Sara Ryder has done impossible things, and she has become a hero to the entire Heleus Cluster.
She was reluctant to take on the role of Pathfinder, had wished it could have gone to anyone but her, but she embraced it quickly enough because she had no other choice.
And she could never have done any of this without the Tempest’s amazing crew, and Liam most of all.
It’s her first time back on the Tempest since taking Meridian, and SAM says he has something to show her. She stands at the galaxy map as they begin their ascent and the comm channels open—she is welcomed by the cheering across every outpost ringing in her ears, and the news that after a unanimous vote, Habitat 7 is henceforth known as Ryder-1. Hearing the happy cries of everyone from Prodromos, Taerve Uni, Ditaeon, and New Tuchanka is beautiful, all this joy and celebration and what this has meant to the citizens of Heleus new and old is breathtaking, but that is not what causes the strange feeling in her chest.
This feels more like losing her SAM connection on Khi Tasira. She has only been standing still for a few minutes here since liftoff but she is becoming increasingly aware of how her heart rate has been rising this whole time, and it suddenly beating so hard it feels as though it is trying to escape from her body.
“Sara?” Suvi notices when she tenses, when she leans into the tangible elements supporting the map and grips tight. From behind her, Liam rushes over. She is shaking now, and no one knows what’s happening or what to do.
“I can’t breathe,” Sara admits in a harsh whisper, the first symptom she feels needs saying. And it’s true, she can’t, her desperate attempt to force herself against her body’s apparent unwillingness to do it itself as it’s meant to, every inhale and exhale she takes a product of immense mental effort, which is only making her heart beat faster and more painfully.
“Lexi,” Suvi calls over the comms. “We need you on the bridge. Now.”
“Heart rate has increased to 145 beats per minute,” SAM announces. “Dr. T’Perro would be advised to assist.”
Her vision tunnels and she drops to the floor, still conscious but fighting to remain that way with everything she has. Everything is spinning and she can’t concentrate on anything but how her chest burns, on how much of a struggle it is to take in even the most shallow of breaths. She feels as though the temperature inside the ship has increased tenfold, and her stomach turns.
Liam kneels beside her, and all he can do is gently take her hand. She squeezes his in return as though her life depends on it, terrified of what’s happening to her when this time she has no idea why.
And he won’t show his own fear, does all he can to keep his cool. He has already had to watch her die three goddamn times, and he’ll be damned if he has to lose her for good. He is scared, he is so fucking scared, but he stays calm. He has to do that for her.
“Heart rate decreasing,” SAM notes. “140 beats per minute and falling.”
That is still much too fast, but at least it’s an improvement.
But at least she’d managed to make it to the floor while it was still within her own power. She’s certain she was about to end up there either way, and she likely only had a few more seconds before it was out of her control.
She is conscious, but she still feels as though this could change at any moment. She doesn’t know what’s happening to her, but she can hardly focus on how scared she is with how greatly her body has taken her over without giving her a say in it.
Liam is grounding and she tries to use his hand as a stim, putting all of the focus she barely has onto how his skin feels along hers—underside calloused and rough, top smooth and soft—and moving her fingers as well as she can, holding onto him.
When Lexi reaches them, Liam can’t understand the look on her face. Like she knows something they don’t, yet intrigued at the same time.
She has Sara get up slowly—very slowly—and asks Liam to stay close heading to the med bay, to be ready to keep her from falling should the need arise.
Sara doesn’t say a word, only screws her eyes shut to block out having to watch the ship’s interior swimming all around her, even if it doesn’t alleviate the sensation. She doesn’t feel any better but she makes it without dropping, and Liam at least will count that as a win.
Pulse and breathing have stabilized since she’s been lying down. The mass effect fields and inertia dampeners allow her not to feel as though the ship is aweigh, not to notice the acceleration and continued ascent. She will likely have to start to account for how drastically the initial takeoff could affect her, it seems, but that moment has always passed quickly before. She can hope the same can be said for now.
“Okay, Sara, I am going to remove your shoes, and then I need you to stand for me,” Lexi informs her after another scan of her vitals. “And I need you to stay standing as still as you can, for as long as you can.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sara snaps. She doesn’t want to move. She doesn’t ever want to get up again.
“I’m here, Sara,” Liam assures her. “I got you.”
“Alright…I can do this, okay…”
Lexi only needs her up for ten minutes if she can make it that long, but she understands how that could sound like an eternity were she to vocalize a timeframe, and she is aiming to be as gentle as possible.
She has a theory, though, and the way Liam has been glaring at her indicates he suspects as much. He would prefer for her to simply tell them and get it the hell over with, but she would prefer to be certain.
It’s lucky, though, her thesis on physiology across species was so thorough. Otherwise she may have no clue at all about an old human disease which was rare to start with and for which a new case hadn’t been seen in years even back in the Milky Way.
Sara slowly brings herself to her feet once they’ve been bared, and Lexi and her omni-tool are monitoring her carefully from the moment she lifts her head.
It isn’t as sudden and consuming as before, but she feels it. Once more, she feels it.
“Breathe, Sara,” Lexi says softly.
“I’m trying,” she whimpers, working so hard to control it, unsure how to manage every breath she takes being a conscious choice, her system once again seemingly unable to do this for her on its own like it’s supposed to.
“Pulse is rising,” SAM adds as though Lexi isn’t keeping track. “Up by 15 beats per minute and increasing.”
“How do you feel?” Lexi asks, and she resists the urge to shake her head.
“Dizzy,” Sara answers quietly. “Sick. Pounding. Can’t breathe. It hurts, my chest, it…”
“Heart rate now up by 20 beats per minute.”
“I know, SAM!” Lexi’s tone changes when she addresses Sara again, “You’re doing well. Just a little longer.”
“Um, is she supposed to be shaking like that?” Liam is staying calm, but he doesn’t know how much longer she can stay upright in this condition.
“Actually…yes,” Lexi admits. “If I’m right, then… Liam, what color are her feet?”
“Red. Real red. Getting kind of purpleish?”
“Hmm, as I expected…” Lexi is staring intently at her omni-tool, eyes lighting up at every line of data. “Blood pressure is low, although not by much, no danger there, but pulse is up by almost 40, to 135 beats…”
That means her resting heart rate has gotten higher, too, unless this is simply because of how shortly before Lexi’s experiment she’d experienced this same episode unplanned.
“Sara, how are you seeing?”
“Not great. Blurry. Black spots. Closing in. Can I…Lexi, please…”
“Alright, Sara, that should be everything I need.”
She hits the bed hard sitting back down, instantly looking down and holding her head in her trembling hands.
Liam walks over and rubs her back, moving so delicately. He has watched her die with his own eyes three fucking times and he will not do it again.
“So, what is it?” he asks shortly, trying so hard not to burst. “You’ve got an idea, haven’t you?”
“Sara…are you familiar with the functions of the autonomic nervous system?”
“Yeah.” She is yet catching her breath, and she decides she needs to lie down again, relieved Lexi doesn’t stop her.
She closes her eyes, it’s so hard to think. It takes her a bit more time to clear her head enough to make the words come, but eventually they do. She loves biology, after all, so it’s no surprise she is knowledgeable on this subject. It only takes her a bit to be able to articulate it.
“Autonomic nervous system. Yeah, of course I know that, it’s…it’s pretty much the human body’s control board. Mostly regulates shit you don’t think about so you don’t have to think about it: organs, pupil dilation, digestion, blood flow, heart rate, breathing…oh.”
“So you understand what dysautonomia means, don’t you?”
Dysautonomia, that is easy enough to figure out. She may even have heard the term somewhere before, although she isn’t certain. As much as biology fascinates her, after all, she never did have the time to study it as closely as she’d have liked.
“A dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, I presume.”
Sara sighs in frustration, but Liam sighs in relief. This sounds like the bad part, and at no point has Lexi indicated this issue is fatal. So whatever it is, they can work through it. Whatever it is, they can make do. As long as he doesn’t have to endure another death…
“Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, to be specific,” Lexi rattles off. “And yes, that’s precisely what it is. What you’re experiencing—or, more concisely, POTS—is a form of dysautonomia that causes orthostatic intolerance of varying degrees, which most noticeably affects regulation of blood flow. Long story short, when you stand your blood doesn’t want to compensate for the change in position and pools in your lower extremities. Your heart starts beating faster to get blood flowing to your brain, and the rest dominoes from there.”
“Well, that’s shit,” Liam slips. “What can we do?”
“I’m upping your fluid requirements, for one,” Lexi tells Sara. “We’re also going to need to find a way to add more sodium to your diet. A lot more. And I’ll have a chat with Harry about gathering resources for medication. I don’t believe we have anything we can use for this in Andromeda.”
“Didn’t expect to need to, huh?” Sara laughs dryly.
“Seems you were just born to stand out, weren’t you?” Lexi laughs in earnest, but Sara is only annoyed.
“If I could fucking not for once, that’d be great.”
“I can imagine, but…” Lexi glances towards Liam, who does not appear any less relieved than he did moments ago. Sara is agitated and sullen, but Liam is completely at peace. “This can be managed, Sara. You’re not dying and you might not have to change your lifestyle too drastically once we have it all figured out.”
She loves running, loves the stimulation and the distraction. She’s become known for zooming around the lower deck in her headphones and Blasto pajamas, to the point the rest of the crew has almost stopped noticing when she does it.
They’d notice if she didn’t, though. And she isn’t sure how she can cope without it if she needs to. And Lexi can say whatever she wants right now, but if Sara can’t even stand up without nearly passing out, she has no idea how in the fuck she could possibly maintain her current way of living.
“Where the hell did this come from?” she shouts. “What the fuck happened to me? I didn’t have this before…”
SAM told Scott he had taken too much from her when he was running to reset her connection. SAM had warned Scott that Sara was dying because he had interfered too greatly too often.
And now, this.
“SAM, you can fix this, right?” she begs as the realization hits her. “Can’t you just regulate my nervous system for me?”
“Over my dead body,” Lexi cuts in. “It’s SAM who got you into this mess. Unintentionally, I know, but let’s not tempt fate, please.”
“I’m afraid Dr. T’Perro is correct,” SAM agrees. “This is my doing, and further intervention outside of immediately life-threatening scenarios is not recommended.”
“Fuck,” she whispers. She doesn’t want to be here anymore. She doesn’t want to stand up again, but she needs to get out of here.
“I’m going to my room,” she announces as she begins to prop herself back up. “I need to…I need to rest. In my own space.”
“I’m not leaving you alone,” Liam says hastily.
“Not you, I…I need you.”
She wonders if he’ll be able to handle this in the long term. She knows he loves her, knows his patience and perseverance and his unyielding dedication, but she isn’t sure anyone would be able to handle this in the long term.
Med bay is only a few meters from her quarters, and Liam holds her hand the whole way. She walks at a snail’s pace and she hasn’t stopped shaking, but they know what to call this and they’ve already come up with ways to help with it, and that’s enough for him.
They don’t even change clothes, simply crash into bed as soon as they reach it. He holds her the whole night, and retrieves her shoes before she wakes in the morning.
It’s been easier since she’s been sent back to the Hyperion. Handling the Tempest’s initial departure each time they took off was proving to be too hard on her, so she’s been ordered to stay on the ground for the time being.
It hasn’t taken away her symptoms, but it has eased them somewhat for the most part. And Liam was more than willing to stay there with her.
It’s lovely to see Meridian thriving, too, to be able to look outside and be greeted by a world the entire Initiative had all once started to believe impossible.
“Glad to see I’m not Harry’s biggest pain in the ass anymore,” Scott teases.
She tries to laugh. She really does.
“Guess this is payback for you scaring the shit out of me all that time, huh?” she is able to joke, but her voice is monotone and just sounds so tired.
“Need more water?” her brother asks seriously, and she nods. She has to let him help her. She can’t push him away.
“Thank you.” She passes him her empty one-liter bottle, of which she is supposed to be consuming two and a half at bare minimum every single day.
SAM monitors her heart rate and alerts her when she’s reaching tachycardic levels, but that is his only job in this. He sends daily updates to Lexi and Harry, as well, but otherwise he doesn’t affect her in any capacity. He observes but does not act. His involvement in her physical capabilities is now solely passive, no longer active.
Scott returns with her water bottle filled to the brim, and she has to ask.
“So, umm, you’re okay, though? The Archon fucking around with your SAM hasn’t…”
“I wasn’t the one fighting and pushing my limits after fucking dying, Sara. That was awful, sure, and recovery was painful, but…my heart didn’t stop and I haven’t died even once, much less…”
He’s heard all about what happened while he was comatose. He’s heard how taking the role of Pathfinder after Habitat 7 killed her, heard about how she died infiltrating the Archon’s base, and he knows about how she died yet again when the Archon severed her SAM connection in the Remnant City. He didn’t know while they were fighting for Meridian just how hard she was testing her own body, how fragile her heart was after how many times it had already stopped, how pushing through as she did was gradually frying her nervous system and causing irreversible damage.
“I can’t lose you, too, Sara.”
“You didn’t. I’m here, Scott. Still kicking. Just gotta do it a lot more carefully.”
“Hey, if it isn’t my future brother-in-law!” Scott exclaims when Liam pulls up a chair beside Sara.
“Just got off the comm with Vetra,” Liam tells her. “Sid’ll see what she can do.”
“Fantastic,” Sara smiles, her first genuine smile in what feels like forever.
“Sid smuggled in the genome for cats,” she explains to Scott. “I told Liam I want one.”
“You get the first cat in Andromeda, huh?” Scott chuckles. “Sounds like you’ve earned it.”
It’ll be an improvement upon having the first case of a rare disease that’s probably been eradicated back home, she thinks. She decides not to say that out loud, though.
Of course, that’s also suggesting there even is a Milky Way anymore. It still bothers her she’ll never know, but she supposes this may be for the best.
And a cat is normal. The idea of getting to live with her fiancé and their cat is a nice goal, an average person’s goal.
Something to aspire to, not as a newly disabled person or as Pathfinder. Perhaps for a while she can simply be Sara.
Hell, maybe her new illness might even help. Maybe that will be her silver lining.
She has no idea what will happen if the humans are again in need of an active Pathfinder, whether or not she will able to resume the role, how to deal with it if she can’t. But that’s a problem for another day.
Sitting is typically fine as long as she’s groundside. She hasn’t been back to the Tempest yet, and she’s got some cabin fever brewing, but she keeps telling herself she’ll get used to it. She wouldn’t have expected to miss all the running around. She should be taking better advantage of the opportunity to relax.
Standing is a little easier if she moves around, too. Lexi said it helps encourage blood flow. It is still highly unpleasant, but it makes a difference. It was almost comical when, before she came to stay on the Hyperion, she visited Kesh and her clutch on the Nexus and Drack had to explain why Sara was so awkwardly shifting around and how this was in no way to take away from Kesh’s incredible news.
And she’s noticed some days she has virtually no symptoms at all, but other days she starts flaring as soon as she gets out of bed.
Showering, too, has grown into a most unexpected challenge.
“Between you and your brother, it’s a miracle I ever get to sleep,” Harry jokes with her after a particularly eventful experience, wherein she was unable to adjust the water temperature or sit down in time to keep herself from passing out. She fought it hard, but Harry was quick to inform her when he saw to her immediately after that such an approach is typically futile, and the best she can do is sit her ass down the second she feels it coming.
“You need to be careful with heat,” he informs her. “That’s a common trigger for a POTS flare.”
“Yeah, I think I got that.”
She definitely won’t be visiting Elaaden again any time soon, she knows that. Even whenever she does decide she’s ready to brave going back offworld, Elaaden is out of the question.
She may want to be careful with Eos, too. It was never as scorching as Elaaden, and conditions have improved on both planets, but she would rather be safe than sorry.
And she knows both Harry and Lexi will lecture her endlessly if she doesn’t take that extra level of consideration to be gentle with herself. Liam and Scott would probably join them, too.
After Liam first asked her to marry him, she had immediately imagined Eos as their destination. Maybe around Prodromos, or maybe that patch of dirt upon which they landed when they had their romantic jump together. The latter would be truly fucking adorable.
Meridian is just as well, though. Meridian is special, too.
It’s a small sacrifice. It’s manageable.
“Any word on Mom?” she asks after a brief silence, shifting to her greater priority.
“No breakthroughs yet, but we’re all working on it.”
They’ve got a whole team doing everything in their power during their free time, working around the clock to allow Ellen Ryder to come safely back into their lives. Harry and Lexi are part of the project, of course, as well as Suvi, Dr. Aridana and her team, and Dr. Nakamoto—their best medical doctors and their best scientists working together and brainstorming all they can. They say they’re making progress, and that is hope.
“I have yet to meet a Ryder who isn’t a world of trouble,” Harry jokes again, and Sara is able to laugh this time.
“And I wouldn’t hold my breath on that changing any time soon.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not.”
“Hey sister, have I got a surprise for you!” Peebee exuberantly announces when Sara lets her in, and close behind is the reprogrammed Remnant which had previously followed them into battle on more than one occasion. “It’s Poc! New and improved and better than ever!”
“Okay, Peebee, what’ve you got for me?”
“First off, I’ve disabled her weapons systems,” Peebee explains. “Say the word and I can bring ‘em right back online, no problem, but for now I’ve given her a more, hmm, delicate touch.”
“I set her up with commands to detect when your heart rate goes up or when you’re getting short of breath,” Peebee continues. “And she can even catch if you’re feeling shaky or…whatever else you might need her for!”
“SAM already does all that,” Sara notes. She doesn’t mean to sound unappreciative, but she is absolutely exhausted despite it being a relatively low symptom day.
Peebee’s excitement, however, does not waver. “Sure, but can SAM do this?”
Peebee offers a demonstration of dramatically throwing herself backwards, and Poc moves fast to catch her before she falls.
Poc squeaks happily—or at least they come across as happy sounds—and Sara musters all the energy she can to express her gratitude.
“That is amazing, Peebee. Thank you.”
“She can also pick things up for you, bring you anything you might need, clean up…”
For as much as she hated being given the role of Pathfinder, and for all the hell they went through to get this far, she has always been so thankful for working with such a wonderful crew, and this is no exception.
She doesn’t miss the kind of adventuring being Pathfinder entails, after all. She never cared for it before, so it only makes sense she’d turn out to be glad it’s over with. She was never a fighter, never wanted to be. She had only joined the Alliance to be part of their science teams, and she had only joined the Initiative because Alec’s discharge made her a pariah in her field. She’s finding herself feeling more and more at home here, and she is growing content.
She thought she missed it initially, sure, but now it would seem that was simply bitterness over having the choice to slow down taken out of her hands. Now she realizes this is what she wants.
Or so she has to tell herself daily, to remind herself losing the fight is worth the cost of losing the exploration. Now that she misses dearly, and she longs for the day she can return to it, should that day ever come, no matter what the scale. Even living on Meridian, she has seen only the tiniest fraction of this world beyond the Hyperion, beyond what she fought her way through to claim it and consequently bring her to where she is.
She has to remind herself daily, as well, that sitting at home all day doesn’t make her lazy or useless. She has to remind herself daily that those ideas are constructs, anyway, and they historically stem from ableism.
She wants to explore, though, wants to take it all in. There is yet so much to see and so much to learn, and she hates not being a part of that aspect. But if she doesn’t take care of herself, it won’t matter. She needs to take care of herself if she has any chance of getting back to it.
She may eventually be called back for duty, too, only time will tell. She may even be able to report if that day comes. But for now…
It’s a fine, fine line between fatalism and realism, she’s found, only a razor thin wire between a depressive spiral versus logically managing her expectations, when she is also afraid of being too optimistic and potentially later breaking her own heart believing in a future she can’t have. But like Lexi said, she isn’t dying and she is being treated. It’ll never be the same, but her life isn’t over.
Monitoring fluid and sodium intake consumes everything anymore, but she’s getting used to it. Everyone else she sees regularly on Meridian are getting used to seeing her walk around with her service Remnant.
Some days are better than others, and some are drastically worse. But it isn’t as though everything they’ve been through didn’t mean life getting flipped around somehow wasn’t an inevitability.
She is always lightheaded now, and she always has a headache, but she is learning to accept that it’s a good day if that’s all she’s enduring.
It isn’t easy and it isn’t fun, but it is what it is and there is nothing she can do to change it. She’s been encouraged to mourn the change in her capabilities and limitations, told this is healthy and there’s nothing wrong with needing time to process. There’s nothing wrong with struggling, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
That last part might be the hardest, having been conditioned by Alec in her youth to always be “strong” and “capable” and “independent,” but she’s working on it.
This is okay. This is manageable.
“Don’t you miss the Tempest and all those crazy missions?” she asks Liam over dinner. “Shit, from crisis response to babysitter…”
“I’m not your goddamn babysitter,” he corrects her without missing a beat. “I want to spend every waking minute with you, Sara, whatever circumstances we’re in. And come on, living with you is working crisis response, isn’t it?”
He’s kidding, and that’s alright. They can laugh about this. She is learning to laugh about it.
“Yeah, but you love it.”
“Oh yes, I do.”
They stare at each other, and he stands up and stretches over the table to kiss her. “You know, Mum and Dad would have loved you.”
“Mom would love you, too,” she sighs.
“She will. Someday. It’ll come.”
He speaks with such certainty, like he truly believes it, and she has to believe in it, too.
She believes in him, and that means she can.
“By the way,” he follows, “I talked to Captain Dunn, she cleared you for bringing a kitten onto the Hyperion. Pathfinder privilege.”
She grins and he is so glad to see it.
All in all, not that much has changed. She’s coping, and she has an incredible support system to help. And this whole big viable cluster isn’t going anywhere. It’ll be waiting for her, for them. So she can take all the time she needs.
It’ll be waiting. There’s no need to rush.