Sandy Ryder sighed yet again. The ever-shifting tides of the Scourge had claimed yet another Nexus pilot, and the duty of reclamation had fallen to her as the Pathfinder.A look of something--shame, perhaps--flickered across Ryder's face before she slammed the datapad into her control panel with a strained groan.
Suvi, who had watched this from her station, opened her mouth as if to say something, but the tall form of the human warrior silenced her with a slight wave of her dark hand. With a virtually imperceptible sigh, the Scot returned to work. The geological data being retrieved from their new outpost on Eos (Pro… dome…us? She hadn’t really been listening to the new mayor of the small settlement) was beginning to trickle through to the science teams aboard the Nexus and in turn to Suvi.
Before she could even open the latest file, her thoughts were derailed as a sharp sob echoed through the bridge of the Tempest. At first, she looked over to where their new asari friend was staying (PJ? P… V? She made a mental note to check the records), perhaps expecting to see the small blue form of the strange academic peeking out from her makeshift home. But no, the door was shut.
Before she had time to reach the logical conclusion herself, another sob drew her attention to Ryder, standing hunched over at the helm.
No response. Suvi felt a knot in her throat as she tried again.
This time, the bleary eyes of the Pathfinder met hers as a third sob shuddered out of Ryder’s wiry form. Before, the concerned scientist could even say anything however, the other woman’s eyes widened, tears streaking down her face.
“Are you alright Pathfinder?” She asked, her worry spilling over into her words.
“Y-Yeah, I’m fine,” Ryder spluttered, seemingly taken aback by the obvious question, “yeah, of course I’m fine. I’m always fine, Dr Anwar! In fact, ‘fine’ is my middle name. Well, along with ‘danger’, but who’s counting, am I right?”
Before Suvi could even express her doubt, the taller woman dashed out of the room, swerving round Kallo, who had just returned from his break. Below her, she could feel the door to the Pathfinder’s quarters shutting and locking, just as Kallo started to question the Scot about what had happened. Suvi wasn’t really listening to the Salarian’s interrogation though, she had bigger issues on her mind.
Four hours passed, and Suvi was getting anxious. Ryder hadn’t left her room since the scientist had caught her crying. Occasionally, the clink of glass or the sliding of doors would pique her interest, though both sounds would be the result of another of their crewmates, rather than the captain of their ship.
“Yes Doctor Anwar?” The monotone voice of the AI emanated from her omni-tool, catching Suvi by surprise; she had expected the sound to come over the speakers.
“How’s the Pathfinder doing? She seemed… upset?”
“I apologize Doctor, but the Pathfinder has asked me to place a block on that information”
“Unknown, though I can query Ryder when she lets me back.” Once again, she was taken by surprise by the AI.
“Let’s you back? SAM what’s going on?”
“For periods between 4-5 hours every day-night cycle, Ryder has asked that I stop monitoring her.”
“Why would she do that?”
“Unknown, although Ryder did mention something about ‘unwinding’ and ‘letting off steam’”
“What does that mean?” Suvi was beginning to feel like a broken record, asking the same questions over and over again in the hope of answers.
“Unknown,” Anwar bit back a yell of frustration, “though I can offer my own theories?”
“Sure”, she sighed, “What do you think is going on?”
“I am sorry Dr Anwar, but the Pathfinder has been listening to our conversation. She has requested that this line of inquiry be terminated”
“What?! H-how… why…Sandy!”
“I apologize once again Doctor, but the Pathfinder’s word is my prerogative. I hope you understand.”
With a grunt of dismissal, Suvi closed the comm channel. She glanced over to Kallo, who momentarily met her eye before becoming very interested in the Tempest’s diagnostics.
A week passed, and Suvi had seen little of Ryder; she only ever gave Kallo orders via the comms, and had her daily meals brought directly to her room by Drack. By now, even the usually unflappable Cora was getting concerned, pacing up and down the length of the ship like a cat, occasionally stopping to knock on the cold door to the Pathfinder’s room- always to no response. Liam had been especially worried, sitting for hours at a time at the door to the Pathfinder's quarters.
Suvi took a sip of her tea, staring out over the rocky surface of Eos. Radiation had dropped to almost zero since Ryder, Vetra and Cora had turned on that strange Remnant Vault, and the sky had already returned to a brilliant blue that reminded the scientist of Earth.
A wince of regret flashed across her face, just for a moment. Earth was over two million light years away, and by God, did she feel that distance!! Her family, friends and home were long gone, and here she was, in a crazy situation with crazy people. Her father would be laughing himself into tears at the thought of his daughter right n-
Before she could finish that thought, her comm crackled to life. “...est! Tempest! Do you copy? Spirits, I’m going t-” The metallic voice of Vetra filled the bridge, an air of panic filling her speech as the sounds of gunfire echo in the background.
“Ground Team, we copy!” Suvi answered, the infectious panic of the turian filling her words too as the gunfire seemed to reach a crescendo, “What’s the situation?”
There was a moment of quiet as the turian briefly talked to a teammate, probably confirming that all hostiles were down. The tension was palpable as Kallo marched over to her work station to listen in to the conversation.
“Pathfinder is down! I repeat, Pathfinder is down! She... I- Cora! Sitrep?”
“Kett ambush at a Remnant site. Ryder took a few shots from one of the bigger ones. She’s stable, but in a critical condition, so we’re going to need an evac ASAP. Sending the navpoint.” The voice of the commando was strained and on edge, much like Vetra’s was.
“Shit, we’re on our way!” Suvi wheeled round to stare at the salarian, who appeared to be in shock.
The scientist’s strong tone kicked the pilot into action, and in no time at all, the powerful ODSY drive of the Tempest lifted the sleek craft into the sky and towards the fallen Pathfinder. Suvi’s heart was beating out of her chest as she stared out over the dusty landscape, looking desperately for the sight of the battle.
“LZ found, preparing to land,” Kallo’s voice somehow remained as calm as ever, “Lexi is on standby in the medb- oh.” The abrupt stop caught Suvi’s attention, and she followed his gaze to a Remnant site by the lake. There, the smoking corpses of dozens of kett lay around the strange architecture, small fires acting as both landing lights and hazards for the incoming ship. She could just about make out two figures clustered around a corp- Ryder. Suvi inwardly reprimanded herself; Ryder’s not dead, she can’t be dead yet.
The hulking krogan carried Ryder into the medbay, laying her down uncharacteristically gently as both Lexi and Suvi began to strip the battered captain down. The standard issue Spearpoint armour was bent and warped in multiple places, and- most worryingly- had splintered into her chest in 2 places. The tighter armour that Ryder wore was more of an issue, as it had become sticky and slick with blood and sweat, so Lexi set to work cutting it off with her omni-tool. Whilst her colleague did that, Suvi took stock of the Pathfinder’s injuries.
“Multiple entry wounds on the upper torso and arm, no exit wounds for all but one. That means the bullets are still inside of her… right?” Suvi wasn’t expressly trained as a medical doctor, but she knew enough to know that the situation was bad.
Lexi nodded gravely, “Yes, she’s lost a lot of blood. We’re going to need to get her onto life support. SAM?”
“Yes Dr T’Perro?”
“Run a scan for any organ damage, quickly!”
There was a short pause before SAM replied, “Scan completed. Rib L4 was broken by a heavy impact, and has punctured Ryder’s lung. However, that seems to be the extent of serious damage.”
In tandem, Lexi and Suvi both let out a sigh of relief at the news, “Okay,” Suvi said, “what now?”
“We still need to get this hardsuit off to operate, but it’s being unusually uncooperative. I’m going to need a knife.”
Before she had even finished her sentence, a loud clatter came from the galley, and Drack came trudging in with a large meat knife.
“That’ll do nicely, thank you Drack,” Lexi got to work immediately, barely even hearing the grunt of approval from the krogan. Only a few seconds later, the hardsuit had come off, and the prone form of Ryder lay exposed on the table.
“Finally, we can g- oh Goddess.” Lexi gasped, the usually professional doctor’s hand flying to her mouth as she and Suvi saw their captain’s body.
Ryder was wiry and thin, her umber skin paling under the bright lights of the medbay. Old knife wounds and burn scars formed a web across her entire body; 600 year old wounds stil vivid. A single, gnarled scar ran across her abdomen like a snake, coiling and curling around a spreading patchwork of blues and purples as her internal haemorraghing showed itself as a multitude of bruises. Bloodstains covered her from the chest upwards, and her hands were slick with blood and soot. Her face was gaunt and deathly, dark rings covering her eyes as another old scar wormed it’s way across her cheek. She looked truly awful, but what drew the attention of the doctors were the Pathfinder’s arms. A criss-crossing network of scars, big and small, covered both her arms, and a few seemed to be fresh. In some places, her skin had been burned, in others it had been scratched and torn to near non-functionality.
After a few minutes of silence, Suvi was the first to tentatively speak, “I… uh… Lexi, did you know about… any of this?”
“No,” came the simple reply, "her file is almsot completely empty, I never…” Her voice hitched in her throat as her professional facade started to crumble.
“We… uh… I need to operate on her lung, we can… deal with this afterwards, if we can.”
Suvi nodded solemnly and left the blinding lights of the medbay behind, stepping into the hallway, only to be greeted by the rest of the crew.
“Is the Pathfinder alright?”
“She looked hurt, is she hurt?
“The kid’s stronger than you think, she’ll be fine.”
“She’s not a krogan! She’s a human, they’re fragile.”
“Are we fragile? Oh shit, we are, aren’t we?”
“Stay calm Liam, breathe.”
“Please Suvi, is she okay?” Hearing her name, Suvi zeroed in on the young asari who had barged to the front of the rabble, a look of concern plastered on her face. Quiet fell over the group, each and every one looking to Suvi for an answer.
“She… uh… she’s stable, just a punctured lung,” she lied, hoping the others wouldn’t call her out on it.
“Really, is that it? That’s nothing!”
“Again Drack, she’s a human, they only have two lungs.”
“Wait, how many do krogans have?”
“Shit, we really are weak...”
“Not you too Gil! Breathe for the Goddess’ sake!”
“Everything’s under control everyone, you can all go!” Suvi hated lying, but she knew it was the only way to get everyone away from the medbay. One by one, they all dispersed, leaving only the scientist alone in the corridor. Once the final echoes of her team’s footsteps had died out, Suvi let out a sigh.
“Yes, Doctor Anwar?”
“How’s the operation going?”
“Very well Doctor. Doctor T’Perro has been able to extract all the bullets from Ryder’s body, and has patched up her lung.”
With another sigh of relief, Suvi thanked God for watching over the Pathfinder, but her thoughts were quickly brought back to what she had seen on Ryder’s arms.
“SAM, the Pathf- Ryd- Sandy’s arms…”
“What about them?” The AI interrupted, and for a moment Suvi thought she had heard a twinge of concern in SAM’s voice.
“They… I saw…,” Suvi steeled herself and tried again, “when Ryder is alone from you, do you have any way of knowing what she’s doing?”
“No, Ryder asked for privacy during those times.”
“Is there anything else she has blocked you from doing or monitoring.” There was a long pause as SAM chewed over the question.
“Pathfinder Ryder asked me to cease active hormone, soft tissue and blood level monitoring within 2 hours of her awakening at SAM node. Furthermore, she also asked for the termination of sleep monitoring exactly seven days ago.”
“Shit. SAM, run a full body scan on Ryder right now.”
“That would violate several of the blocks that Ryder put on my capabilities.”
“SAM, this is urgent. Please?”
Yet another long pause, before finally a familiar monotone rang out, “Scanning. Scan complete. Severe tissue trauma on Ryder’s forearms. This was unknown to me prior to this scan.”
“You know what it means though, right?” ventured the scientist.
“Yes Doctor Anwar. It is concurrent with telltale signs of severe dep-”
“Shush! We can’t let the others hear, this is private.”
“Apologies Doctor Anwar.”
“Suvi, could you come down to the medbay please?” Lexi’s message came late in the Tempest’s night cycle, so late in fact that even Kallo had turned in for sleep. But not Suvi. All she could do was worry and fret over the Pathfinder, and this new message didn’t help.
It’s not that Suvi had never encountered self-harm before; some of her friends back in the Milky Way had the telltale scars running down their arms. But to think that the Pathfinder- the one who everyone relied on to find a home for the Initiative- was in such dire straits…
The sound of the medbay doors opening snapped her back to reality, as she looked over to see Ryder and Lexi engaged in discussion about her bullet wounds. It was clear that Ryder wasn’t even aware they had seen her arms, as they were hidden once again under a standard issue Initiative pullover, though judging by the way the asari had fallen silent when Suvi walked in this was about to change.
Ryder was better, though her eyes were still hooded under the oppressive dark rings that had covered her face just hours before. She gave a weak, but sincere smile upon seeing the ginger walk in, and (in typical Ryder-fashion) let out a slight chuckle.
“Doctor Anwar, you’re looking ravishing today,” Ryder managed a pained wink as she started to sit up slightly, though the grunts of pain and grimacing told Suvi everything she needed to know; Ryder was still badly injured. Composing herself, the Pathfinder continued, “SAM’s been telling me you’ve been very worried?”
“Of course I have! You were shot seven-”
“Eight” interrupted Lexi.
“Eight times! How could anyone not have been even slightly concerned?”
Again, Ryder let a wry smile creep across her face, “Good to know at least one of my doctors can count. Well done T’Perro!” Suvi couldn’t help but laugh as Ryder gave a mocking applause to the two women who had saved her life, though the levity was short-lived as Lexi spoke up.
“Pathfi- Sandy, whilst we were stripping you down for your operation…”
“We saw your arms.” Suvi finished, the apprehension of the Pathfinder’s response killing her. She had decided not to bring up everything else; one thing at a time.
The smirk that had folded itself over Ryder’s face evaporated as if it had never been there, and in it’s place a mournful look began to unfurl.
Lexi sat down on the edge of the prone human’s bed, and Suvi followed suit. “How long?” asked the asari, a face of concern spreading across her countenance. In response, Ryder gave a dismissive shrug and looked away, trying desperately to hide from the intense glare of the doctor.
Suvi chimed in, “Sandy, we know what they are. Please, we want to help you.”
“How?” The suddenness and forcefulness of the Pathfinder’s response caught her off guard. She made eye contact with Sandy, seeing a deep pit of emotions swirling in the woman’s dark eyes. Ryder broke off the stare, and continued, “Look, I-I’m fine Doctor, trust me.”
“How can you be fine if you’re doing this to yourself?!”
“I’m fine…” It was clear that Ryder’s voice was cracking under the pressure, like something might just snap at any moment.
“Stop lying to yourself, Sandy, please let us help…”
“I…,” Sandy began to shake as sobs shook her frail body like a small doll, “It’s just…”
Lexi quickly got up to leave the room, saying something about helping someone make ice, but Suvi wasn’t really listening; Ryder had her undivided attention.
“I… I’m so…. cold,” the Pathfinder’s voice had faded to little more than a whisper now, as more sobs wracked her body like an earthquake, “please…”
Letting her motherly instincts take over, Suvi brought the cold form of the other woman into her arms, comforting her quietly as they rocked gently from side to side.
“Th-Thanks, Suvi…” Sandy’s voice was almost inaudible now, but the doctor still heard. She was taken aback by the use of her first name- a rarity from Ryder- and let out a barely audible sigh.
“Sandy, please… tell me why you did this…”
There was a brief pause as both women waited for the other to say something, but there was only silence. Finally, after what seemed like an age, Sandy let out a sigh.
"I--I don't know. Everyone I've ever loved is dead, or in a coma, and no matter how many times I tell myself it's not my fault, I can't help but feel guilty when I think about them."
"Ryder," Suvi began, her voice gentle, "you're sick."
Ryder attempted a laugh, but it sounded hollow. "You think I don't know that? I've been hurting for so long I don't even know what to feel any more!" she held up her arm. "Look at me! I can't even work up the guts to kill myself properly! And those blasted Ketts couldn't finish the job, either!"
Suvi was speechless, tears prickling her eyes as she tried to find the words to comfort her Pathfinder. But no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't do it. Perhaps sensing the scientist's conflict, Sandy let out a mournful sigh, wriggling free from Suvi's embrace, "Look, forget I said anything Doctor. Just... leave me alone."
"I said leave me alone!" Her voice was strained, her dry throat cracking and tearing from the force of her words, "better you all just leave me to die down here, everyone would be so much happier!"
"I wouldn't! You're our Pathfinder, our only hope at making Heleus livable, and you would just throw that all away? Let us- let me help you Sandy!"
The Pathfinder ran her gaze up and down Suvi, taking her in as tears stained her eyes red, "I... you don't understand what you're asking for, Doctor," she spat that final word, long buried anger threatening to bubble to the surface with every passing word, "I am alone in this fucking galaxy!"
Suvi rose, eyes locked with her superior's as she backed out of the room, "You know that's a lie Ryder; you have me." Seeing the Pathfinder's eyes widen once again, Suvi dived out of the medbay, heart racing as she realised what she had said.
Oh God, what have I done?