? Please? For my sanity?

“We can come back to destroy it, let us free those here, now.” Jaal tried to reason.

“If your plan fails, the Kett will simply fill this place again.”

Dammit...

She was hoping that they would all agree. Both made interesting points, but she knew that the choice was going to come down to her.

“With respect, our compatriots are also here. Our fighters. Our scientists. Our strength.”

All stood at a stand-still. There was no part of this that was okay. If she overloaded the facility, hundreds of Angara would die. She didn't know how many of them were in the process of being turned into Kett or if they were even truly them inside the pods anymore. The Moshae was right. Jaal was right. There was no right choice to this. Both were looking at her, but she couldn't look at either of them or at Liam. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“SAM... Prepare to overload the EM shield, but... wait for my go.” Ain said.

I'm so sorry...

“No!” The Kett exclaimed and tried to attack Ain, but Jaal shot her right between the eyes watching the Kett fall to the floor.

“All Kett will suffer the same fate until my people are free.” He turned around and didn't look at Ain and walked with the Moshae. “We have Moshae Sejfa, heading to the roof for extraction.”

Outside, the wind had picked up again as if tormenting her and yelling at her for making the choice that she had made. The wind whipped against her skin and hair. The roof was swarming with Kett as well of all shapes and sizes. Ain went through more clips than she had hoped for. Her eyelashes were sticking together in the cold. The Kett fell slowly, but it had become apparent that they were going to keep coming. Ain had never been so happy to see a shuttle in all her life. She shot at the Kett, trying to cover her friends from getting hit. Ain saw something glittering in the sunlight and noticed on a ledge high above, a Kett holding a sniper rifle at them; aiming right at her friends. Her body moved without thinking and she pushed them with all the force she could muster towards the shuttle and out of the way. The sounds of a trigger had never sounded so loud and she gasped, her eyes widening when the round pierced through her armor and into her body. Ain collapsed to her knees and landed face first in the snow. Her vision was getting hazy. The sounds of growling, yelling, and voices were becoming a distant humming.

“Ain!” Liam yelled and left the shuttle and turned Ain over. Her eyes didn't focus on him, only staring at the sky. He put a hand behind her knees and on her upper back and picked her up, carrying her back into the safety of the shuttle. When the doors closed, he looked out of the window. “SAM, do it!” Liam exclaimed when they were out of the blast range. Liam looked down at Ain, her head lolling against Liam's arm, her mouth gaping open. When he laid her down, he watched her head roll to the side and looking in her eyes, there was no life in there. She always had a shine in her eyes, but there was nothing there. When he shook her, she didn't respond. “Ain...?” He called. No response. “Ain?!” Another shake. No response. “Ain!! Wake up!” Liam was frantic by this point. “No... Ain...”

 

Chapter Text

The fire crackled in the fireplace sitting in the corner of the living room. It bathed the whole room in a soft orange hue and left the atmosphere cozy and warm. A little boy and girl ran up to their parents who were putting hooks on ornaments to put on their older Christmas tree. It was a tradition that had been around since anyone could remember. Although it had changed drastically from what it used to be in the wake of holograms and data pads, the parents had wanted to let their children experience the magic of an older Christmas. Ellen reached a bright blue orb to her daughter and a silver one to her son. The two children looked at each other and laughed and raced back to the tree, looking around for any of the empty spaces that could house the bright bulbs. With every trip from the parents to the tree, the white Christmas tree filled with blue and silver ornaments of every shape and size. The two kids laughed and clapped their hands and Ellen and Alec watched their child's grins widen when their father returned from the other room with a bundle of vids of various Christmas movies. The twins climbed on the couch and nestled between their parents.

"Ain. Scott." Ellen began while a particularly sad scene was playing where a kid had lost their parents in a shopping district and was looking around, terrified and tears were falling down the kid's face. The twins tore their eyes away from the screen and looked up at their mother. "There may be times in your life where you feel alone and like everything is going wrong; like the whole world is against you." On-screen some strangers surrounded the crying child and tried to help her find her family. With the help of the people around her, the small child eventually found her mother, father, and older brother. "Just know, you're never truly alone." Alec looked at his wife and kissed her, hugging the twins who laughed.

Tears fell down Ain's cheeks like a dam bursting and quickly, her eyes darted open. With a sharp gasp, she sat up and gripped her chest. It felt like hives of bees had been released inside of her body to roam around and sting at their own demented pleasure. Her vision was hazy and the first thing that her eyes focused on was a purple woman in front of her, trying to ease her back down onto the bed that she was laying on. Blinking repeatedly, she tried to get her world into focus. The blue hue from the machines placed a soft blue glow on her surroundings. Slowly, her eyes focused and she saw her vital signs on a console by her head and the woman that had been trying to ease her down onto the bed that she was laying on finally came into focus; Lexi. The anxiety and fear that had seeped its way into the marrow of her bones had almost instantly dissipated from her whole system into a vapor. Ain looked up at Lexi and gave a smile of apology before sitting up slowly. By her side, she found Liam and on her other side laying in a bed of her own was Moshae Sjefa with Jaal close to her.

"Do you remember what happened, Ryder?" Lexi asked her.

Ryder furrowed her brows and tried to remember. Everything was still hazy from what had happened. The first thing that she recalled was that they were on top of a roof in a blistering snow storm. Her mind flashed to where she pushed her friends into the escape shuttle and then that she had been shot. No doubt that was the origin of the existing pain that her body had. The last thing that she was able to remember was seeing Liam raise her up and practically beg for her eyes to open and for her to answer him. After that, everything had gone to black. She looked at her friends that were around the room and then looked at Liam. If it wasn't for him, she didn't know if she would've made it back to the Tempest. The primary concern had been the Moshae. Since they rescued her, the Angara could've just left her there on the rooftop. After all, not all Angara had been friendly to her.

"I... was shot." She said, her mouth felt like it was full of cotton. It was hard to swallow and even harder to talk. She glanced over and saw Lexi typing on her console and nodded. Apparently, she was happy with the answer that Ain had provided. She was glad that Lexi was happy because just the simple answer was giving Ain a splitting headache. All she wanted to do was go back to her room and cover up in her blanket and shut off all the lights; like the worst hangover ever.

"Correct. What else?"

"I remember that... I pushed Jaal, Liam, and the Moshae into the escape shuttle at the extraction point to avoid the sniper."

"Very good. Anything else?"

"..." Ain rubbed her head, it was splitting. The silence seemed to loom over everything in the room since Lexi had stopped typing on the console. Her eyes glanced at everyone before going back to Ryder.

"Ryder...?"

"I-"

"Enough of this!" The angry voice came from Jaal and bounced against the walls of the Medical Bay. The glare that Ain was receiving from him was enough to make almost flinch.

If looks could kill, I'm sure that I'd be dead.

"Obviously, if you do not remember, we are not important enough to you!"

"Hey, watch it Jaal," Liam warned and looked at Ain who was darting her eyes back and forth in an effort to remember what she had done in order to try and cause Jaal to be so angry with her. She was still so tired and it wasn't like she had just woke up from a nap. "this wasn't Ain's fault." That had seemed to be the wrong thing to say as well because it did nothing to diffuse the situation and merely added gasoline to the fire.

"It wasn't her fault?! You were there Kosta!" Jaal exclaimed making Ain think that decapitation would be less painful than her headache. "She made that choice! She-"

"Jaal!" Moshae Sjefa cut into the conversation, effectively silencing Jaal instantaneously. "Ryder did what she thought was best. She saved me, and without her, we would've been shot."

"Yes, Moshae, but-"

"Jaal." The tone that Moshae Sjefa had was not loud and almost bordering on affectionate as she reprimanded him. It had enough finality to it and Jaal did not protest further. He just sent Ryder another glare and angrily left the Medical Bay. With her eyes following him, she was able to see the figures of all her crew waiting for her outside of the Bay and some had to deliberately move out of the way in order to avoid the towering stone wall of anger.

"Liam, please leave us," Lexi asked when the tension in the room had dwindled. "They need their rest."

"Alright."

Ain smiled gently when Liam squatted down to hug her. He was a good friend, and a good partner and she was lucky to have him. What she felt next made her eyes widen; slight pressure on the top of her head.
"Please don't ever do that to me again. Be careful." Liam's words were mere whispers against her hair.

Was that...?

Liam parted from her and Ain's deduction seemed to be correct since his face had a red tint to it. He cleared his throat and looked over at Lexi and dipped his head to her and to Moshae Sjefa before leaving the Medical Bay, though from where they were at it seemed more like a retreat. Ain touched the top of her head and then looked over at Moshae Sjefa who was gently smiling. Whether it was what just happened or from something else wasn't clear. Ain found herself looking back at the Moshae and gave her a small smile in return. Relaxing while Lexi continued her scans seemed almost impossible and she had to ask. She quickly sat up despite Lexi and her body's protests.

"What did I do?" She asked. "Why was Jaal so angry with me?"

"Ryder, please lay back and-"

"No, Lexi!" Ain retorted and looked at Moshae Sjefa. Locking eye contact, she practically begged. "What did I do?"

"When you rescued me, you were given a choice. The Kett that had me begged you to leave the Temple standing and she would release all the Angara in the facility. However, more Kett were incoming and there was no time to gather every single Angara in all the pods and get them out of there. The ship wouldn't hold that many anyway. Destroying the Kett facility, from what I understand, your SAM could overload it, but the shock would be deadly to us. Jaal wanted to rescue all the Angara in the facility, but I knew that they would just fill the place back up again. It wouldn't even begin to stop unless the facility was destroyed... with all the Angara inside. You sided with me."

Moshae Sjefa's words brought back small flashes of memories. The Kett in the red outfit and how Jaal had shot it between the eyes while she deliberated on the choice that she had to make. She had wanted to go and save all the Angara, but from what she had seen she didn't know if any of them were still Angara anymore, or how many they could rescue before the other Kett arrived. The Moshae had needed medical attention as soon as possible, and it had been obvious from the fleet of Kett ships that had been on their way that there was no way they could've fought them all off while ensuring the safety of the Moshae. Ain placed her face in her hands and felt like breaking down for what might've been the twentieth time in three days. All those Angara's blood was on her hands. The Moshae had been right though, that Kett would've kept its word enough to release all the Angara there, but if they had somehow managed to get everyone out safely, they would just gather more and fill the pods again.

"Do not hold it against Jaal." Ain ripped herself from her self-destructive thoughts and turned back to look at Moshae Sjefa. "Angara are emotional beings by nature, however, Jaal is an exception. He is extremely emotional even for an Angara. This has caused many problems before since he acts mostly on emotion."

Despite the Moshae's comforting words, Ain still couldn't help but feel guilty. She had technically killed all of the Angara in the facility. Evfra wasn't going to be happy about that, and it could potentially lead to all of the Angara hating the Pathfinder, her team, and the Andromeda Initiative as a whole. They were each other's best hopes of survival either way. She was almost positive that Moshae Sjefa would stick up for her and her team; backing her choice. That didn't mean that the Angara would like working with them. She laid back down and closed her eyes, covering them with her arm.

You're never truly alone.

Sometime during Lexi's many tests and scans, Ain had found the comforting oblivion of slumber. There wasn't any pain or sadness in her sleep and she didn't have to hold any responsibility and she didn't have to worry about anything. Of course, when she woke up, it had shattered. Moshae Sjefa was sleeping and looked rather comfortable and at peace. A small smile came to Ain's lips and she sat up and flung her legs over the side, holding onto her chest. She pushed herself off the bed and staggered, gripping onto the bed for stability. Lexi seemed to have stepped out for a moment and Ain looked at the door like it was her escape from jail. If she was going to rest anywhere, she wanted it to be in her own room in her own bed. Looking both ways for Lexi, she left the Medical Bay and made her way to her bedroom, stopping just passed the Tech Lab.She glanced back at the door and sighed. She couldn't really avoid him forever, and she needed to apologize for not remembering right away. Even if her world had been hazy from almost dying, she still should've remembered such an important decision immediately. Steeling herself, she walked towards the door and stopped just short of going inside.

It's my ship. I shouldn't have to knock. Right? Right.

She found herself raising up her hand to knock on the door and lower it by her side; repeating the process multiple times. She was getting tired again and Lexi was going to come back soon anyway she was sure. Ain took a deep breath and walked inside the door and saw Jaal squatting on the floor, fiddling with something. To be honest, she had expected to find things boxed up when she had walked in. If the situation were reversed, she would've debated on leaving so she was shocked when she didn't see him doing such a thing especially since the Moshae had explained what an emotional person he was. Ain took a small step behind him.

"Jaal?" Her hoarse voice was small when she called out to him. He didn't answer, but he had momentarily stopped fiddling with whatever he was for a moment. "... Jaal?" She called again. Hopefully, this wouldn't end badly or even semi-badly. She had almost died today, all she wanted was for something to go right. Just anything. Right now, it felt like living was another thing that had been bad. Maybe it would've been better if she just died and given Pathfinder status to someone else, like Cora. She seemed like she wanted it bad. Maybe she would be a better Pathfinder. After all, she had training. She was smart. Skilled. Her biotics were out of this galaxy. "Jaal, will you please answer-"

"I don't want to talk to you, Ryder!" Jaal exclaimed and looked at her from over his shoulder. The anger, almost bordering on loathing, was still present. "I'm... still processing our... disagreement and I need some space."

Is that what you call this? Then I'd hate to see what an all-out argument with you would be like.

If she had've been her normal self she would've given Jaal credit for an almost certain unknowing joke he had just done. Then again, if they were all their normal selves this conversation wouldn't be happening. Ain sighed and watched Jaal turn back to what he was doing without giving her a second look, glance, or any other words.

"Jaal-"

"We'll talk later. I am unhappy with us right now." His tone had been just as final as the Moshae's.

Frowning and sighing, she turned and left the Tech Lab just to have a message come in her inbox. She checked it on her Omni-tool. A smile tugged at the edges of her lips seeing the awkward wording of the mail:

Hey Buttercup,

Uh... hey, I have something to talk to you about. Kinda secret. Kinda not.
Either way, I'll tell you what I need from you if you're interested.
Drop by and we'll talk.
Uh first though, take care of yourself. It'd be a hassle to have to pick you up if you collapsed.

-Drack

Ain smiled. She was glad that some things never changed. She looked around, still trying to keep an eye out for Lexi and eventually found Drack. She exhaled and winced slightly from her body protesting to all her movements. When Drack turned around and saw her, they exchanged a smile even though Drack's was very awkward.

"How ya feeling, Buttercup?" Drack asked and his smile grew wider when Ain nodded her head. She wasn't a hundred percent better but she didn't want to worry Drack. Despite how he looked and acted, he had fretted over Ain in a Grandfather. It reminded her of how he fretted over Kesh.

"I've been better..."

"So uh, I heard the argument between you and Jaal in the Med Bay."

"... You did?"

"Buttercup, I think The Milky Way heard you guys. Anyway, that's not why I called you here."

"I would hope not."

"Watch it, kid, I'm still your elder."

"I know Grandpa Drack." Ain couldn't help but let out a small chuckle watching his face crinkle.

"What did I tell ya about that? Anyway, remember William Spender?"

"Vaguely, why?"

"I think that he was part of the uprising at the Nexus. He's always hated that Kesh is Superintendent of the Nexus. Actually, it's really funny because Kesh has literally kicked him out of Engineering before. The more I think about it, the more I know he had something to do with the uprising. Since I've been gone all this time, next time we hit the Nexus, let's talk to Kesh and see if she knows anything else." Drack was more asking, but phrasing it as a statement. With how nice he had been to Ain (in his own way of course), she couldn't tell him no.

"Yeah, I was thinking about stopping by there anyway. If it'll shed some light on what really happened, then, of course, I'll do what I can."

"You're a good kid, Buttercup. Don't let anyone tell you different." Drack gently patted Ain on the shoulder before turning around.

Ain turned around and again glanced for Lexi before turning down the hall to go and talk to Liam. She had just passed the Medical Bay when she heard Lexi's voice.

"Ain Ryder! Where do you think you're going?!"

"U-Um-"

"I told you to stay in bed, that you needed rest."

"And I did..."

"For a couple hours!"

"But you didn't say how long I needed to stay there." Ain corrected.

Lexi sighed and rubbed her temples.
"Please, just take it easy and... come see me if you even feel a little wrong. You're going to feel pain for a little bit, but it should get better." She turned around and headed back to the Med Bay. "I don't get paid enough credits for this..."

Ain exhaled with relief. She was worried that Lexi was going to chase her all the way around the Tempest. She wasn't a very outspoken Asari, but when it came to people's health she could get really scary really quickly. It was an admirable trait in a doctor, but this really wasn't the time to be relaxing and even if she tried she was sure her companions would come and bother her for something stupid or ask her to do a million things that were completely unimportant. She stood outside Liam's door and knocked on it. She thought about turning tail and running. With what happened in the Medical Bay, what was she supposed to say? Had that really been what she thought it was... or... was it something more innocent but neither of them had thought about the other way it could be taken and just assumed it meant something... more.

"Come in."

Ain walked inside and stopped suddenly, mid-step. She had been expecting to see Liam sitting on his couch and watching vids per usual. What she hadn't been expecting was to see a shirtless Liam lifting some weights, still watching some vids. Her face quickly flushed and she turned around and started to leave,
"Oh! Uh! Sorry to bother you!" She exclaimed, her voice coming out in more of a squeak than an actual voice. She mentally cursed herself. This was just Liam. He was a good friend. Just... she had never seen him like that before.

"It isn't a bother," Liam said and Ain could hear the sound of weights being set on the floor. "I was just training, come in. I'm glad to see you're feeling better."

Ain cleared her throat and turned around and walked back inside the room. Liam took a towel draped over the back of the couch and was dabbing his face and neck. Maybe she was just overthinking things considering that Liam didn't seem to be flustered in the least bit. Of course, it wasn't the first time she had ever seen a shirtless man. She wasn't that innocent. Mostly. Perhaps what happened before was making her antsy. She forced herself to look at his eyes and to not let her own roam.
"So uh... Yeah. I am... my throat hurts a little bit is all." She commented and found a drink being offered to her. She smiled her thanks and opened it, taking a small sip. It felt like the desert finally getting some rain. "Thanks, Liam."

"I should be thanking you, Ain. If it wasn't for you... well, I wouldn't be standing here right now."

"That's what a leader is supposed to do."

"That's also what a friend does."

Ain chuckled and clicked a nail against the can that Liam had handed her.
"You're right."

"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Liam smiled and opened a can of his own drink; Nebula Dew.

"Well, I... wanted to thank you for standing up for me against Jaal. Moshae Sjefa said that he didn't mean what he said, but... you know..."

"It still hurt to hear."

"Yeah..."

Liam gestured for Ain to sit on the couch and sat next to her. She could feel him watching the side of her face for a while when she drank the Nebula Dew that he had given her. She had wanted to ask him what was wrong or if there was something wrong with her face, but she didn't. He just leaned against the back of his couch and turned his gaze back to the vids that were playing.
"Ain. The Moshae is right."

"What do you mean?"

"Jaal didn't mean what he said. On the way back, he was demanding that the captain drive faster. 'I cannot let her die. I have to thank her... and to apologize for my harsh behavior.' was what he said. The ride back felt really slow, and Jaal had probably apologized about six times to you."

"What...?"

"Jaal doesn't hate you or anything like that," Liam promised and then turned to look at her and smiled gently. "I think all his emotions bubbled up to the surface and he just sort of exploded. Just in general; not really at you."

He was worried about me? Maybe... we really are becoming friends.

Ain smiled to herself and didn't notice the slight look of sadness crossing Liam's face. When she turned to look back at him, his face was just as cheerful as it always was.
"I figured that when we bring the Moshae back to Aya, we'll let her rest for a little bit and then head back to the Nexus. I have some things to do there anyway. I have to go back to Havarl since we had a lead on the Turian ark there... then to Kadara. What do you think?" She asked and watched as Liam laughed.

"If we're lucky, maybe, just maybe we can squeeze in a bathroom break."

Ain looked at the vid that appeared on the screen and she smiled.
"You have this?"

"It's one of my favorites."

"Mine too," Ain said and chuckled. "I watched this during Christmas with my parents and Scott every time. It was our favorite movie. Some of my best memories are centered around this vid. One Christmas, my mom looked at me and Scott and said, 'Ain. Scott. There may be times in your life where you feel alone and like everything is going wrong; like the whole world is against you. Just know, you're never truly alone.' When you stood up for me in the Med Bay, I thought of that. That I wasn't really alone. That you were there to make sure I didn't feel like that."

Liam smiled and looked at his can of Nebula Dew and then back to the vid.
"I'm glad I could help you like that. Sometimes I feel alone too... but then I remember I have the crew here and you... and, I don't feel lonely anymore."

"I'm glad we're friends, Liam," Ain said and was once again oblivious to the pained look that crossed his face since she was watching the screen.

"Me too, Ain."

 

Ain and Liam watched a few more vids together before she stood up and thanked him again before leaving. Since Ain had relaxed a little, maybe Lexi wouldn't freak out every other second. Before she headed to the bridge, she popped into the Medical Bay to see the at Moshae Sjefa was awake and that Lexi was taking care of her.
"Moshae Sjefa. We're going to set course to Aya and take you home that way you can get some rest. Your health is one of our top priorities."

"Thank you, Pathfinder."

Ain smiled and went back to her course. When she entered the bridge, she assured Kallo and Suvi that she was okay. She must've had everyone so worried. She can only imagine what it looked like when she had gotten back from the mission.

"I don't think I've ever seen Liam run so fast," Suvi commented. "Liam had you on his back and sprinted towards the Medical Bay."

"...I remember I have the crew here and you... and, I don't feel lonely anymore."

 

Back on the familiar soil of Aya, Ain left the ship and had Jaal by her when they helped Moshae Sjefa back into town. Evfra was there with some Resistance members. With a hug to both Jaal and Ain, she was released to the Resistance's care.

"She will not help you until she is rested." Evfra snapped at Ain before she could even say anything.

"Did I say anything to the contrary?" Ain asked and looked up when Jaal put a hand on her arm.

"We are aware, Evfra. We are worried first and foremost about the Moshae's health and we do not intend to request her help until she is able."

Evfra left them with a huff. Dildo. One by one the members retreated back into town with Moshae Sjefa by their side. Many of the Angara that she passed looked like they were about to cry at their revered elder's return. Ain was glad that she was able to do something good for these people and that it had impacted them so much. Even if she didn't think she would ever shake the choice that she had to make at the facility, she knew that these Angara here were safe which might've not happened if she had've left the facility standing or the Temple or whatever it was. She stood at the dock, basking in the wonderful sounds of the birds and waterfall in the distance before turning back, making sure to avoid eye contact with Jaal since she still didn't know where they stood. He had stopped her from going on a verbal warpath with Evfra, but that didn't necessarily mean that it was done for her benefit. It was more likely it had been done to make sure that everyone in Aya wasn't alerted to it or that he didn't want to put a strain on the Moshae's recovery. She walked back inside and brushed some hair from her face before returning to the bridge.

One stop down, eight million more to go.

She sighed and rested her hands on the bars in front of her. She didn't really want to leave Aya right now. Maybe, once this was all over, she would be able to take a breather and spend a night in Aya relaxing and looking at the beauty around them. That was even if she survived what was going on right now. No. She couldn't think like that, there were so many people that were depending on her. She couldn't let them down, even though she had almost died.

"I don't think I've ever seen Liam run so fast, Liam had you on his back and sprinted towards the Medical Bay."

It seemed like Ain would have to go and thank him again for everything that he had done for her.

"Pathfinder? Are you alright?" Kallo asked. Ain blinked her eyes and turned to her Salarian friend and smiled giving him a nod.

"Yeah, sorry... I just kinda got distracted there for a moment. Take us to the Nexus, Kallo."

"Roger."

Of course, nothing can ever be simple.

Ain and her friends had not even left the dock for the Tempest back on the Nexus before yelling could be heard. She knew that things were tense right now, but that didn't mean that they all needed to go and argue with each other. If they didn't hold onto each other and work together then they would never survive in Andromeda. A man and a Salarian were arguing, well more that the man was yelling at the Salarian. Ain overheard parts of the conversation as they made their way further onto the Nexus.

"Are you always this stupid?"

"We need those parts!" The salarian protested.

"No, all you need to do is shut your mouth and do what I say."

"Those parts will help with the air filtration system."

"Stop asking for such frivolous requests and get back to work." The man left in a huff while the Salarian sighed and shook her head.

Andromeda is full of dildos. Him and Evfra should have a contest on who can out dildo the other.

"That's Spender." Drack said, nudging Ain.

Ain went to the Salarian who looked like she was on the verge of tears.

"Hey..." Ain said and went over to her. She didn't want to see someone else cry. She had done enough crying for everyone and their brother in the whole galaxy she felt like.

"You must've heard that..."

"I did... Is he always like this to you?"

"Yes... not just me though. With everyone. Oh, where are my manners? You must be the Human Pathfinder. I'm Del Jasin."

"A pleasure. Just call me Ain though."

"Oh, I couldn't-"

"Please."

"O-Okay..." Del Jasin said and smiled and then looked at Drack and then back at Ain. "There are many people who don't agree with or like the way Spender is treating them or others. We've been thinking of a way to get him kicked out, but it hasn't been easy. You could probably do it though. If you can undermine his relationship with the Leadership, he may get removed."

"Spender's already on my hit list. I'll take care of it." Ain assured the frazzled salarian.

Del Jasin giggled. "I'm sure you can take care of it. Thank you."

Ain made her way further into the Nexus and got on the elevator with Drack and her friends.

"I'm going to make a pit stop somewhere. I'll meet you at Kesh's office, Drack." She said before getting off and waving goodbye to her friends. "I'll call you when I'm ready to head out."

The door swung open and she saw Dr. Carlisle standing over a form. Ain walked further into the room and smiled, waving at him. She took a seat next to the body and looked at him. Scott. He still looked so peaceful. Seeing the two together, Dr. Carlisle went off to let them have alone time.

"Scott... sorry I haven't been by recently. A lot of things have happened... I've... I've got so much to tell you."

 

Chapter Text

Despair had never been a primary emotion; sadness yes, but never pure despair. A human was so complex and capable of so many emotions, it almost felt like a waste to have it all pegged to just one extreme emotion. Nevertheless, that’s all Ain could feel while both of her hands were wrapped around the limp one of her brother.

“Scott… sorry I haven’t been by recently. A lot of things have happened… I’ve… I’ve got so much to tell you.”

However, when her lips had parted to explain everything to him only a small whimper escaped along with a choke. Pretending not to see Dr. Carlisle out of the corner of the corner of her eyes practically breaking his neck to look at them in case something was wrong, she coughed hoping to sate the doctor’s curiosity and diminish his worry. The doctor’s attention thankfully turned back to his data pad, scrolling through the charts of the patients. She closed her eyes and took a couple deep breaths still occasionally feeling Dr. Carlisle’s eyes on her back.

It’s unbecoming of a Pathfinder to break down… Stay strong.

Making her flinch, Dr. Carlisle’s gruff voice came from behind her,
“Ain, I have to go and check on some of the cryo pods that had some weird readings, you think that you could hold down the fort for me?”

“Yeah, of course. Are you forgetting how cool I am?” Halfway through her sentence, Ain heard her own voice crack and hoped that Dr. Carlisle hadn’t heard. “I am the Human Pathfinder after all.” Hopefully her feint would divert from the crack.

“You’re also just one person, Ain.” Thankfully, he didn’t continue further. Either sensing her emotional turmoil or believing her ruse, his footsteps retreated and the swish of the door opening and closing echoed against the walls of the almost completely unoccupied med bay.

Her grip on Scott’s hand tightened and she found herself putting her forehead against their hands. It had been days, maybe weeks—time was still a fickle thing in Andromeda--and he wasn’t awake. Only upon that realization did she grasp that her hands were shaking and that they were now soaked with a layer of tears. Realizing this burst the metaphorical dam holding everything back. With shaking shoulders, the tears continued to fall. Her eyes screwed shut almost like if they were tight enough, the tears would stop but to no avail. Pained sobs tore from her chest; quiet at first but all too quickly they turned into something that shook her whole body and turned into tormented screams, desperate for the release they had been deprived of. Breathing was almost impossible between her sobs causing her to feel lightheaded, yet they didn’t stop.

Scott… please wake up…

I’m so alone…

I can’t… I can’t say goodbye again…

I’m so afraid…

I’m so sorry, Scott…

None of her thoughts were making any sense, just bouncing around from one apology to another in and out of different emotions. She knew this and yet she just continued to cry. Part of her mind wondered how she didn’t have people coming in to check on her with the amount of literal screaming she was doing. Perhaps Harry had told the surrounding people that they needed to clear out because the Pathfinder needed time. If that’s what happened, she was thankful. If not, she was sure people would be talking about how incompetent she was as Pathfinder.

“Ryder, your vitals are increasing to unsafe levels.”

“I! Don’t! Care!” Ain exclaimed, enunciating every word. “Let it rise!”

“If you do that, they will continue to rise, and you may pass out or other health concerns may arise. I would advise you to calm down.”

”SAM, I-“ A sharp pain ripped through Ain’s chest painful enough to stop her grieving in its tracks and leave her more breathless than she had been while crying, her eyes wide and blinking while she gasped for air almost making choking sounds. Just as quickly as it had happened, it stopped leaving Ain holding onto her chest. “w-what was that?”

“Your vitals spiked to a dangerous level for a human, leaving you in your previous state.”

“…”

“I would advise against repeating this in the future. If continued, heart problems may arise. Keep in mind, the brain is only able to survive approximately six minutes without oxygen before it begins to die.”

“Such a cheery thought…” Ain said, finally getting some air back into her lungs and coughing her words.

Looking back at Scott, she saw that he looked just as peaceful as he did when she came in. Even though she had a mental and emotional breakdown it looked like she hadn’t even been here excluding the missing doctor. A small smile found its way to her lips although it was strained. He was here, he was alive… just asleep. She had to remember that. Just because he couldn’t talk to her didn’t mean that he wasn’t there. It made coping a little bit easier, but it didn’t calm her at all. With a shaky exhale, she grabbed Scott’s hand with both of her’s.

“Things are bad, Scott… but… we have little baby steps: we have an outpost on this planet called Eos and we’ve made acquaintances with a species here called the Angara. An Angaran male named Jaal is helping us try and stop the Kett; the enemies we’re facing… the ones that are trying to keep us from settling here in Andromeda. They want these vault things that are here, and I can interface with them with SAM’s help. They’re healing the planets when activated and… we honestly still have no idea what the Archon—their boss guy—wants with them.” Getting all of that off her chest made her feel a little bit better, but everything wasn’t wonderful in Andromeda even close to home.

“My crew… they’re… well difficult. Peebee she’s an Asari and very… eccentric. Yeah, we’ll go with that. She’s studying the Remnant—those beings that are surrounding the vaults—Cora, you met her, remember? She was the one next in line to be Pathfinder after Dad…? Well, she’s salty about that even though she pretends that she’s not.” She wished with all her heart that Scott would sit up and comment on her words, but alas nothing about him changed. Honestly, she wasn’t even sure if she could be heard. Dr. Carlisle had said that he could hear her, but that didn’t mean that she was sure that he could hear and understand her all the time. However, she had to keep that in her head that he could hear her it would be the only thing keeping her sane right now. “Kallo, a Salarian, was one of the people that built my ship—the Tempest—Suvi is part of the crew actually our resident science officer. She’s a Human. Gil works to make sure that all the internal stuff is working correctly. Lexi T’Perro is our Asari doctor. I’m pretty sure that she hates me since I’m always getting hurt and won’t stay in one spot when I am. She took over for Harry. Um… let’s see… Drack Nakmor, a Krogan who’s super old. For some reason he calls me ‘Buttercup’, and reminds me of a grandpa, but he gets aggravated when I call him Grandpa Drack.”

Even though it sounded like they were all one big happy family, she could hardly keep them all on the same chapter let alone the same page. It was literally the least cohesive team that she had ever seen or even heard of.
I just want to punch the hell out of all of them… Jaal included!
They were ridiculous when it came to interacting with each other and she was surprised with her short temper that she hadn’t thrown something at each of them among the stray various items that were on the Tempest.
“Vetra Nyx… she’s awesome. A Turian and honestly the one I get along with the most other than Liam Kosta, a Human. You briefly met him the same time as Cora, but I’m not sure if you remember. He’s really um… nice and… well…” A blush came to her face and she cleared her throat. “I got shot—before you freak out—obviously I’m fine, but he hugged me and said that he was glad I was okay, but I’m pretty sure he kissed the top of my head. I know! I know! It sounds weird, but, it’s true… I think.”

I sound so fucking creepy oh my God… Please I hope that you didn’t hear that Scott.

Watching the slow rise and fall of his chest and his unwavering face, not even fluttering eyelids she felt tears build up in her eyes. Who was she kidding? There was no way that he was going to be able to hear her. He wasn’t even going to wake up… if he was going to, he would’ve already done it. Well, he was shaking off a 400-year sleep, but that didn’t mean anything. He would’ve woken up already, she felt it. Even thinking it made more tears fall.

“Scott… please wake up soon… I’m falling apart here man.” Ain joked, giving a small laugh through her tears. She went over and touched his head. “I’ll be back and visit again soon…”

If Ain was being truthful, she could’ve stayed with him day and night until he woke up. Unfortunately, life had dealt her a shit hand and it was just getting shittier. Granted, they had done some good, but even still it felt like they were taking one step forward and two steps back. They had gotten the Moshae back and had already been given permission to go into Aya’s vault, but the last thing that she wanted to do was push the Moshae when she was captured for so long, and especially if her immune system was as decimated as Jaal had said it was. It wasn’t enough though, things were still terrible here on the Nexus. Speaking of that, she had to meet up with Grandpa Drack in Kesh’s office. Sighing, she headed to the door and turned to look at her brother one more time before leaving.

Ain had walked to Kesh’s office on autopilot thinking about Scott, her mother, and her father. Even though she had the crew back on the Tempest, the more that she spent on the ship, the more alone that she felt. Maybe it was paranoia, but were they all gaining up on her? Especially during the meeting when they “welcomed” Jaal into the crew. Before she knew it, she had walked into Kesh’s office and a deep, gruff voice ripped her from her reverie.

There you are. I was starting to wonder if you forgot how to… get… here…” Grandpa Drack trailed off when he looked at Ain. She had been hoping that all signs of her breakdown would’ve left before she got to Kesh’s office, but apparently luck wasn’t on her side once again. “Hey Buttercup, you alright?”

“Huh?” Ain looked at Kesh who was also intently staring at her and scanning over her face. She had to look terrible if she had not only one Krogan worrying about her, but two. “Oh, uh yeah, fine.” She coughed and sniffled. “Just allergies… you know, pollen?”

Wow… that excuse was pathetic. That was probably the stupidest excuse I could’ve come up with. Maybe I’m the one that needs to get decked.

“That pollen does get pretty bad this time of year.” Drack agreed and then looked at Kesh who nodded in agreement.

Kesh seemed like she was ready to start this meeting because she came from behind her desk to stand near them and looked around almost to make sure that she wasn’t going to have someone overhear her. From what Ain had heard, Kesh was the last person anyone wanted to fuck with on the Nexus having literally kicked someone out of a room with a Krogan foot up the ass.
“I’m going to skip the pleasantries.” She announced, “Things are getting bad.”

“How bad is bad?” Drack asked.

“Are we talking about like someone murdering your whole family bad or pissed in your cheerios bad?” Ain asked and held out both of her hands like she was physically weighing the choices with them.

“The first one. Spender has—despite my best efforts to impede it—has gained favor with the Nexus leadership.”

“Yikes… sounds bad like he pissed in someone’s cheerios before murdering everyone.” Despite the situation, Ain heard a loud laugh coming from Drack. Even Kesh cracked a smile.

Maybe they’re just feeling bad for me…

“I believe there’s a way to stop this from getting even bigger. I have a strong belief that Spender is still speaking with the exiles. From my position, I don’t have the ability or the clearance to investigate further.”

“I do though.”

“Yes, you do. I suggest you speak with Kandros and obtain proof of his betrayal to show what kind of creature he really is.”

“You got it, Kesh.”

Drack had already left and she was almost to the door when Kesh’s voice stopped her, it was odd. She had never heard this tone before, it sounded worried and almost… small.
“Pathfinder Ryder… no… Ain, I have a favor to ask you.”

This was the first time that Kesh had asked anything of her let alone called her on a first name basis. Perhaps Kesh took it as a sign of a growing friendship, Ain honestly hoped so. She could use all the moral and emotional support that anyone had to offer. They all had to be on each other’s side in this dire time.

“Name it.”

“My Grandfather… he tries to do everything by himself, but… he… he isn’t invincible despite what he thinks.”

“Yeah…”

“He’s old Ain… Very old. Most of him is synthetic, he’s had too many injuries to count. It’s almost like he has a death wish.” Kesh gave a small laugh and looked down almost like she was remembering something. “Look after him for me. Krogan always try to give off the vibe that we don’t need anyone but ourselves, but not all of us are like that. My Grandfather… he’s a good man.”

“He is.”

“Too good to die on the battlefield from these bastards.”

“Don’t worry Kesh, I’ll look after him. I’d do it even if you didn’t ask. He means a lot to me too.”

“Thank you… You’re a good Pathfinder, but an even better person.” Kesh tilted her chin towards the doorway. “Better head out before he gets suspicious.”

Ain left and looked at Drack who had been eyeing her as soon as the door opened.

“What were you and Kesh talkin’ about?”

“Oh, you know… girl talk.” Ain cleared her throat when she let out a pitiful laugh.

Another weak ass excuse. He totally won’t be able to see through that.

Thankfully, Drack didn’t pry anymore. She felt a little better than she had when she was with Scott, but she still had the aching feeling of dread. Rubbing her hand down her face, she sighed again. Addison wouldn’t like it if Ain went to go talk with Kandros with Drack by her side. The Krogan still weren’t trusted on the Nexus and speaking with the military director may make some fidgety. Of course, she didn’t want to tell Drack that. Drack was a good guy and she didn’t want to hurt his feelings but hurting the feelings of a Krogan especially one as old as him would be a feat.

“So, Buttercup, what’s actually wrong with you?”

Great… pry about something else old man.

“H-Huh?”

“Don’t try and pull that pollen story on me again Kid. We don’t even have pollen here.”

“Y-Yeah we do! What they’re growing in the botanical department.” Ain tried to protest more, but seeing Drack fold his arms at her, her voice lowered to nothing more than a murmur, “I mean… it’s really not that big of a deal… I just kinda had a small breakdown…it’s really nothing to worry about.”

“Look, I’d ask you more about it, but I know you wouldn’t talk, or come up with another stupid excuse. I’ll be waiting back on the Tempest, they won’t take too kindly to me talking to Kandros with you.”

Ain watched Drack depart and let out an external sigh. All she wanted to do was go hide in her bedroom and go to sleep. Alas, no such luck. She vaulted over the balcony and headed over to Kandros. She ignored one of the Nexus officials grumbling about “these damn kids having no respect for architecture these days”. Kandros seemed surprised that she was there. He blinked and cleared his throat,
“What can I do for you, Pathfinder?”

Okay. Pro mode.

“I’m investigating a possible link between Spender and the Nexus uprising. I have reason to believe that he may still be in contact with the exiles.”

“Hmm… it’s funny you bring this up, Pathfinder. I was just thinking about that. There were some… discrepancies, but, I haven’t had the time to check further with everyone needing something and breathing down my neck.” Kandros brought up his Omni-tool and tapped on it a few times. “Check the video archives. Maybe you could find something I couldn’t.”

Sweet!! Hell yeah! Nothing could possibly go wrong n-

“Ryder, this video footage has been deliberately corrupted.” SAM stated when Ain brought up the available video footage.

I hate life.

“Ryder, as of right now, there is insufficient proof of Spender’s guilt.”

I hate life even more now…

“Well… shit.” Ain stated and rubbed her hand down her face again and looked at the screen again before sighing.

Can’t I ever catch a break?

Ain trudged back to the Tempest. She didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. After all, these were Drack’s people that this rode on. If the Krogan were going to have a future in Andromeda, a true future, then they were going to have to get this whole mess with Spender and the Nexus sorted out. Even though it wasn’t her fault that she hadn’t been able to catch Spender on the footage, she couldn’t help but take it personally. After all, she had promised that she would help. The familiar walls of the Tempest did nothing to comfort her, in fact, it made her feel even worse. It meant that she was closer to having to tell Drack the news.

… Needless to say, Drack didn’t take it well. Their fridge had a dent in it now from his fist. She sighed for what was probably the six millionth time that day. Of course, she didn’t blame him or anything like that. If the situation was switched, she would be upset too. Although she hated making promises, she swore that she would get to the bottom of it if it was the last thing that she did. Grandpa Drack wasn’t completely sated by that, but it seemed to calm him a little. Even a slightly less angry Krogan was better than a full angry one.

Even better, everyone was having mixed feelings on this “exaltation” that the Kett had showed in their facility. Peebee and Cora were fascinated by it, and it worried her a little. Of course, Lexi was as well, but that was to be expected. She was a doctor after all. If they were there… they would have a different view. Ain stood outside the Tech Lab, debating on whether to try and talk to Jaal again. After all, they... their last conversation didn’t go over too well.

I am unhappy with us right now.

Ain winced, remembering Jaal’s words and how harsh they had sounded. Ain was about to walk inside the Tech Lab when she felt another pain in her chest and the same feeling gripped her that had back on the Nexus with Scott and she coughed a couple of times.

“Ryder, your vitals are spiking again.” SAM explained.

No. Fucking. Shit.

Her eyelids fluttered, and a choking sound emitted from her lips as she tried to call for help. Her vision began to turn to a haze and her hearing was drowned out, the last thing that she heard was doors opening and a murmur that may have been her name and she fell, knocking her head against the wall in the process. However, she didn’t hit the floor. The pain in her chest stopped and air filled her lungs, she was able to look around and breath. She was being held… by who? Turning her head, she saw none other than Drack holding her up from hitting the floor.

“O-Old man…” Ain trailed off, blinking back the three Krogans in her vision to one.

“Damn Kid, if anyone’s going to go first, it should be me.” Drack laughed, but she could see worry in his eyes. All of her teammates were around, each eyeing her with the same internal question wanting to be asked:

What the hell just happened?

Holding the side of her head where the massive pain was at, she stood up with Drack and Vetra’s help, staggering slightly which Liam straightened her out from.

“S-Sorry… I’m just tired…” Ain lied. Telling her team that this was the second time this happened would only cause them to worry more and they needed to have full concentration when they were on the battlefield. One wrong move and they could all get killed.

“Ain… don’t try and act tough.” Vetra said and laid a hand on her shoulder. “You know you can tell us if something’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong. You’re worrying too much. I’m just tired. That’s all. I promise.” Ain assured, but none of them seemed really convinced. It looked like they just didn’t want to pry because they knew that they weren’t going to get anywhere if they tried. “Besides, we need to go and check on the Moshae and see how she’s doing. I’m worried about her, she looked in pretty bad shape when we dropped her off at Aya.”

“Our healers are very talented. At the least, the Moshae should be able to take us to the vault.” Jaal informed, not taking his eyes off Ain who was still holding her head.

“At the best?” Ain asked, trying not to talk too loudly to keep her head from pounding.

“She’ll guide us to the vault, enter, explain things, and hopefully talk to Evfra about how he treated you. The Moshae is very keen on people being treated according to their deeds. The Moshae trusts you.”

Ain looked over at her teammates and the crew that was behind her. They had all come to check on her? Maybe they weren’t as big of assholes as she thought they were. Then again, if she died they’d all be fucked. That’s probably what it was… they just didn’t want to travel all the way to Andromeda to get screwed.
“Kallo… set us a course for Aya.”

“… Yes Pathfinder.”

“I… I’m going to go and lay down. Someone come and get me when we get there.” Ain rubbed her head gingerly and staggered towards her door, keeping an arm out so she wouldn’t fall against the wall. Unknown to her, Liam wanted to come to her rescue, but Peebee held him back and shook her head. Ain wasn’t one to be babied and she didn’t want to worry her teammates more than they already were. She was just tired. She’d lay down and get better and no more of that… whatever that was would happen. Taking off her shoes at almost record speed, she collapsed onto her bed and pulled the blankets over her head and turned on her side where her head wasn’t tender. “SAM, lights out please…”

“Yes Pathfinder.” Ain wasn’t even conscious long enough to thank SAM before she had fallen asleep. Dreams weren’t really something that Ain had often, nightmares more so. Yet, she had cut a break and was having a nice dream for once.

Andromeda had panned out and everything was fine. She was on the Tempest talking to her crew and everyone was smiling and happy. Fear was a thing of the past as was worrying for survival. She suddenly found herself on Aya and it was beautiful and had an air of peace and prosperity almost intertwined in the air. Moshae Sjefa had already welcomed her and her team as official citizens of Aya and she was walking with the Moshae; laughing as stories were exchanged among them. They turned a corner and Ain ran into a soft but hard wall. When she looked up, Jaal and her met eye contact. There was something there that seemed natural; raw even.

Ain looked down from Jaal but felt a gentle hand under her chin that guided her head to look up at him and lock eye contact once more; a fierce… almost fiery look. Heat arose in her cheeks and her mouth felt dry. Her breathing even slowed, but she didn’t want to hide or run. A gentle smile rose to his lips and a hand caressed her face, grabbing onto the back of her neck while the other hand snaked around her waist and went to rest on her lower back.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Darling One.” His voice was hardly above a whisper. “I have missed you.”

She had been gone for a couple of days going around and checking on the many settlements that she had placed among the planets. Everyone was happy to see her, and she was glad to check on the status of the places they had worked so hard to create. Bradley had been the most excited to see her, since Eos had been the hardest one to settle in her opinion.

“I-I wasn’t gone that long.”

“To me, it felt very long. You are very special to me. Everything about you. Your eyes, your hair, your nose…” His eyes trailed down to her lips and a thumb gently brushed along the skin, having moved from her lower back. “your lips. All of you.”

Ain gripped onto his clothes and closed her eyes, feeling him pull her closer by the back of her neck.

Ain opened her eyes and sat up quickly with a sound of surprise. When her brain processed what had happened and what she was seeing, she felt her eyes widen and the world stopped around her. A few inches from her face was the precursor to what she had seen in her dream. The blue eyes that were opposite her own widened, obviously just as shocked at the extreme turn of events. She felt like she couldn’t breathe again, but it wasn’t painful this time. She parted her lips and was about to scream when she felt a gloved hand over her mouth. What was happening? Was he going to kill her in her sleep like he had threatened when they first met, or was he going to-

No! No! Absolutely not! No way!

“I uh… I can explain, Ryder.” Jaal cleared his throat and she could see he was scrambling.

Are you scrambling for an excuse?! I may be a woman, but I can still fight buddy…

“Will you listen to my explanation?”

As soon as you take your hand off my mouth I’m going to scream. See how well you can explain it to every-

“If I take my hand off your mouth, will you not scream?”

… Angara must be mind readers…

“Well?”

Ain nodded and slowly Jaal took his hand off her mouth. For a split second, Ain had thought about keeping to her original plan and screaming, however if Jaal had come in there to kill her, if she screamed he would do it without a second thought and then probably kill everyone else on the ship. Maybe… she didn’t want to test the theory.

“You see… there is a very simple explanation as to why I am in your bedroom and… this close to your… bed.”

“…”

Jaal cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck obviously embarrassed at the way things were progressing in this conversation. This isn’t the way that someone wanted things to go among two completely different species not even knowing each other for a year yet.

Or at all because I’m not even into Jaal like that!! What the hell brain!?

“Well, are you going to tell me or not?” Ain prodded, wanting to hear this so called “simple explanation”.

“You stated before for someone to come and get you when we arrived at Aya.”

“Uh-huh, and?”

“… We have arrived at Aya.”

Ain looked out her window to see the patch of paradise awaiting them upon landing.

“O-Oh... so we have…”

Wow… you’re an absolute idiot, Ain.

“I was asked if I would retrieve you since I was the closest.”

“O-Oh… r-right.”

“Is my explanation sufficient, Ryder?”

“Y-Yeah. It um… sure.” Ain quickly stood up and got tangled in the blankets and ended up heading towards the floor but was caught by Jaal.

“You are still unsteady on your feet. Or is this something Humans do?”

Ain gave the most awkward nervous laugh she had ever produced in her whole entire life. She tried her damndest to untangle her legs from the blankets, but to no avail. This couldn’t be happening.

“Sit down, Ryder.”

“What for?”

Jaal didn’t answer and sat her down on the bed and held her leg while he tried to untangle the blanket and sheet from them. His eyes were completely focused on the task that he was doing not even paying attention to the surroundings or what he was really doing.

“Um, you don’t have to do that, I can do it.”

“We will be waiting for quite a while if it was left up to you. You are sick, remember?”

“N-No really, I’m feeling better now.” His hand had traveled up to just above her knee to untangle the blankets, making this even more awkward.

“Jaal, really I ca-“

Are you serious?

Ain was cut off by the sound of her door opening. Standing in the doorway was Liam; stunned at the view before him. Honestly, Ain couldn’t blame him. This looked… suggestive. Ain had shorts and a tank top on, her legs were tangled up in blankets, Jaal was on his knees in front of her with his hands all over her legs trying to get blankets untangled from them.

“I… um… I came to see if Ain had got up okay…” His eyes had never left Jaal’s hands on her legs.

 “I’ll be right there!” Ain said and quickly tried her hardest to get her legs untangled, and… failed.

“If you would stop moving this would not be taking a long time.” Jaal reprimanded (Totally unsure).

“Here, I’ll take one leg, you take the other.” Liam said and knelt next to Jaal and worked at the other leg. “Geez, how did you manage to get tangled up this bad?”

“Skill…” Ain said sarcastically and looked at the two men; both who had at one time or another said they like to do things with their hands, get things and take them apart, and use them well.

Ain stop! Oh my God! It’s like I’m in a science fiction story with a love triangle and the author is trying to give fan service or something! This is ridiculous! My luck is terrible…

“Finally.” Liam said and helped Ain stand up. “We’ll wait for you at the hanger.”

“R-Right… Thanks…” Ain blushed and faced the window and only turned back around when the door had closed. “Holy crap… Dammit bed! Why did you betray me?! Actually! Brain! Why did you betray me?” She sighed and went to her closet to change. If she didn’t get moving, someone would come back and check on her and knowing her luck it would be Jaal or Liam… or both. Again.

No! My fragile heart can’t take it!

Ain grabbed a hanger that had sweat pants on it and began to cough again. She leaned against the wall and had the pants at her side. The coughing only increased, and she hoped that she wasn’t getting sick. They didn’t have vaccines for anything in Andromeda and she didn’t want to infect any of the Angara if it were true. Then again, she had gasped quite a lot lately.

I’m sure I got something… caught in my throat.

Finally, the coughing subsided.

W-What?

On her hand was a bit of blood. The blood in her veins turned to ice upon seeing her hand. She went over to the mirror in her room and sure enough there was blood on her lips and chin.

”… What’s happening to me?”

 

Chapter Text

It felt like years that she had been gaping at the red stain upon her hand. Her whole body felt like she had been dunked in ice like her blood had frozen in its tracks through her veins. She’d been sick many times before, but never to this degree. She put her hand over her mouth again while another coughing spell took over while nausea stewed in the pit of her stomach. Reluctantly pulling her hand from her mouth her fears were confirmed. The stain on her hand was larger, the wet crimson mingling with the drying. In the mirror, her mouth and jawline were covered with the same crimson. This couldn’t be happening… she needed to help the missing people from the Nexus, the Angara, and Scott. Swallowing her fear, Ain left her room. She had to be quick about this since she could hear footsteps heading closer and closer. Making sure the coast was clear, she jogged towards the bathroom and locked the door behind her with lightning speed. The fluorescent light from the overhead bulb made her head throb and her nausea increase tenfold. The warm water on her hands stopped the shaking enough to where she was able to clean herself up. The crimson from her face and hands mingled with the water leaving Ain with a lingering sense of dread.

“You can do this,” Ain told her reflection, taking a few deep breaths. “just keep smiling and joking. Bluff. You’ve always been good at that. Fake it.”

Forcing herself to smile from her pathetic pep talk, she pushed herself away from the sink as if her plan was solidified with that simple nod. Ain noticed some crimson on the metal of the sink, quickly taking a small hand towel towards it. For any of the crew members, that would be a tell-tale sign that something was wrong with someone in the crew. With the way that she had been acting, it wouldn’t take anyone long to figure it out. If Lexi got word of it, there would be absolute hell to pay. Lexi wouldn’t let her out of her sight if she found out she was coughing up the huge amount of blood that she was. With a huge sigh after she had cleaned up her blood, she turned and headed towards the hanger.

Her teammates were waiting for her at the hanger. Of course, they could have left without her, but she didn’t know how the Angara would react to the rest of the “aliens” without Jaal and Ain were there. Curious looks crossed over the eyes of the others, but she didn’t pay it any attention or mind and pretended that she didn’t see it. They would just ask too many questions and there was more of a chance for her to mess up and accidentally let something slip. Liam and Jaal, however, were looking at her in a different sort of way; Liam more on the side of worry and confusion and Jaal more on the side of… was that irritation?

Without any sort of prompting, the hanger opened revealing the beauty of Aya to them once more. No matter how many times she saw it, the colors of the beautiful planet would end up continuing to entrance her. They had barely gotten off the Tempest when they were minimally surrounded by Shie, the Moshae, Evfra, and some citizens who just happened to be passing by. Ain cleared her throat and gave a small cough.

“Is the alien sick?” Evfra asked, glaring at Ain. “Don’t come to Aya if you’re going to get us sick. We don’t need your alien diseases. We have enough to worry about as it is.”

“Hush, Evfra. That’s hardly the way to talk to our friends.” Moshae Sjefa said. Ain couldn’t help but freeze slightly when Moshae Sjefa came over and hugged her as if she were a best friend that she hadn’t seen for years. It shocked everyone present; Ain included.

Ain couldn’t help but smile at the elegant Angara. The sun was creating marks on Sjefa’s magenta skin from the spaces in the canopy which only added to her revered aura. The wind was blowing, lightly disturbing her hair and clothes. When she could get some time to relax, Aya was going to be her one stop destination for more than just its cooling atmosphere.

“What’s the greeting for?” Ain asked.

“We,” Moshae Sjefa began. “have decided to give you the liberty to freely roam Aya.”

“What?!” Evfra unfolded his arms. Apparently, he hadn’t been informed of this. From the look of disdain, it was never something that he would enjoy. “I disagree.”

“Well frankly,” Paaran Shie began “I don’t care what you want Evfra. Sjefa and I have made our decision, and we believe it is quite fair considering all they have done for our people.”

The once gentle aura that had surrounded them turned somewhat hostile and strained. Even though Evfra was tough, she couldn’t help but find it funny that he bowed so easily to the will of these two women. Back in the Milky Way, this was something that would still be considered strange. There had to be some way that she could diffuse this situation before it turned into an all-out verbal war. She took a step towards their friends.

“We would love to make room and welcome you to the Nexus, if that’s something you would be interested in.” Ain offered. She could feel the shock of her teammates behind her, but mostly Jaal’s. Since their fight, she wasn’t sure where they stood as friends or even as teammates. The fact that she was so willing to accept their people onto the Nexus where their whole future lay was something he obviously hadn’t been expecting.

“We will also enjoy having an embassy for the Andromeda Initiative here on Aya.” Paraan Shie smiled, holding out her hand. Once Ain’s hand met Shie’s, whispers and shocked looks from the surrounding citizens arose.

“This is completely- “Evfra began but Sjefa’s stern blue eyes stopped him mid-sentence.

“Stop.” Moshae Sjefa turned back towards the team and held her hands together. “Shie and I have other matters to attend to. We leave exploring Aya to you all. Once you are ready to see the vault, come see me in my office and I shall accompany you.”

The surrounding citizens turned back to their previous business when Shie left talking among some citizens that followed her, asking her various questions about the aliens and what was going to become of them with the embassy and giving them free roam of Aya. Since they were so far away, she was unable to clearly hear what was being said. The air around them became less tense but hadn’t yet returned to normal. Ain turned and saw what turned her already confused and distressed mood into a sourer one; the dildo.

Evfra was standing in front of them all still obviously disapproving of the idea. Her eyelids lowered halfway almost as if she were bored with his presence. He tried to intimidate her, but from their previous encounters he should know that that wouldn’t work. Sighing, she earned a glare from Evfra, but it did nothing to deter her. Her fellow “aliens” seemed a little shaken at Evfra’s display of dominance however which from the look on his face he seemed to relish in.

“You did well Jaal, report for reassignment.”

“What?!” Ain exclaimed and saw Evfra smirk from shaking her.

You… You fucking prick! You dildo!

“What?” Ain’s eyes narrowed hearing the taunting lilt in his voice.

“Are you kidding me? Jaal has become a valued member of my team!” Ain exclaimed feeling tears gather in her eyes. “… and… and he’s become a friend.”

I think of you as a friend, Jaal. Even if you hate me for what I’ve done.

“Jaal is an Angara and belongs with his people; request denied.”

“Evfra, I believe- “Jaal began taking a step forward, but Ain was faster taking a step-in front of Jaal, so she stood between the two extremely tall Angaran men.

“It wasn’t a request.”

Ain should have been worried that she was going to get shot where she was standing. After all, Evfra did have a gun on him so did Jaal and these were still his people that she was technically disrespecting, even if he started it first. However, a surprised sound came from Jaal and he didn’t say anything else. The anger was almost physical between Evfra and Ain that one could practically see the sparks flying. Moshae Sjefa’s laughter calmed the sparks, however not completely.

“Evfra, Ryder and her crew are where Jaal belongs.”

“But Mosh- “Evfra began but was cut off by Sjefa’s glare of death. “Fine. Request granted.”

“Still not a request.”

“Come, let us return to headquarters.” Sjefa said and lead Evfra away from the group, leaving them alone.

Ain let out another small cough and tapped her chest. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Vetra looking at her with a worried look in her yellow slited eyes. All her crew was locked into place, all of them too afraid to move because of the way the still wary Angara watched them from the corner of their eyes. She decided that she might as well take the first step, hearing her crew following behind. Following the long circular corridor that led passed the murals dedicated to the past and culture of the people on Aya, Vetra leaned in closer to her friend.

“Was that the ‘dildo’ you mentioned, Ain?”

“Yup.”

“You’re right, he is a prick.”

Ain broke off from the rest of her crew. Being a group of aliens could make the Angara nervous and she just wanted to gain their trust. It also gave her a chance to relax. She gave an awkward smile to an Angara in the market who was watching her with curious eyes. Deciding to just try and relax, she took a seat next to one of the booths but made sure to sit far enough away as to not cause distress. Ain leaned her head back slightly and exhaled. A sharp pain gripped her chest and she coughed and held onto her side.

Please… if I’m going to die, I just want to help everyone. Find another Pathfinder. They can take over for me then.

A small ding came from her wrist and tapping on her Omni-Tool, she saw that there was a plant on Aya that Suvi wanted her to collect for the movie night that Liam was planning. Apparently, Suvi was trying to make snacks. Ain had to hand it to her, Suvi was one adventurous woman. She licked a rock to test it and ended up getting a small tongue infection that she had to take to Lexi who couldn’t believe she had to tell a scientist to “not lick rocks anymore”. She sent an affirmation that she would indeed gather the plant. Another ding later, she saw that Liam was inviting her to a bar here on Aya that he found. Another affirmation later, and she already had two tasks at hand.

Glancing among the stalls, she went over to one and was about to open her mouth to speak when the shopkeeper said one of the most hurtful things that she had ever heard,
“Get away. I refuse to sell to one of your kind.” With everything else that had been happening, Ain couldn’t help but feel like her heart had just fallen into her stomach.

“Y-Yes…” Ain said and turned around and looked at one of the other stalls and went over to that one. “Um… I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you, but I’m looking for a plant; its rather wet and green. It has some strange feel on the leaf.”

“Oh! You’re not disturbing me at all!” The shopkeeper said with a small smile and moved some of her other wares around to sort through the various plants that she was selling. Ain wanted to buy them all to be honest. Flowers of all colors that she could think of or imagine were being sifted around. Some of them may even be poisonous to Humans, but she wanted to touch them all. Her mother had often said that she was too curious for her own good. “Is this what you wanted?”

“I um… I don’t know the name of it. We’re having a movie night and we were told that it could be made into a snack.”

“Oh yes, Pathfinder! Drying out this Tarvav plant makes some of the crunchiest snacks that are known to the Angaran people.”

It was difficult to pay for the plant because of the differences in currency, but finally they came to an agreement of 10 credits and to bring her back some when they were made. She took the small bag that the woman had given her with a bright smile.
“My friend wants to meet me at a bar… could you direct me there?”

“Yes of course, Pathfinder. Continue down that pathway, take a left, and it should be on your right.”

Ain nodded and waved goodbye before taking the Angara’s directions. The sunlight was peeking through the canopy and kissing the alabaster stone of the buildings, leaving a touch of warmth in its wake. Loving the way that the warmth felt instead of the extreme cold rain, snow, and the harsh heat of the desert she took her time to enjoy the architecture and the smells of the foreign food. The bar suddenly came into view and she couldn’t help but smile when she saw Liam sitting among a couple Angara talking and smiling.

“Ain! Over here!” Liam called.

“Hey, Liam. There you are.” Ain said and went over and sat next to her friend. The Angara that had been previously talking to Liam went back to their own conversations. For a few moments, she was worried about cutting off a potential friendship, but they didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s really paradise here.”

“I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a place like this in my life, even back home.”

Liam chuckled and laughed, taking a drink of… whatever the Angara were serving.

“To be honest, I was worried that you were going to get shot again because of how you were talking to that Evfra guy.”

“Oh, come on, I’m not that bad.” Ain defending having a drink of a slushy green drink sat in front of her.

Liam smiled gently and bit at his lip. Ain glanced over at him when she heard the rhythmic tapping of an index finger against the glass. She blinked and watched him open and close his mouth like a gaping fish. He was trying to say something, but he didn’t know what he was going to say. Ain turned her stool and watched him stumble over himself. The short time that she had known Liam, shyness was a characteristic that she never would’ve associated with him.

“Ain, I need to talk to you.”

“That’s what we’re doing now, aren’t we?”

“… but um, about something else.”

“Something else?”

“Well…um… you’re an awesome Pathfinder, but an even better person; a better friend.”

“Thanks Liam, I think you’re a good friend too.” Ain tilted her head to the side when he cleared his throat and continued to stammer over his words.

“Well, I… I um… you’re,” Liam took a sip of the drink that was sat in front of him as if steeling himself before he continued with… whatever he was trying to say. “I um, I… wow, how am I supposed to say this?”

“With you mouth would probably be a good idea.” Ain said with a small smile which earned a small laugh from him. Ain looked at her friend and touched his arm. “Liam, you’re worrying me.”

“I-I li-“Liam began and then gave a small chuckle before shaking his head. He sighed and stared over at his Pathfinder, his captain, his friend. “You know what? It’s not important.”

“It’s not? But… you seemed like you really wanted to tell me.”

“Don’t worry about it, Ain. Really.”

Ain’s eyes traveled over her friend from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet and locked eye contact. He seemed to be serious. When she continued to watch him, he didn’t waver.

“Alright. If you’re sure.”

Whatever the drink was, it was full of nutrients and not filled with alcohol. She wasn’t sure about a lot of the culture on Aya, but maybe they didn’t really have alcohol. It was probably better that the drink wasn’t alcohol. She would have to be in tip top condition to be Pathfinder. Not to mention, if she was drunk she may let her condition slip and then having her friend worrying about her. Ain finished her drink and stood up.

“Hey, I’ve got to get going and talk to the Moshae to get into the vault.”

“Alright. I’m just going to stay here and drink a little more. I’ll meet you back on the Tempest, how does that sound?”

“Good idea.”

Ain had offered to pay for their drinks, but Liam wouldn’t hear of it. With that discussion out of the way, they had parted ways. Leaving the bag with Liam, she walked to Resistance Headquarters where Moshae Sjefa was supposed to be waiting for them with Jaal. She trailed her hand against the building she passed, feeling the rough texture underneath her fingertips. It reminded her of seashells, like they had been clustered together to make the building. The building was cool underneath her hand despite the warmth from the sun. It made her wonder if the material was chosen to keep the inhabitants of the home cool or if it was just a side effect of it, just a coincidence.

The door swished open and she arrived in Resistance Headquarters. It looked like Evfra and the Moshae were in a fight while Jaal was idly standing by trying to stay out of the conversation, but still wanted to intervene to keep Moshae Sjefa safe. Jaal protected her like a mother and he wanted to ask more about it but didn’t want to make things awkward considering that they weren’t mutual friends. She steeled herself and continued further into the room.

“Ain, you’ve arrived.” Moshae Sjefa said.

“I’m here to have us go to the vault.” Ain said and looked over at Jaal who she found was staring at her, so she quickly turned back and looked at the Moshae.

“Yes, of course.”

“Of course, that’s what you’d want.” Evfra said. “That’s all you’d want.”

Slowly Ain made her way to the shuttle waiting for her near the Tempest at the front along with Moshae Sjefa and Jaal. She glanced over at Jaal who had his eyes on the shuttle. Glancing down, she could see that his hands were shaking whether it was from fear or anticipation was not apparent. They arrived at the door to the vault and her hands started to sweat. What was so special about this vault? It was just as dark and dank like she remembered the others to be. It smelled wet and somewhat musty. Clearing her throat, she headed towards the console.

“Is it true that you can interface with it, Pathfinder?” Moshae Sjefa asked.

“I… I think so.” Ain said and went over to the console and exhaled shakily before she put her hand against the interface point. The ‘keyboard’ rose and fell against her touch and the stone of the console was smooth and slightly wet from the condensation in the old vault. She gasped, a holographic image covering the ceiling of the vault illumining the faces of her fellow companions. She saw out of the corner of her eyes that Jaal had his mouth gaping open in surprise. He didn’t look like the same man who had yelled at her in the Kett facility or who said he was unhappy with them.

“What… is this?” Jaal asked, his voice deep and gravelly.

Ain stared at the pieces in front of her and walked around the vault. She reached up and touched one of the orbs. She gasped seeing the way it twisted and turned.

“It… It’s a map!”

“A… map?” Moshae Sjefa looked at the intertwining orbs and lines.

“This is a map. This is Eos. It shows the vault and how active it is.” Ain continued to look around. Some of the orbs weren’t lit at all while the others were bright and white. There was a couple near the center that were different. “These… are all the planets. It shows the vaults. This has to be where we’re at on Aya.” She tilted her head and touched the orb. “What about… this one?”

“What? What is that supposed to be?” Jaal asked, following close to Ain which made her uncomfortable. She knew that Jaal didn’t mean it like that, or anything like that, but it still made her feel weird to have him around. Moshae Sjefa merely smiled and stared at the map and where Ain had pointed out the strange looking orb near the middle.

“I’ve heard of a place called Meridian. The Archon was after it, but he never said what it was or where it was.” Sjefa explained and then gently touched the orb where she believed Meridian was at. “This is a great advantage Pathfinder. If this is a map, like you said, then we have a general idea where Meridian is, and you can get to it before the Archon can. He was desperate for it, and if you can get to it first then we can stop whatever it is the Archon is trying to do.”

Ignoring the cold that was creeping into her bones, she left the vault with Sjefa and Jaal. How was she supposed to stop the Archon from getting to Meridian when she didn’t even know where it was? Knowing her luck, the Archon would find it and then miraculously find the direct way to it before they could even discover what Meridian was. She pushed some hair from her eyes and watched as Moshae Sjefa closed the vault.

“Let us go and speak to Evfra about what we found in the vault.” Moshae Sjefa said.

“What do you mean, a map?” Evfra asked when they arrived back in the Resistance Headquarters. “There was a map about the vaults?”

“Yes, there was.” Moshae Sjefa stated with certainty. “Without Pathfinder Ryder, we would have been unable to access it. Evfra, work with Ryder and her crew so that we may be one cohesive unit.” With her instruction, she left.

Evfra was pacing back and forth in his office. He didn’t like the idea of working with Ain and he didn’t even try to hide it. The monitors were casting an ominous light on Evfra making him look more angry than usual. The machinery filling in the silence with its continuous beeping and clicking. Ain rubbed the back of her neck and the longer that she waited, the more she got aggravated for waiting and the worse she began to feel. She put a hand on her head and grunted, the light bothering her sight momentarily as her vision began to fade in and out.

“H-How long is this going to take?”

“I didn’t want to speak about this with the Moshae present, but there was an Angara named Vehn Terev who watched over the Moshae. He ran to Kadara and he was the Moshae’s bodyguard. I know that he’s the last person to see the Moshae before she got taken to the Kett facility. Perhaps its me being paranoid, but I believe he’s a traitor.”

“You think this Vehn Terev gave the Moshae to the Kett?”

“Surely Vehn would not do that Evfra…” Jaal tried to defend his comrade, but his voice was weak.

“Then tell me Jaal. This surely isn’t a coincidence. If I am wrong, I will… admit to it.” Evfra said. “Go to Kadara and prove me wrong, Jaal. Pathfinder.”

“If you have these suspicions and have had them for a while,” Ain continued and frowned. “why haven’t you sent someone or went yourself to see if it was true?”

“It is run by your people!” Evfra exclaimed and turned and glared at Ain. “I will not stoop to the level your people have and go to that filthy place. This could be that your people had something to do with it! So you fix it!”

“Evfra, this is not fair to the Pathfinder or for her team. They have saved the Moshae in case you forgot.”

“Then prove me wrong.” Evfra said and turned around and looked out the window. “Leave.”

Ain grunted and clenched her fists. She felt her eye twitch and she was so angry. If she could’ve gotten away with it, she just wanted to shoot him. Not even kill him, just shoot him.

Back in the Tempest, she went to the kitchen where she saw the bag that the woman at the shop in Aya had given her. The plant was a beautiful green and felt strange and moist against her hand, almost light and airy. Suvi was so ecstatic when she saw the plant she almost jumped out of her seat. She held the plant in her hands and smiled brightly. The light in her eyes contained hope and happiness. It was a light that she hadn’t seen from anyone since she had arrived in Andromeda. She supposed that she should go and talk to Liam and thank him for spending time with her and bringing the plant back to the Tempest.

“Hey Liam, I need to- “Ain began and screamed when the door opened. A large blush rose on her cheeks and all the way to the tips of her ears and down her neck. It wasn’t something she would’ve suspected in her wildest dreams. She rubbed her eyes and continued to blink as if it would stop what she was seeing. Liam was shirtless once again, however his pants were riding lower than they had been before. There was no way that she couldn’t see the V that his hips made.

“Oh, hey Ain.” Echoing down the hall, she could hear footsteps coming from behind her, but she couldn’t stop staring. That was so wrong of her. “Oh, just in time! Jaal Ama Darav!” Jaal was here? With Liam? She turned to ask him what he was doing hanging out with Liam. They didn’t seem to be buddies, but her eyes widened, and she was sure the blush went from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.

Internal screaming!

This hadn’t been something she had ever seen and hadn’t thought about seeing. Jaal. Was. Naked! Liam was only two articles of clothing away from being naked too!

Well it depends on if he wears underwear or not… Ah! Stop! No! Terrible Pathfinder!

Jaal went around the corner beside Liam and gave a look over at Ain.

“Kosta. Ryder.”

How the hell are you not nervous about this?! How?!

All Ain could end up making in response was a small squeal in recognition.

“I-I-I-I mean we-we don’t have u-u-uniforms really, b-but um…” Ain stammered trying to look anywhere other than her two teammates. “T-This is just a-a little… m-much… d-don’t you th-think?”

Liam couldn’t help but laugh which made Ain’s blush increase.

“Ain, your blood pressure along with your heart rate is increasing rapidly.” SAM said through their private channel, making her hyper aware of their situation.

“Just convenience. We’re swapping armor.” Liam looked at Jaal. “Ready to go?”

“Go.”

The two turned their attention to the table that was in front of them. It held a couple pieces of armor on it that Liam had been tinkering with when she walked in. It was almost like she wasn’t even there. It was a dream for a lot of women to have naked (or semi naked) around her, but she couldn’t deal with it the same way and she was getting lightheaded and was realizing every now and then that she wasn’t breathing and had to remind herself to do the natural body function. She wanted to turn tail and flee, but her feet didn’t listen and walked in further and stared at the scene.

“The pattern on your pauldron?” Liam asked, looking at the armor that she had seen so many times.

“Family honorific.”

“Can I wear the poncho?”

“It’s a Rofjinn, so no.” Jaal seemed adamant, she hoped that this wasn’t going to go south. She didn’t think that she was going to be able to deal with Liam and Jaal running around the Tempest naked. Especially with their… those flapping about.

I’m so terrible. These people are in my crew! This is so unprofessional!

“Why? Is it religious?”

“W-Wait, what?” Ain asked and blinked looking over at Jaal and cleared her throat and looked over at Liam and then down at the armor on the table.

“It’s… personal. You’re not allowed.”

“Because of status-or species?”

“Liam-“

“Maybe it’s both.”

“Do all humans look alike?”

“Li-“

“Some of you sound alike.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Ain put her hands up.

“What?” Liam asked and they both stopped to look up at her. It made her nervous, but she still had to speak.

“I thought this was about armor. Are you deliberately trying to offend Jaal?” Ain asked and watched as Jaal blinked in surprise a little bit.

“Uh… of course he is?” Jaal said and it was Ain’s turn to blink.

“That’s the point? Asking stuff the diplomats leave out? Armor for answers.” Liam stated like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

How the hell was I supposed to know that’s how you were going to go about it? Especially considering it seemed like you were trying to make us lose Jaal as a friend and comrade.

“My turn was earlier. Nexus info packages leave a lot out.” Jaal stated and Ain merely rubbed her head where a splitting headache was coming on.

What the hell did Jaal ask about?

“I’m sorry, was this not sanctioned?”

Liam groaned and folded his arm and turned around and looked at Jaal. “You weaseling Adhi.”

“Nevertheless, Ryder.” Jaal walked out and Ain turned and glanced down despite her best efforts and looked back up her blush flaming up once again. It could be just her imagination, but it sounded like laughter was coming from further down the hanger.

Ain turned around and looked at Liam. She took a deep breath, desperately praying that she was going to be able to speak without something cracking or giving her away.

“Y-You better have a good re-reason for this…”

You dumbass… you don’t sound professional at all.

“I do-and we’re clear. Jaal was in from the start.”

Well… at least we’re not going to have Aya against us.

“U-Um what are you doing?”

“Putting my shirt back on.” Liam said and looked at Ain as she cleared her throat and looked away. “I mean, unless you don’t want me to put it on.”

“I-I didn’t say that!” Ain defended.

Shit. Recover. Recover!

“Well you didn’t not say it.”

“A-Anyway!”

Liam chuckled and shook his head,
“We were shit-talking. Except we couldn’t. We didn’t know enough about each other to dig in. If we don’t know what’s insulting or awful, we may accidentally trip on it. Makes talking dangerous.”

“That… makes sense.” Ain said, “Did you have to do it naked though?”

Liam chuckled again and Ain couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about what she was thinking or what she had been looking at the whole time. There was a level of embarrassment she had never seen before being reached.

“So now we know. And maybe that’s enough for a couple of hotheads not to make a mess out there. Unless we want to.” Ain backed up as Liam stepped forward. Her back hit the wall and she closed her eyes when she heard a hit on the wall. Though there was no pain. She opened an eye and felt her throat close. Liam was leaning against the wall on his arm, their faces only a few inches apart. She wanted to run, but she was too shocked to move. “Good enough reason?”

“O-Okay… I um… I kind of get the intent.” Ain said, though her voice came out in a whisper. “N-No harm no foul… right?”

“Listen,” Liam said and she noticed that his face had come a little closer. Or… maybe it was just her imagination? “If I had insulted Jaal, I’d be on the floor. I’ll take that kind of honesty any day. We have a lot to learn, that’s part of what our team is for.”

“T-That is true…”

Without moving, Ain watched as he stared at her and she wanted to look away so much, but her body wouldn’t really let her.

“Better now than when someone’s life is on the line.”

“R-Right.” Ain said and noticed his face was coming closer still. “Liam, I-“

Ain felt something against her lips; soft and barely touching. Had she not been in the whole situation and focusing on it, she wouldn’t have known it was happening. It wasn’t even fully a kiss. Was that even partially what this was?

“I’m glad you decided to come to Andromeda.” He said softly his lips still barely touching hers. He didn’t press further, just looked down and lowered his other arm so she could escape. She blushed a bright red and backed up and literally ran out of Liam’s room, hearing a small chuckle coming from behind her.

Oh. My. God. Holy shit… I… what? That… That was Liam? Um… He was so different than normal.

Ain got on the lift and put her hand over her beating heart. If she didn’t keep her hand over it, she was genuinely worried it would burst out of her chest. That had been so… intimate. So… she didn’t even know what. It happened so fast, she didn’t know how to react.

“Ryder!”

“W-What?!” Ain exclaimed and turned around, almost falling over.

“Whoa… what’s gotten into you?” Vetra asked, seeing Ain’s current state. Immediately, she went to her side and held Ain up. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah! Y-Yeah! Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Ain laughed awkwardly and heavily forced making Vetra raise a brow bone. “Completely fine! Yup! Totally! So, um… yeah, what did you need?”

“Hey… I heard from Jaal that you have to go to Kadara. I know you have so much to do… is there… is there any way that we can go back to Havarl first to check on that lead with the Turian ark?”

Calm down, Ain! You have more important things to worry about!

“Of course. I was just about to head there anyway actually. I have other things to do there as well, so I might as well do them while I’m trying to search for the Turian ark. That’s my first priority anyway.”

“Thanks Ain. I’ll get suited up and get ready.”

“Y-Yeah…” Ain watched Vetra disappear, still clearly worried about her friend. Almost running, she went to the kitchen to get some cold water. Anything to calm her very dry throat. She took a couple deep breaths and filled a glass before chugging it down. Filling it again, she chugged another. Wash, rinse, and repeat for five more glasses.

“Buttercup?”

“G-Grandpa Drack!” Ain exclaimed, turning and effectively knocking everything over on the counter. “Um… hey.”

“You alright, Kid?’

“Y-Yeah, just you surprised me is all. Haha! Is there something you needed?”

Drack looked her up and down. He was a war veteran, he could see when someone was lying, and Ain was a terrible liar to begin with.

“Just some food, Buttercup. That’s what the kitchen is for, right?”

“Right! Right! The kitchen!”

Ain excused herself and went up to the bridge, smoothing out her hair. This was terrible. She had to calm down. How was she supposed to adequately defend her teammates if she was nervous from that… whatever that was? Reeling even. A feeling of something squeezing in her chest and nausea filled her, knocking her almost breathless. She grunted and gripped onto her bar. It wasn’t what Liam did that made her nauseous. Liam was a rather attractive man, and a very nice man. Whatever was afflicting her body and making her cough up crimson lakes she was sure was the same cause of her failing stomach.

“Kallo… Havarl… Please.”

“Pathfinder, are you-“

“I’m fine!” Ryder cut Suvi off, coughing and covering her mouth. “Sorry… I didn’t mean to yell. Just tired and I have a headache. That’s all…”

The nebula displayed in front of her was so beautiful, even with the electric spider web in the distance known as the Scourge. It was bittersweet and still morbidly beautiful. Havarl-although minute-looked a lot better even from the surface than it did the last time they were there. It made a small smile appear on her lips, those same lips that-… Ain touched her lips and shook her head. She was making a difference, although small. Just small steps. Havarl was truly beautiful, just as Jaal had said.

“Take us down, Kallo.”

“Pathfinder, I must advise against trying to do too much at one time.” SAM said, startling her from their private channel.

“Yes, Pathfinder.”

Closing the locker that bore her name, she couldn’t bring herself to see or talk to Liam right now or else she would’ve asked him to come with her. There was a lot of things she had to sort out; her feelings, how she was going to face him in the future, was this going to effect their friendship? A locker closed next to her and she backed up against the wall, seeing Jaal standing next to her.

“S-Sorry, you just stunned me.”

“I tend to have that effect on people.”

“Y-Yeah… well, its not bad.”

“I didn’t say it was.”

Great. Another silence.

“So, you’re coming with. Are you sure you want to see it all?”

“You mean what happened to Thaldyr?”

“Yes.”

“What can you tell me about her?” Ain asked, walking with him towards the hanger where she knew Vetra was waiting for her. “Thaldyr I mean.”

“Well, she’s from the Resistance. She’s very smart and cunning. Determined. Like I told you before, the Resistance isn’t what it used to be. Since she’s still in the Resistance, it means that she is or was close to Akksul. That’s something to watch out for in itself.”

“Akksul, you told me about him too.”

“Glad to know your memory is not failing.”

“… Yeah.” It was all Ain could do from getting aggravated. Maybe he wasn’t trying to be a dick, or maybe she was just touchy after everything that happened especially recent events. Perhaps it had something to do with her level of exhaustion or whatever was ailing her body.

“Hey hey! Ready?” Vetra asked, waving to her friends.

The rain splashing Havarl’s ground had lightened to a small degree. It didn’t hurt as much when she was hit with the drops. She had to focus, lives were riding on this, many Turian lives as well as this Thaldyr. She checked the map that Jaal and Vetra had sent her of the nav points. It seemed that the Turian ark was closer than Thaldyr’s last known location. Glancing over at Vetra, she was twitching from her anxiety. The fauna and flora were still insanely unkept which meant a lot of dodging and an extreme amount of keeping an eye on the ground to make sure that she wouldn’t trip on the thorny vines. In a small alcove in the distance, she could see a makeshift tent and what looked like a tiny desperate fire. Standing in the midst was another Turian! A group of them, actually. It was a small group, but still a group outside of the Nexus and outside of the exiles.

“Hey-“

“Get down!” One of the Turians exclaimed, and Ain knew that tone all too well. She ducked underneath some cover. Peeking out, she could see that the people that were attacking her people were Angara, but from their uniforms she was able to see that the branch of the rogue Resistance members-the Roekaar-were attacking the stranded Turians.

“You will not take them!” Vetra yelled and left her cover to throw a grenade at the group of clustered Roekaar. She gripped her arm and screamed out in pain at the same time as the grenade exploded, taking out a couple of the Roekaar.

“Vetra!” Ain exclaimed.

“I’m alright!” She yelled back, but Ain wasn’t going to lose someone else. She stood up and ran to her friend, tackling Vetra to the ground behind some cover where they both landed with a painful grunt. Ain’s bones hurt, and she would bet that Vetra’s fresh wound wasn’t feeling too hot either.

“You’re so stupid!” Ain yelled and smacked her wound deliberately like that would make her point. Keeping a hand on her friend’s chest to prevent her from getting up, Ain helped to take out the rest of the Roekaar. She half expected Jaal to protest and try to save them, but he didn’t. Thankfully. Making sure to literally pull Vetra along with her, she went to the leader of the small group of Turians.

“You’re the Human Pathfinder, right?”

“How could you tell?”

“Just could. You’ve got an air about you. A good leader. Ah, but where are my manners? My name is Avitus. Avitus Rix.”

“Ain. Ain Ryder.”

“I wish it was under better conditions. We were ejected out of Ark Natanus and landed here. Anything before or after is foggy. We woke up here.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that you have no idea where Ark Natanus is?” Vetra asked, holding her arm. “At all...?”

“No… trust me, I’m not happy about it either. I wish we knew. Our Pathfinder is among the Ark, so we have no idea where he is either.”

“Dammit!” Vetra yelled, putting her face in her hand. The only thing that Ain could think to do is rub her back. That wouldn’t even comfort her a little bit, but it was the only thing that she could do right now. “This can’t be happening right now!”

“Don’t worry, we’ll find them.” Ain promised and brought up her Omni-Tool and tapped a few windows up. “Here Avitus, if we find anything we’ll be sure to let you know.”

“Same, Pathfinder. The only thing we’ve found is rubble from Ark Natanus here which is what makes us think we were ejected from it. Whether it was deliberate or not remains to be seen.”

“Do you… want us to take you back to the Nexus?”

“Appreciate the thought, Pathfinder. We’ll stay here and try to gather information the best that we can.”

“If you need me, let me know.”

“Thank you, Pathfinder. Oh, and thanks for the rescue. We’ve been dealing with them for a while now.” Avitus said, glancing warily at Jaal.

Bowing her head, she turned and left the group of Turians. It pained her to do so, since she didn’t know if she would be able to see them again. Ever. Andromeda was still full of unknowns even with all the progress they had made. With Ark Natanus still under the radar and their Pathfinder still missing, things weren’t looking good for the Turians. From the look on Vetra’s face, she seemed to be coming to that realization as well. Of course, she would do anything in her power to make sure that her friend found her people again. Even if she had to run back and forth to Havarl. As if reflecting their feelings, the rain pelted down harder, making it difficult to see in front of them.

“Over there.” Ain’s focus was directed to a short distance away where a large overhang of a building remained. “We can take shelter there.”

Jaal led and Ain had to pull Vetra along with her. They stood under the overhang, looking at the scenery. As military members or smugglers, they were all used to fighting in the rain, however, if it could be avoided it was better. Having your sight hindered even by a fraction of an inch could prove lethal. Nothing was said between them, just the sound of the rain hitting the top of their makeshift shelter or the oversized leaves of the nearby plants. Ain wasn’t sure of how long they stood like this, but it was enough to make her legs hurt.

“Nyx.”

“Ama Daraav.”

“… Ryder.” Ain said in a small tone, just wanting to be included and hopefully make someone laugh or just feel a little bit better even. Naturally-as per her luck-it didn’t work, she was just ignored.

“I am… sorry to hear about your people. I know how hard it is.”

“… Yeah, Jaal. I know.”

“As Ryder said, I am sure that we will find them.”

“…”

“Do you not believe your friend?”

Great, Jaal. Throw me into the mix why don’t you? Don’t throw us under the bus like that.

“I do, but as you said, you know how it feels. Until you see results-no matter how small-you can’t help but think of all the what if’s.”

“True.”

Silence surrounded the party of three again, this one was even more tense and depressing than the first one had been. She couldn’t relate to them, the Humans had arrived-mostly-fine. Part of her was thankful, but she also wanted to be able to relate to her friends. After all, she was supposed to be a Pathfinder, and she couldn’t relate to the troubles her team was going through. Without saying a word, Ain reached out and held out her hand to listen to the rain fall against her glove. It was almost mesmerizing to watch the little droplets explode into smaller ones upon impact with her armor. It reminded her of back in the Milky Way when she would do this and her mother would tell her and Scott to come back inside before they got sick. Her mother’s voice reverberated in her head and she felt her heart squeeze. One after another, she saw a Turian and an Angaran hand reach out into the rain with hers. There were many things that were different among them; skin, eyes, voices, culture, and more. Yet, in this moment they weren’t different at all. That feeling of being joined together just by this simple action squeezed at her heart just like the memory of her mother had. Before she was able to, she heard Vetra breaking down into tears next to her, hanging her head as she cried with her shoulders shaking. The shaking of Vetra’s shoulders caused her tears to fall and she started crying. Jaal was standing in the middle of them and put a hand on both of their shoulders and listened to them crying. A couple of tears fell down his face being able to feel their pain as a creature of emotion.

The three crew members continued to cry by each other, showing the weakest side of themselves. Crying for their people, crying for their memories and inability to help those she cared for, crying for the teammates pain as if it were your own. None of them knew how long they stared there crying under their temporary shelter before the rain receded enough to where they could safely continue their way to Thaldyr. Taking out her gun, she let Jaal lead the way following close behind with Vetra at her side. No “thank you” needed to be said, they were all thankful to have their friends by their side.

Unfortunately, not everyone could have a happy ending. When they arrived at the house where Thaldyr was supposed to be, it was trashed, and the lights were out.

“Pathfinder, I sense life signs inside. They may very well belong to Thaldyr.” SAM informed the trio.

Inside, sure enough an Angaran woman was on the floor pretending to be dead with shallow breathing and clutching her stomach.

“Thaldyr!” Jaal exclaimed and went to the woman’s side.

“J-Jaal…is that you?” She asked and blinked her eyes.

“Yes, Sister, it is.” Jaal said and held her limp hand. “What has happened?”

“The Kett, they… came and attacked. They took some of my friends; my family. I stayed here and pretended to be dead, they left me alone. I… I took some poison. I won’t let them come and take me, I won’t let Akksul be harmed. I can’t Jaal.” Thaldyr said softly, the poison taking effect fast.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Ain asked, looking at the Angaran woman.

“No… it… it is too late.” Jaal said.

“Who are you?” Thaldyr asked and looked at Vetra and Ain. “Jaal, you’re in the company of aliens?”

“These aliens have saved many of our people, including the Moshae. Ain and Vetra are good people.” Jaal said and picked the woman and put her in the bed that was in the small home.

“They… have?”

“Yes, Sister. They have.”

“There are some friends among aliens. Jaal, please take care. It was a pleasure to meet you aliens; Ain and Vetra.” Thaldyr said before becoming limp in Jaal’s hands and her eyes closing.

“Rest in peace, Sister.” Jaal said and touched her face before turning around and leaving the small home with Vetra and Ain.

Halfway back to the Tempest, Ain sighed and held her head. She couldn’t believe that nothing had come of her trip back to Havarl. She felt like a failure. Curiously, she wondered if the others thought of her the same way as well, but she didn’t want to ask. What if she was right? She was already having problems with her own leadership, she didn’t need to have her fears confirmed. Ain staggered for a split second and crashed to the ground behind her friends with a choking sound.

Jaal and Vetra turned around simultaneously and instantly went to their friend’s side. Ain’s head was banging against the ground and her eyes were rolled in the back of her head. Her body was stiff, and the choking continued. Jaal put a hand behind her head so she would stop banging it against the ground. Vetra held her shaking body down and watched in horror as foam and what looked like bile seeped out of the corner of her mouth and down her neck while the choking continued, and her skin turned a light blue.

“Tempest! Kallo! Suvi! Peebee! Anyone! Emergency extraction!” Vetra yelled into the communicator.

“What? What’s happening?!” Liam exclaimed.

“Vetra, what’s happening?!” Cora asked.

“It’s Ain!” Vetra exclaimed, looking at her best friend. “She’s having a seizure! She’s foaming at the mouth and is turning a light blue! Anyone!” Tears gathered in her eyes again when she saw blood mixing with the foam and bile that was exuding from her mouth. “Please! Hurry!”

“Ain?” Jaal called, touching her cheek. Perhaps she would be able to hear him if he talked to her. He knew nothing of this, Angara didn’t have this problem, and it was one of the most terrifying things he had ever seen. “Ain? It is Jaal. Please, open your eyes.” He worried the more Ain didn’t listen to him.

The distant sound of running was heard against the wet ground. Vetra saw all the crew coming to Ain’s aid including Gil and Lexi. All the while, Ain was still seizing while more blood, foam, and bile fell from her mouth. Jaal was still touching Ain’s face, brushing some of the rain from her eyes and face not wanting her to choke on the water. Jaal instantly gripped onto her body and turned her to the side when he saw her chest heave. In an instant, vomit covered the side of Ain’s face and made a puddle onto the ground. Jaal picked her up, not caring that she was covered in vomit, foam, and bile or that she was still seizing in his arms.

“I will carry her, we need to get her inside.” Jaal explained and held her close to his chest to prevent her from harming herself. He wanted to keep his Pathfinder; his friend safe. With all her friends and crew at her side, they returned to the Tempest while the other friends fought off the monsters or the Roekaar that tried to impede their progress. Lexi made sure to get the med bay prepared all the while listening to Ain continuing to choke from lack of air, the color of her skin getting worse. While some of the crew returned to their positions because of necessity, Jaal stayed behind and helped Lexi with whatever she needed. Lexi made it a point to only have one other friend in there with her at one time. Jaal refused to leave.

“I will stay. I must stay.” He didn’t elaborate further, and no one asked him.

You have helped my people many times, and I will be here for you in return.

Chapter Text

Thanks so much for reading "We're The Same". I greatly appreciate it, more than I can say. You guys are the reason that keep me writing and keep me going. I genuinely appreciate it more than I can say. Unfortunately, I have been unable to keep to the schedule that I'd like to. My finals were taking up a lot of time, and I kinda had to study, but then I was worried because I had to prepare for some speeches for class. Then after that, I was getting some sleep so I could write a proper chapter for all you wonderful people that have been waiting. Unfortunately, my grandmother had a heart attack and fractured her ankle when she fell. She was in the hospital for I think two days and now she's in physical therapy.

 

Thankfully, the only problem that she had was the fractured ankle. As I'm sure you're all aware, an elderly person falling could definitely be fatal. The woman's almost 80 years old. Since she's bitching about everything, I'm assuming that she's getting better--slowly but surely. More than I can say, I am so sorry that it's taking me so long to update for you guys. My life has been one problem after another and as much as I wish I was making it up, I couldn't if I tried. One thing is happening after the other, so I hope you all understand and that you're patient with me.

 

My code monkey--whom I love so much--hasn't been able to get the layout done for my tumblr, but, since you're all being as patient and wonderful as you are. I'm going to try my hardest in order to keep some previews and some drabbles for you amazing people. If it would be wanted, I would also do some prompts for you followers. I know you're all able to see the content of my tumblr without following. However, as mean as it is to say, these sort of features--such as the prompts--would only be available to the followers. It doesn't cost anything to follow and it would mean the world to me in order for you all to follow me that way I can gauge my follower base (which is probably super small, but still).

 

Anyway, without further ado, here it is:

 

kawaiibobatea.tumblr.com

Chapter Text

Blue. Purple. Black. Brown. Yellow. Gray.

It was the first thing her brain processed. Blurry shapes of these sharp colors that gathered in a pile almost seeming to swim together in her vision. She stared at the colors, willing them to calm down. The colors murmured, and she found herself wondering why her oddly colored rainbow was talking and why it had to be swimming at such a fast velocity she was almost seeing double. Yet, she couldn’t stop staring at it even though the movement was making her stomach churn. Her body didn’t have enough energy to even close her eyes to try and gather her spinning world into focus.

The rainbow’s murmurs turned to the more worried side and the colors spun around more. The blue and purple entranced her, and she willed with everything she was to touch the colors. Such vibrant and yet soft colors… It absorbed her. Whatever brain power she had focused on trying to reach her hand from whatever the platform was that was keeping her from falling into the waterfall of colors, but to no avail. Part of her wanted to try to push herself into the color sea, but there wasn’t enough strength.

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed in this utopia of shapes and colors, but it was long enough to make her nauseous and tired all at once. The colors seemed to hear her mental begging for them to stop moving, as they all stopped spinning. Slowly, the colors’ movement went from the deep end to the shallow and instead of her world looking like a page from a child’s coloring book, the colors were beginning to match into the various shapes around them.

With every blink, the shapes matched themselves to colors until they filled the shapes completely. They were people. Her people. Her team. And they were all staring at her, each with a different expression. Her head was still spinning, but vaguely, she was starting to piece the situation together of where her body had ended up. She moved, and the familiar softness underneath her helped to bring her body back down to reality.

My… bed?

With little strength, she tried to push her head up from the pillow and to rest on her elbow but crashed back onto the bed with the tsunami of pain that crashed into her skull. It was like a push into freezing weather, like on Voeld. Her world ended up coming together more until she was aware of her surroundings. She put a shaking hand on her head and heard steps surrounding her bed. Her mouth felt dry and it hurt to breathe. It felt like every bone in her body was broken in at least one place.

“Give her some room everyone!” A familiar voice echoed from the entrance of her room. Her team parted like the Red Sea to reveal Lexi; looking down at her with a strained smile. “… Ain, are you with us?” Honestly, it was questionable. She didn’t remember what happened. The last thing she remembered was that they were on Havarl and they had left the house where Thaldyr now rested in peace. Then she had woken up here. With help from Liam and Cora, she managed to brave the pain enough to sit at the edge of the bed and look at Lexi.

“What happened?” Her mouth was more than dry, it was like it was swollen. She opened her mouth and touched her tongue, feeling how strange and—disgustingly enough—how lumpy it felt. She looked at her hand and saw nothing. Wrinkling her nose, she wiped her hand on her bed. She heard something like a combination between and sigh and a laugh come from near the back of her group of friends. The throbbing in her head and neck were at the forefront of her mind along with the dizziness that still hadn’t cleared.

“You had a seizure, Ryder.” Lexi said.

“A seizure? I don’t have epilepsy.” Ain protested the best she could with her disfigured tongue and internally sighed and grunted from the pain.

“That is true. SAM and I checked your brainwaves at the time, but they seemed normal along with every bodily function. You-Ryder, are you listening to me?”

Ain was staring ahead and not really hearing Lexi. All her mind was focused on was the pain and how nauseating it was. This pain was on a scale that she had never experienced before. Some people hated it, others reveled in intense pain. For some—like her—it was proof that she was alive. Taking in the information that Lexi had given her, although annoying and debilitating, it was proof; yes, she was in fact alive.

“Huh? U-uh yeah…”

“…” Lexi sighed and sat next to her. “You worried us, Ain.” It was the first time that Lexi had dropped all formalities and called her by her name in a casual manner. The only other times she had called her was when she was reprimanding her for not taking care of herself or for not listening.

Looking at the team, she could see the fear also the relief that was in their eyes. “… Sorry.” She apologized. What else was she supposed to say to that? She put her hands on her knees and bounced her leg up and down. She really wasn’t feeling well… “I was in my armor… wasn’t I? How-“

“You um…” Lexi began and cleared her throat. “You soiled yourself and so you were changed into some of your other clothes. Vetra and I were the ones who did it, so… don’t worry.”

Ain felt tears in her eyes and she put her face in her hands. This couldn’t be happening. She had literally pissed her pants and all her crew had been there to see it. She wanted to die. Granted, it wasn’t like one of the men in her crew had done it and seen her naked, but it was still the principal of the matter that she hadn’t been in control and had done something like that. She lifted her head up and wiped her hand down her face. She didn’t want to break down in front of her crew, she already felt like she was put on blast and like a freak. The pain didn’t stop in her head and she gripped onto it almost like her life depended on it.

“I’m sure you still feel pain.” Lexi began “I’ll get you something for the pain. Lay back down, it’s more comfortable in here for you.”

After a plethora of feel better and let me know if you need anything all that remained in the room was Jaal, Liam, and Vetra. To be honest, those were the three that she didn’t want in her room. Of course, after they had worried so much for her and what Vetra had done for her, she couldn’t very well kick them out. She looked at them from where she now lay. She was holding her stomach and just wanted the pain to go away.

“… Liam…?”

“Y-Yes? What is it, Ain?”

“…Can… will you get me some water?”

“Yes! Of course!” Liam pretty much ran out of her cabin to grab her some water. Part of her wondered if she would even be able to drink it with her tongue the way it was. She was just so thirsty though… She leaned up in the bed and her eyes widened.

“Ryder, what is it?” Jaal asked and got closer.

“Ain, are you alright? You look paler.”

She tried to push herself up further on the bed as quick as her weak body could muster. However, Jaal and Vetra combined tried to keep her laying back down. A lightbulb seemed to go off in Vetra’s head and she headed to the other side of the room. Liam had walked back into the room just as Ain emptied the contents of her stomach on the first thing in front of her; Jaal. Just as soon as one spasm had ended, another had begun and the stomach acid and foam from her stomach landed on Jaal and the floor. She was gripping onto the edge of the bed, unable to move. It was three whole spasms of stomach acid that had landed on Jaal and her floor before Vetra had been able to make it back to her with the trash can. Of course, she didn’t blame Vetra for not getting there faster, she had thrown it all up fast and it was rather sudden.

“I’m… I’m so sorry…” Ain cried, her tears continuing to fall even as the fourth spasm hit her. Thankfully, this time almost all of it landed in the trash can. Again, thankfully, none of it landed on Jaal this time. This episode did nothing to help her headache and her aching body. By the thirteenth spasm, she was sobbing. All she wanted to do was for it to end. Lexi and the others had made their way back to the cabin to watch the whole horrifying ordeal which only made her cry more.

“Get out!” Vetra screamed at the others and Lexi shut the door to everyone else. After the fifteenth spasm, she stopped and was able to breathe. However, her constant sobbing was making it hard for her new-found ability of breathing to take effect. “Ain… it’s okay. It’s okay.”

“I’m so sorry…” Ain continued to repeat through her weakening tears. She was so exhausted now. Jaal looked at her and said nothing before getting up and leaving the room, the others parting the way for him, none of them missing the mess that was on his clothes. “… so sorry…”

Ain laid there while Vetra began to clean up the mess the best she could without supplies while Liam peeled away the wet hair—either coated in vomit or tears—from her face and grabbed one of the hair ties she kept on her night stand and put her hair up. Lexi went over to her, making sure to move around Vetra. The cooling gel that was put on Ain’s forehead calmed her tears slightly along with her headache.

“I’m sorry it took me so long, Ain. I had misplaced my Medi-Gel.” Ain continued to cry, despite the help from her friends. “The more you cry, the harder it is for the gel to take away the pain. You know that.” Taking deep breaths in through her nose and out through her mouth, she was able to calm her tears to sniffles. Her eyelids were heavy from her exhaustive escapade. “Go ahead and sleep.” Lexi coaxed. Ain was unable to protest, nor did she want to. She wanted to thank and apologize to everyone all at once. However, she was worried that she was going to be unable to open her mouth without a repeat incident. It didn’t help that all her crew had seen her in this weak state and looked vulnerable and terrible. She was supposed to be a beacon of hope and prosperity and here she was; sniffling and vomiting in bed having three people take care of her. With thoughts of apologies in her head, she drifted off with the help of the Medi-Gel.

To say that that the hours that passed was difficult was an understatement. There was a pain that Ain had never known running through her body. She didn’t know how much she used her tongue for just existing before it hurt everything it touched. She had been in and out of consciousness and every time the person by her side was different. It was embarrassing for one of them to see her like this let alone her whole entire team. The one person she hadn’t seen by her side was Jaal. Then again, he could have very well been there while she was sleeping. On the other hand, Jaal was in no way obligated to remain by her side or even check in on her. After the numerous fallings out they’ve had in the short time they’d been together, it would be only natural not to be by her side—in addition to her emptying the contents of her stomach on him. When Ain’s blue eyes opened again, no one was by her side, but the sounds of her crewmates could be heard through the walls.

“If she doesn’t have epilepsy, then how do you explain the seizure?”

I was wondering the same thing.

“Seizures are a symptom in many different ailments, Cora.”

That doesn’t bode well…

“But you said that you tested for those and came up with nothing.”

That bodes even less…

“I… I truly don’t know what ails Ryder.”

…! Lexi… She doesn’t know?

“What does that mean?”

Vetra… are you crying?

“It means that I can only continue to observe… and I… am unable to provide treatment for the disease, but merely the symptoms.”

“This is ridiculous! Is she going to die?!”

“… I… I truly do not know, Liam.”

… I…

“If things continue this way… I would assume she will not live to see us settle into Andromeda.”

I… I’m going to die…? Soon…?

“If there is nothing that you can do, perhaps it is not a Milky Way disease. Perhaps it is something of Andromeda.”

A… A disease only in Andromeda?

“That is… certainly a possibility Jaal.”

“We Angara know of cures for diseases, though… due to the Kett most of them were lost. In addition, the effects are only known to the anatomy and physiology of Angara. The way it would affect one of the Milky Way is unknown.”

“What do we have to lose?”

“Your Pathfinder.”

“… Come again?”

“The treatment could cause your Pathfinder to pass even quicker if not immediately from complications.”

Am I… really going to die? Before I can see the Initiative survive…? Before I… can see Scott again?

“I don’t think this is something we can decide on our own. Buttercup has to decide.”

The nausea that had subsided over the hours of rest had surfaced once more with just a few sentences. She closed her eyes and felt the world spinning around her. Swallowing the rising bile in her throat, she sat up and gently placed her legs on the floor. Blue orbs of eyes focused on the tile floor focusing on something to reduce the rising nausea and dizziness. Ain pushed some hair behind her ear trying to ignore the foul smell and the current crusting nature. A deep inhale later she had pushed herself off the bed to stand, staggering. The world swirled around her, sharp colors blazing in her vision. Her hand reached out to take refuge from the cool wall to guide her to the door. Honestly, Ain just wanted to lay down and let whatever disease ailed her take her life away.

Scott…

That’s right. Scott was waiting for her. She was waiting for him. They were all each other had left. If she was going to pass, she would make sure that she held on long enough in order to see him wake up and hug him. Perhaps she would be able to say a proper goodbye… if she was lucky. Ever since arriving on Andromeda though, luck didn’t seem to be on her side. She trudged her way to her door and was panting by the door let out its usual whoosh of opening. Multiple voices of various curious and worried tones surrounded her. Squinting her eyes against the assaulting light, she could only focus on them.

“Ain?”

“Ryder?”

“What are you doing?! You should be resting!”

Resting…?

“Lexi…” Ain started, ignoring all her friend’s protests and warnings. Her eyes remained on the floor outside of her cabin, the crowd of crew and friends growing by the second. She didn’t know someone’s mind could be so blank when there was so much responsibility to be addressed. “Is it true?” The answer was clear; Lexi would never lie or even let someone think something other than the truth. Lexi was a woman of science and healing and under no circumstances would she purpose a theory or diagnosis without having exhausted all other options—such as the tests that were performed when she was unconscious. “Am… Am I dying?”

“… How long have you been awake?” Lexi said softly, indirectly answering her question.

“Long enough…” Ain said, taking in the many expressions her friends were wearing. Some of sorrow, disbelief, worry, and dread. Others—like Jaal and Drack—didn’t seem to know how to react and just stared. “… How long do I have?”

“Ryder, please go back—”

“How long?!” Ain yelled, regretting it instantly. The inside of her cranium throbbed like it was being hit with a sledgehammer repeatedly. “How long until I leave Scott alone…?”

“I don’t know, but… you’re getting worse.”

A plethora of scenarios ran amok in her mind of life without her. In the grand scheme of things, Ain was just another person. Whatever this was that ended up taking her life, in time, Ain Ryder would be forgotten. A new Pathfinder would be appointed, and the Initiative would continue without her. The only person whose life would forever be changed would be Scott’s. Their parents were gone, and soon Scott would be left alone.

“… Change course for the Nexus.” Ain whispered her voice sounded as dead as her body would become. No one moved at first with her order and just stood there and stared at her. With a look at them from under her eyelashes, the crew moved and Suvi—who had been observing—nodded.

“O-Of course Pathfinder…”

When the crowd had dispersed, she gripped onto the ladder. Her destination at the top seemed like years away and her legs seemed to be made of lead along with her arms.

“Pathfinder,” Ain turned and saw Jaal standing behind her. She hadn’t expected that. He scanned her tired eyes and body and then cleared his throat. She must look like shit, but she didn’t care. Not anymore. “I would not recommend attempting to climb that ladder.” Jaal cleared his throat again and jutted his thumb behind him. “Would you like to accompany me to my room? I… have some things I need to talk to you about.”

“I—”

“Or perhaps you are not feeling up to it.”

Geez… It’s not like I’m--… right…

“It’s not that.”

“We could… talk in your room if you’d like. That way you can relax.”

“I’m not handicapped Jaal… although I appreciate the concern.” Ain said and let go of the ladder. “We can talk in your room.”

“As you wish.”

Ain took a step towards his room and stumbled, Jaal’s firm grip on her arm preventing her from tumbling to the floor, which she felt may just kill her there. The Tech Lab was very much Jaal. She hadn’t really taken in all the changes he had made, but she was coming to appreciate them. Small pieces of dismantled Kett weapons lay along the corners of the room either rejected from whatever project he was working on, or being saved for a future project. Jaal moved some broken weapons, most likely kept for their parts, away and some other items that she didn’t recognize and gestured at the space.

“Please. Relax.” Jaal instructed, helping Ain take her spot on the ground where Jaal’s bed was. At first, she had noticed that he kept the bare essentials for staying in the Tempest, but now he seemed to be growing more relaxed and feeling more at home since his bed was actually feeling like a bed. She put her back against the wall as she sat, Jaal taking a space in a chair across from her, tinkering on his gun.

“What did you want to talk about?”

“I am… very concerned about you Ryder.”

“About me?”

“Yes.” Jaal said, looking at her. “You are a very strong and determined woman, but now you seem like the life was taken from you.”

“…”

“Ah… yes. The news of your condition would do that I suppose.”

Silence. Great. Again. Oh… wait—

“Jaal… I’m sorry for puking on you. If you hate me… I understand.” Jaal stopped whatever he had been working on and intently stared at her, locking Ain in her place. “After all, it got everywhere…”

“Ryder, you worry I would hold you accountable for what your body did?” Jaal asked. “You were not in control of your body. Why would I hold you accountable? Even if you were… it is a natural function that all beings possess.”

This was… unexpected.

“Do you think that little of me?”

“Uh, no… it’s not like that.” Ain began, trying to calm her headache. “I know that you and I haven’t been on the best of terms since… the facility.”

“You are still worried about that?” Jaal asked, stopping his project once again to look at her. “I must ask for your forgiveness because of my previous actions. I was… not myself. I understand the situation and how unfair it was to you. You have done more than you promised on many circumstances and have proven yourself a great leader, colleague, and friend.”

F-Friend…?

“You—Ryder, why are you crying? Do you feel unwell?”

“I-I’m not crying…” Ain protested and wiped her eyes, looking away from him and down at the hands in her lap.

“… Very well.” Jaal agreed and out of the corner of her eye, Ain could see the ever stoic Jaal smiling.

The only sound between the two was the tinkering of Jaal’s project. Ain’s eyes had been growing heavy. She leaned her head against the wall. “Ryder, I must retrieve something from Vetra, I shall be back momentarily.” Ain nodded and watched him leave. She had been waiting for him to come back, but during the process had laid down fully in the long and comfortable bed. It was warm and felt like a hug. She hadn’t really felt much of a comforting embrace other than Liam. She wanted to go see him too, to thank him for helping her, but his room was quite far and if it was hard enough to get to Jaal’s room, she didn’t want to try her luck. The feeling of laying down in the warm blankets reminded her of when Scott and her had been terrified of the monster in the closet as kids. They both had crawled into the bed with their mother and father and slept in the warmth of their bed for the next few nights. The familiarity and warmth lulled her to sleep while the Tempest flew in real time towards the Nexus. Kallo and Suvi had worried that the jump to FTL would aggravate Ain’s health in some way and she would’ve ended up having another seizure or getting sick in some other way.

Unknown to Ain, Jaal had returned to the room a few minutes after she had fallen asleep, stopping short upon seeing Ain covered up to her chin with warm blankets.
“We were worried about you, Ryder.” Jaal had said quietly, not wanting to wake up his sick superior. It was the most peaceful he had seen her since he had met her. He found himself wondering in the back of his mind if she always looked like this when she slept or if he was the only one lucky enough to see this face. “I was worried about you.” Jaal smiled and went to her side, squatting down until he was close to her face. He brushed some of her now dirty hair away from her face. “You are a very strange human, Ain.” He murmured to himself, pulling up some blankets that had fallen from her chin. “Even among your already strange people.” Jaal grabbed another blanket and covered her up again. He wasn’t sure how many blankets humans needed to be warm, even less so about the sick ones. “I will talk to the Moshae, Ain, perhaps there is something she knows that will assist in your illness.”

When next Ain opened her eyes, a tapping had called her from her oblivion of slumber. She looked towards the insesent tapping, shocked to see Jaal. A smile, or at least the awkward turning up of the lips that Jaal consistuted as a smile surfaced.
“Ah, good.” He said. “You are awake.” She watched Jaal, apprehensive as he assisted her in sitting up. A brief survey of her surroundings concluded that she was not in her own. The surrounding walls were not bare as her own, a space hamster was not present, and the warm comforting blankets that enveloped her were not her own. They smelled of trees and morning dew along with something else she couldn’t explain. “We have arrived at the Nexus.” Finding herself unable to speak, Ain simply nodded. Jaal held out his hand which Ain hesitatntly took. Gently, as if she were going to break with too much force, Jaal lifted her off the floor.

“Thank you, Jaal…” She said and looked back at his bed. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“Oh. That? You have endured many things recently, I thought it best to let you sleep.” Jaal explained, making sure she was standing up straight and had her bearings before he let go of her hand. His words came at a lower pitch, almost as if they were secret. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” She admitted. She didn’t feel like she was going to vomit again. The only thing that was wrong was her unholy need for water and food.

Also the fact that I’m going to die and I have no idea what in the hell I’ve got… other than that… I’m better.

“I am glad to hear such.” Jaal said and pointed his thumb at the door. “I shall wait for you at the cargo bay. It will be… good to see you walking about.”

“You don’t have to wait for me.”

“I don’t have to do anything, but this is what I choose.” Jaal countered before leaving her alone in his room. That was a sign of trust in its own, before, the thought of leaving an alien alone with his possessions seemed like a one way ticket to an invitation for another Kett like war.

“… You have done more than you promised on many circumstances and have proven yourself a great leader, colleague, and friend.”

“Friend…” Ain repeated before leaving Jaal’s room.

A shower had never felt so needed or invigorating in her life. All the crustiness and smell from her hair was washed away in a wave of coconut hibiscus. The water pelting against her skin was hot, almost on the uncomfortable side. However, the rising steam and the droplets of water on her skin gave her constant reassurance that she remained alive. When Ain turned the water off, she remained in the shower, her hands resting on the walls.

“I shall wait for you at the cargo bay.  …I don’t have to do anything, but this is what I choose.”

“… He’s more hot and cold than a shower.” Ain said, smiling to herself as she got out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her now clean body. She looked at the mirror, wiping away some of the fog from it and stared at her reflection. Externally, she looked the same. Same eyes, same color, same skin color, hair color, same neck tattoo. “I look like me.” She opened her mouth and looked around, sticking out her tongue to examine the damage. It was torn in some places exposing the next layer of tissue. The outline of teeth marks were plainly visible in various parts especially down the middle. She shivered, taking her out of her observation. Checking outside of the door to make sure there was no one around, she darted to her room, glancing behind her and ran into something almost falling until something grabbed her wrist.

“Oh! Ain! There you--!” Wide brown eyes met wide blue eyes. “…are.”

“L-Liam!? What are you doing here?!”

“I-I just came to check on you!” Liam retorted, the hint of red on his cheeks. Ain watched his eyes try to lock with her own, but she saw them slightly roam. “N-Not this kind of checking out! N-Not that I’m checking you out or anything like that!”

This couldn’t get any worse.

“W-Well, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to look at—uh…”

Correction. It did.

“Well! Stop looking!” Ain said, taking a pillow from her bed to try and cover her body.

“R-Right.” Liam said and deliberately looked away at the ceiling. Ain blinked her eyes and watched him. He hadn’t moved or said anything else.

“Liam?”

“Yeah?” He asked, looking at her and then back up at the ceiling.

“Leave!”

“O-Oh! Right!” Liam said and headed for the door. “Sorry!”

After the door to Ain’s room had closed, she gave a huff and looked out the window in her room. That could’ve gone better… but it could’ve went worse. The towel could’ve fallen off when she ran into him. She tossed the pillow down on the bed and went to her closet to pick some clothes, finally letting the towel pool to the floor around her.

He’s such an idiot… Why didn’t he just leave when he saw no one was here?!

Ain clicked her tongue and picked some sweats and a tank top, absentmindedly getting ready. She sighed and shook her head, trying to rid her cheeks of the blush that was stamped there. She tossed the hairbrush down on her desk and just as she was leaving, was taken aback by a headache painful enough to stop her in her tracks and grip onto her head, clawing into her scalp. Her vision blurred at the edges, color fading and returning. Just as quickly as the headache had gripped her, it had released its hold leaving her gasping; desperate for breath.

Ryder, your vitals are elevated. It is most likely due to the onset of the sudden headache.

“T-Thanks SAM.” Ain said with no witty retort. Truth be told, she had forgotten SAM was even there. Other than the time she was unconscious, he hadn’t presented himself and his existence hadn’t been at the forefront of her brain. “You mind staying in the back for a bit until my brain starts actually working again? Since I’m a little groggy?”

Not at all Ryder, I will continue to monitor from the sidelines.

When Ain met with the rest of her crew members in the cargo bay, all conversations ceased and turned to her.

“Are you okay?”

“Ain, how are you feeling?”

“Are you sure you should be up?”

“Let me know if you’re even feeling the slightest bit off.”

“Ryder you—”

“Alright! Alright! Alright!” Ain exclaimed, clapping her hands together to quiet down her team. Sometimes it was like dealing with a classroom full of kids. They all clamored and wanted to be heard, and shutting them up could be a huge pain in the ass. She was, in a way, honored that they were all worrying about her to the extreme. It proved that they trusted her and liked her, if nothing else as a captain and a Pathfinder. When they were all quiet she spoke. “This isn’t how its going to be alright?!” She said. “We’ve got a job to do and we’re not going to baby me or ask how I’m feeling every other turn! I’m glad and honored that you’re all worried about me, but I’m a big girl, I don’t want you all distracted!”

… I wish I could say ‘it’s not like I’m sick and dying’, but…

“Got it?!”

“Yes…”

“Alright. I brought up to the Nexus to have a relaxation day. I know that you guys would bitch and complain the whole time if I tried to take us right back out there. So, I heeled before you even spoke. Drink, eat, and all that fun stuff and we’ll all be ready to go when we come back; fresh, renewed, and full of energy.”

I want to keep seeing your guys’ smiles…

Ain smiled and ushered them off the Tempest, her eyes lighting up when they all started to smile and laugh, nudging each other as they headed further into the Nexus. Jaal and Liam were the ones that lingered behind, watching as Ain hooked arms with Vetra, smiling brightly. Neither of them missed Ain tripping over her own foot and laughing that she almost fell on the ground. Jaal opened his mouth to speak, but Liam just shook his head.

“I don’t know…”

“Are all humans this strong?”

Liam chuckled and shook his head.
“Not even close…” He sighed. “Ain is… one-of-a-kind.”

“That she is. I am coming to see that more and more.” Jaal didn’t comment on the look Liam was giving him.

“Okay okay!” Ain said and waved at Vetra. “I promise I’ll come and have a couple drinks with you after I take care of my errands, alright?”

“Alright but hurry up! We’re hungry.”

“Geez, then order some food so we can eat together when I get there!” Ain said, watching her friends leave. She exhaled and headed towards the tram.

The echoes of her footsteps sounded foreboding and almost empty the closer they got to cryo. When the door whooshed open, Dr. Carlisle smiled at her. It hurt, to see such a bright smile. He had no idea about what was happening, and if she could help it, he wouldn’t know until she was gone. It wasn’t like Ain was prone to giving up, but, when there was no way to even begin to know what it was… how was she supposed to keep her hopes high? She had to prepare for the worst.

“How’s Scott?”

“Well, you know Scott… He likes to sleep.” Dr. Carlisle said and smiled, patting Ain’s shoulder. “He’s fine. Just still trying to wake up, you know a few centuries of sleep are a little hard to come out of naturally.”

“I can imagine.” Ain said and looked over at her brother. She wondered what he saw behind his eyelids when he did sleep. Was it dreams or nightmares? Did the sounds of the doctors around him terrify him or comfort him? What about the announcements made over the Nexus? Did he hear those? Did he know about the condition of Andromeda, other than what she herself had told him? There were so many things she wanted to know. “Harry, can I… have some alone time with Scott please?”

“Hm? What’s this all of a sudden?” Harry asked and broke into a smile. “Is it something love related?”

Ain blushed and rubbed the back of her neck.

“Alright, say no more. I’ll get out of your hair. I’ve got Scott’s vitals synched to this data pad, so if any major changes happen, I’ll be able to view it. Take all the time you need.”

I wonder how you’ll feel when this is all over?

Ain took her seat by Scott and watched him. Part of her was hoping he was sleeping so he wouldn’t be able to hear this. The other part… she wanted him to hear that way when he finally did wake up, that wouldn’t be the first thing that he was hit with and all the time he was lying down, he would be able to cope with it. Of course, he would probably blame himself that it was his fault he didn’t wake up fast enough and become depressed that he hadn’t been able to see her before something happened. If things ended up getting worse though, she wouldn’t want Scott to see her like that. The last picture she wanted Scott to have in her head was her with a bright smile, high-fiving him before they got in their cryo pods and being healthy.

“Scott. It’s me. Ain. Your sister.” She said and then chuckled. “Ah well… you know who I am.”

Keep it together.

“… Things are getting better. Slowly. Food is coming along slowly and we’ve got people settling down in small places on some planets. We’ve gotten help from the local aliens, the Angara. Did I tell you about that? Heh.. I don’t remember. Either way, Jaal, one of the Angara that is a part of my crew. He’s very sweet despite him wanting to come off as otherwise.”

“I think you’ll really like him when you wake up. I honestly think you’ll like all of my team. They’ll be there for you in good times and in really shitty ones. They’re a pain in the ass, but… all in all, they’re good people. Lean on them, okay?” Ain couldn’t stop a small chuckle from escaping. “… You’re probably wondering why I’m sounding so doom and gloom.”

How the hell do I go about telling him?

“Scott…” Ain began, exhaling and blinking back some tears. “I’m dying. We… don’t know what it is. Only the people on my ship know, besides you. All we can treat is the symptoms, which are… bad. I’ve been coughing up blood and yesterday I had a seizure. A bad one. My tongue is all the way fucked up.” She laughed, slightly on the bitter side. “My doctor Lexi T’Perro, she said she ran many tests on me while I was unconscious and… none of them matched anything we knew. Which means, it’s exclusive to Andromeda. Well, you remember how many tests we had to do before we got accepted. They wanted to make sure that we had a clean bill of health so that something like this didn’t happen.”

“Leave it to me, right? To go and be the first one who’s fatally sick in Andromeda.” Ain laughed, blinking away some more tears, the smile fading from her face. “Scott… I’m scared. At the same time though, I don’t want to be treated like I’m sick. I want to smile, laugh, and joke with my friends. If it’s true that there’s nothing that can be done, then, I want everyone to be happy through it all and keep smiling.”

“I wonder if this is how Mom felt when it finally sank in that she wasn’t going to get better. She said that she was fine, and that she was ready, but… was that true? Sometimes I think it was just something that was said for our benefit, but then I also remember how much she suffered near the end. I don’t want it to be like that Scott… and I’m scared… and honestly, I just don’t know what to do.” Ain reached out and took Scott’s hand in both of hers. She hoped that it didn’t register to Scott how much she was shaking. She rested her forehead on their hands in an attempt to stop her shaking. There was no guarantee that she was going to be able to see him again after this, “Just… know that I love you Scott. You’re the best brother that anyone could ask for. Nothing will ever change that… or how proud of you I am.” Ain stood up and swallowed the lump in her throat. With shaking hands, she laid his hand down and forced herself to let go. She reached up and kissed his forehead and pet his hair, a tear falling onto his hair.

“Goodbye, Scott.”

Ain stopped and stared at him for a few more moments before turning and heading towards the door, unaware that Scott’s fingers had moved in a tiny effort to request the return of her hand. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand, ignoring Harry’s calls and the other people who looked at her.

Keep it together… You have to smile for your friends.

She turned the corner to head back to the tram and stopped short to avoiding running into someone for the second time that day. She started to go around the person, but was gripped at the shoulders. Ain looked up trying to decipher the person through her cloudy, tear-filled vision. They pulled Ain to their chest and hugged her tight.

Woods and morning dew…

“It will be alright.” The voice was calm and reassuring. She almost wanted to believe him. “It is not a crime to let out your emotions, Ain.”

Jaal…

Ain gripped onto the Rofjinn draping over his back with such ferocity, her knuckles were splotched red and white. She buried her face in his chest and cried, thankfully away from prying eyes. If he let go, Ain was worried that she would crumble into the many pieces of where she was broken. He didn’t though. Jaal kept his grip on her, almost like he could sense what would happen if he let go. He didn’t judge her or make any smart comments, and Ain was almost certain she could feel his body’s rhythm disrupted like he was trying to hold in tears of his own.

I’ll have to say goodbye to you too… Won’t I?