“What’s up?” Ryder asked as she entered the barracks.
Kovács and Sagh had left for the showers in their boxer briefs, as usual. She shuddered remembering the day she saw Garcia striding to and from the showers without anything on. But now, she was numb to the sight, knowing better than to react. Being the baby Corporal was bad enough without having to be teased about “being innocent” as well. She was after all a grown woman and she knew her body well.
“Whatever the archaeologists found is exciting enough that the Alliance High Command is telling them to ship it over to Hephaestus. And nobody is happy about that. Rumour has it it's another one of those Prothean Beacon that holds untold knowledge and shit. So they are being super careful with it,” Tao replied. “Maybe Walker will send his people to handle the transfer.”
“We can do the job,” Kovács declared. “It’s our find, why is it going to Hephaestus?”
Sagh shook his head. “It’s the science guys’ find. Not yours. You’re just the glorified security guard.”
“As are you,” the younger man retorted.
“I never profess to be anything else.” Tao and Sagh shared a laugh.
Ryder shrugged as she stowed her stuff. It didn’t really matter, everything was being decided way above her pay grade. She looked at her Avenger critically and decided it was time for some cleaning. How did the rifle ever get so dirty despite not being fired a single time? It boggled her mind. It must be the Janus sand. It gets every fucking where.
“So who is coming to get the Prothean artifact? Someone from High Command along with a military escort I assume?”
“Yup. Walker himself is the escort so you know this is big. I can’t remember the last time he came down to poor old Janus. Ishida, wants us to get things all spick and span for him.”
Ryder hummed as she started breaking down her Avenger. “So an exciting time for us either way, I guess,” she said, “just like Kovács wanted.”
Tao groaned. “Kovács doesn’t know what he is wishing for. I just want peace and quiet. I’m so close to the end.”
This wasn’t news to her, but she was still a little sad about it. It was mentioned in the passing while chatting with Garcia and the others. Tao was the one she was closest to even though she was barely on Janus. So much had happened in the mere span of months. And Tao had been steadfast by her side since the beginning.
“You’re really not re-upping again?” she asked, examining the barrel with one eye squeezed shut.
Tao belted up his pants. “Yeah, I’m taking the bonus and getting out while I still can,” he said. “It will be good to see Ryan from time to time in the flesh you know.”
Ryder nodded, keeping her hands busy with her broken down Avenger. “Yeah, I get that. Family and all that.” She cringed inwardly when her voice came out a little bitter.
He cocked his head. “What about you? You have anyone? I’ve seen you typing away on your omni-tool sometimes. Kovács told me about how you’re typing away when he picked you up from the port.”
Ryder smirked. “He assumed I was typing a report to Ishida. Did you know he fell asleep waiting for me at the port?”
Tao laughed. “He left that bit out.”
Their laughter rang out, one deeper, the other higher. As they drifted back to companionable silence, Tao repeated, “Anyone special?”
She snorted. “I wish. Nobody special. Where would I find the time? Long distance is hard enough without the whole biotics business,” she said.
He frowned. “There are always asaris, they obviously won’t mind your biotics.”
Ryder slid pieces back into place before dry firing the rifle. The trigger clicked. “I don’t know. Asaris don’t really appeal to me. I mean they’re beautiful and all that, but I don’t swing that way.”
“So straight then?”
Ryder nodded and chuckled. “Straight. Sorry if we’re fighting over the same bunch of people.”
“I’m fine, I found mine,” Tao laughed as he slid the pistol into his holster and picking up his rifle. “I should get to the control room before Ishida kills me. See you later, baby Corporal.”
Ryder rolled her eyes. Her eyes fixed on what she was doing, but she waved in his direction as he left. As the door slid shut, she sighed and leaned against her chair. Someone special? Maybe someday.
“Maybe Walker will take Melnik and Amir off our hands too,” she mused as she went back to cleaning her rifle.
The barracks was dim. Sagh’s snores were a distant old school train rumbling. Kovács’ were softer but no less noisy. Ryder shifted in her bed and stared at the ceiling. For some reason, she just couldn’t sleep. I’m too hot, that must be it. She tossed her blanket aside and closed her eyes firmly. She waited for sleep to take her, but closing her eyes seemed only to amplify her other senses.
Sagh’s snores got louder if that was possible. There was a soft humming as the weather control unit kicked in. Ryder turned onto her side, her arms and legs tightening around her bolster. She forced her shoulders to relax. There was a telltale sharp hiss of air from Sagh’s side of the barracks.
Ryder snapped upright as she made a sound of disgust, pinching her nose with her fingers. She glared at Sagh, he was sleeping blissfully unaware of her annoyance.
Tapping her omni-tool, she winced at the orange glow flared to life. It was at least another two hours before her usual waking up time, but it was clear she wasn’t getting any more sleep. Maybe a quick biotics workout is better than trying to sleep.
Ryder made her bed as best she could in the dim light. Her feet padded across the room towards the door when her omni-tool rang out. It was loud, obnoxious and very insistent. She clamped her hand over her omni-tool but she realised it wasn’t just coming from hers, but Kovács’ and Sagh’s as well.
Ryder tapped against the interface and found a message from Ishida.
Unidentified foreign ship broke atmosphere. Shift Two report to the control room immediately.
“Damnit, Kovács,” she cursed, “couldn’t you wish for a free crate of booze?”
Ryder tapped on her omni-tool, activating the barrack’s lights. Sagh was already blearily reading his omni-tool. “Kovács!” she shouted.
He was surprisingly sleeping through the loud beeping that was going on next to his ear. Sagh looked at her, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know but it’s nothing good. Gear up and report to Ishida. I’ll get Kovács up,” she said, striding over to his bed.
Sagh moved with an urgency unseen on regular days. Ryder turned her attention to the sleeping Private. “Kovács!” she shouted again.
Still nothing. Fuck.
Ryder shook his shoulders. Kovács groaned and buried his face into the pillows. “Kovács, we’re needed! Get the fuck up!”
Her mouth gaped open as she heard Kovács’ breathing deepened. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she growled.
Her patience fraying, Ryder pulled at her core and blue flames engulfed Kovács. With a jerk of her hand, she yanked him off his bed. Kovács was hovering half a metre over empty space when he decided to open his eyes. “Ryder, what’s going on?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes and withdrew her biotics. Kovács fell onto the floor unceremoniously with a thump. “What the hell?” he groaned sitting up. “And what is that noise?”
“Private Kovács,” Ryder barked.
Kovács snapped to his feet reflexively now that he was semi-awake. “Get dressed now!”
“Yes ma’am!” he shouted automatically, his eyes wide in surprise, his limbs stiff in a salute.
“What the fuck took you so long?” Ishida yelled as soon as she stepped into the control room.
Ryder shot a look in Kovács’ direction but before she could opened her mouth to answer a voice burst through the speakers.
“Janus base, Janus base. This is CEX4783 Sinon, do you read?” It crackled and broke up in parts. “Janus base, please come in.”
Ishida surged to his feet and replied as calmly and clearly as possible. “This is Janus base, please state your emergency.”
The connection cut to ear splitting static. Ryder glanced at the weather monitor. A storm was due to hit soon. This explained the spotty comms. “What does the IFF say?” Ishida asked.
“Definitely not Alliance. It’s a registered transport ship out from the Citadel,” Garcia replied, information scrolling on his terminal. “Everything looks legit.”
“Kuso (糞),” Ishida cursed, “Can you track them?”
Tao looked up from his terminal. “Yes, it looks like they’re coming in for a crash landing. They have lost their drive-”
“Janus base, we are attempting a crash landing please do not shoot, repeat, please do not shoot. This is the Sinon, I repeat CEX4783 Sinon. We’re a civilian shuttle transport. Please-”
“Fuck,” Ryder gasped, the reality of the situation dawning upon her.
Ishida’s frown deepened. “I need an estimate on the crash site. They will need help when they come down.”
Come down, that’s one way to put it.
Ryder glanced at her team.
Kovács and Sagh only had their pistols. They will need their full gear and first aid supplies. Maybe Garcia should come along too? Ryder’s thoughts raced ahead of her. She turned to Ishida and said, “I’ll go check it out.”
Ishida shook his head. “I’ll go, you make sure Walker knows about this. Tao, Garcia, let’s go.”
Ryder nodded. She watched Ishida and the others left. As Tao passed her, she grabbed his arm. “Good luck.”
He nodded before running after the others. She sighed and sank into the chair. It was still warm from Ishida’s body heat. Sagh and Kovács found their seats and waited for their orders. “Get the Lieutenant on the comms.”
Ryder was pacing. Comms was down thanks to the storm hitting in full force. The sensors had confirmed that the Sinon had crashed within the projected area. “Janus base, come in,” Ishida’s voice crackled over the comms. “The storm is going to cut off communications. We are heading in to search for survivors.”
“Survivors? In that inferno? You got to be joking?” Garcia’s voice rang over Ishida’s words.
“Standby to receive any and all survivors,” Ishida instructed, ignoring Garcia’s comments.
It had been two hours since that transmission. She had manned the control station while she got Sagh to pull all emergency supplies out from storage. There had been no news. Ryder knew it was thanks to the storm, but the silence was eating at her.
This is a civilian shuttle transport. They can carry anywhere between 100 - 500 passengers. That’s more than we can handle. Did they have time to deploy life pods? Was it only crew left on board? We need a craft with space travel capabilities to sweep the area for life pods. Fuck.
She bit back a growl of frustration, it sucked having to be the one left behind on base. There was nothing she could do about it. The base was now her responsibility. With the new Prothean find the archaeologists had made, security was paramount. “Kovács,” she radioed. “Report.”
Sagh shifted his intent gaze and looked her. It was the third time she asked that patrol. Ryder knew there was nothing new to report, but she couldn’t help it. She needed to do something even if it was to bug Kovács during his patrol.
“Nothing to report,” Kovács replied.
“Thank you,” she muttered before tapped harder than necessary on her terminal to shut down the connection.
“You’re ok back there?” Sagh asked, “This isn’t your first rodeo right, Baby Corporal?”
Ryder huffed, the nickname wasn’t helping with her mood right now. “No it isn’t.”
But it’s the first time it’s I’m giving orders rather than carrying them out. The thought twisted her guts tighter. She rolled her shoulders, trying to force herself to relax, but she only succeeded in making herself feel worse.
Her terminal chimed. It was an alert on the weather report she had set up earlier. “There’s going to be a five minutes window coming up in seven minutes on the comms,” she said, “I need you to raise anyone on Ishida’s team.”
Sagh nodded, he turned back to his own terminal and a countdown of seven minutes was started. Ryder sighed, she had to reach the Lieutenant again. The last transmission she could barely get him on the comms before the storm cut them off.
Thank fuck, comms within the base still worked fine.
She forced herself back on her chair. Her leg had taken up tapping in lieu of pacing. Her eyes glued on Sagh’s terminal. The countdown was large enough to see from her desk. As soon as it beeped, Sagh’s fingers danced across the interface as he tried to get in contact with Ishida’s team. Ryder shook her head and concentrated on her task.
She tapped a sequence of passcodes to activate the secure comms link. “Come on, come on,” Ryder muttered under her breath, willing the computer to work faster.
There was nothing on her screen, just the Alliance logo twirling over and over again. Her ears picking up Sagh’s futile attempts to get in touch with Ishida’s team. “Ishida, come in, do you copy?” Sagh called, edges of alarm colouring his voice.
More tapping came before Sagh said, “Garcia, this is Janus base, what’s the situation on ground? Do you read me?”
Crackling came from her terminal. “Yes!” she hissed under her breath, before getting down to business. “Hephaestus base do you read? This is Corporal Ryder of Janus base. We have a civilian ship crash landing here. We request aid.”
A voice on the other end replied, “Stand by.”
Ryder’s jaw clenched. She didn’t need instructions, she needed resources. Being forced to choose between staying true to her orders or going down to the crash site to aid the victims didn’t appeal to her.
“Corporal?” This was a different voice. Ryder straightened in her seat even though the transmission was audio only. “This is Lieutenant Walker. What is the situation?”
Ryder repeated what she said before as she glanced in Sagh’s direction. She waved to get his attention. Sagh caught motion in his peripheral vision and turned to face her. He shook his head.
“Sir, we have lost contact with Sergeant Ishida’s team two hours ago,” she said.
Walker was silent on the other end of the line. Ryder glanced at the weather report. Their window for communications was closing. “Sir?” she said, unsure how to hurry her commanding officer up. “Sir, we will need help when the victims come in. Medical doctors, more boots on the ground to just help out. We do not have the manpower to do this properly.”
Walker made a grunt of impatience and Ryder snapped her mouth shut. “When is the next projected communication window?” he asked.
Ryder tapped on her terminal, the screen flickered. It took a couple of quick swipes to find it. Why the fuck does it matter? I need the manpower now. “In another 24 hours,” she replied, her hand rubbing the back of her neck.
“Check back with me in 24 hours. Ishida is a professional, his team are all trained soldiers. If this is just a downed ship, he will be able to sort this out with the people he got on Janus-”
“But sir, we are down two people,” Ryder retorted, fully wishing she could end the sentence with “remember” but she leashed the desire to do so.
“Ryder,” Walker huffed, “Do not over step your bounds. Await Ishida’s orders or mine. This isn’t the time to panic.”
“Lieutenant, this is a civilian shuttle transport, they can carry hundreds of passengers, maybe of them non-human. We do not have enough supplies for all of them. They will need medical attention, we do not have a doctor here on base. We only have a field medic. And there might be life pods waiting rescue out in our orbit,” Ryder pointed out almost incredulously. “The life pods won’t be able to stand up to Janus’ storms. They need to be retrieved as soon as possible. We only have shuttles. They can’t clear Janus’ gravity well to retrieve the life pods.”
Walker sighed. Ryder knew her concerns were valid but why was the Lieutenant not concerned about them. Is there something I am not seeing?
“Yes, I understand the urgency,” Walker replied but his tone was at odds with his words. All Ryder could hear was dismissal. “But we do not have the ships to mount a rescue mission right now,” he went on.
Ryder frowned. “What do you mean?” She cleared her throat realised she had went from seeking clarification from her commanding officer to questioning her orders. “Sir, we don’t orbital security of Hephaestus or Janus right now? Who is watching the skies?”
“You have your anti-air guns and that’s enough for Janus,” Walker spoke slowly as if explaining to a slow child.
They had a pair of ships that were space travel worthy to share between the bases. Everything else were shuttles capable of air travel but it didn’t have enough power to escape Janus’ or Hephaestus’ gravity well. To have the pair of spaceships unavailable was leaving a huge hole in the defence of their sector. Unless Walker meant he didn’t have the soldiers for the job but… why?
Ryder,” he barked, jerking her out of her thoughts, “I’d suggest you follow your orders. I’d expect a situation update in 24 hours.”
“But-“ Ryder didn’t even manage to protest when Walker unceremoniously terminated the comms.
She slumped back against her chair, disbelief written all over her face. Ryder turned to look at Sagh. He was still trying to raise Ishida’s team. The window was closing, the countdown was ticking down on her screen. They had a mere minute left.
“Tao, Ishida, Gracia, come in!” Sagh was shouting now.
The door hissed open, Ryder flinched. It was Kovács. “What?” he asked when he saw her staring at him. She shook her head. Taking a deep breath and she walked over to Sagh’s seat. Kovács joined her.
“Tao! Come in you asshole!” Sagh demanded before giving up, pushing away from his desk with a grunt.
Ryder picked up where he left off. “Sergeant, are you there? Garcia? Tao?”
Silence rang loud over the other end of the line. Kovács looked at both of them and Sagh shook his head. “What the-“
Then the line flared to life. “Janus, come in!” It was Ishida. “Janus!”
“This is Janus, Ishida, what the fuck is going on?”
Breaths heavy and laboured came through the other end. Gunfire peppered the background. Ryder’s heart quickened. What the fuck is going on?
“Tao’s down!” he screamed. “Garcia!”
Heavy footsteps on hard ground, grunts of exertions. More gunfire, louder this time, closer. “Bastards!” Ishida growled.
Ryder flinched. Her knuckles white, her ears straining to hear more, to do something, anything.
“Garcia, Tao’s lost. We’ve got to go. Walker-“
It went dead silent. Ryder’s eyes flicked between Sagh and Kovács. Their eyes wide, jaws open.
“What the fuck?” Kovács said, giving voice to the same thought in all their heads.