Chapter 4 - First Day at Work

 

Art by Seo Kanori on Tumblr

 

Ryder frowned even as she kept her eyes closed. A bunch of voices drifted over from both sides of her bed. Lockers were being opened roughly and slammed closed. There was no care taken for how loud they spoke or just bumbled around the lockers. Vaguely she wondered what time it was. She was sure it wasn’t quite dawn, whatever passed for dawn on Janus, just yet.

Ryder knew she the ranking non-commissioned officer in the barracks, but at the same time she was young. Thank fuck I'm not the youngest, otherwise I'll be getting no end of grief. Being the youngest Corporal is bad enough. Ishida made that very clear when he called her baby Corporal. She cringed at the nickname. From what she could tell, the other men had the same idea. Lead by example why don't you, Sergeant?

New base, new assignment, but it was the same old shit. Enlisting at 16 via the then brand new Alliance Biotics programme did her no favours in this department. And fuck why did she have to look so baby-faced too?

“Who is this?” a voice asked, coming from somewhere to her left.

Ryder could feel the presence bending over her. “That’s the baby,” a second voice replied.

“Really? Is she a looker?” the voice said, edging closer.

Through her closed eyes she could sense the barrack's overhead lights darkened as if someone was bending over her. This had gone too far. Ryder’s eyes snapped over to find a boy with a mop of brown hair, not quite a man probably younger than she was, peering at her. He jerked back in fright.

“Shit!” he yelled, pressing a hand against his chest. “You’re trying to scare the shit out of me?”

Ryder sighed. This is the part I hate it the most. It was the same wherever she went. Her jaw was set as she sat up. She eyed the two flanking her. They had bunks on either side of her.

Different squad, same bullshit, all the fucking time.

She swung her legs off her bed and stood. Her hands quick with a hair tie to pull her hair into a sloppy ponytail tied low. One cannot look intimidating if one has bed head.

Ignoring the one who had been hovering her in favour of the other, “What’s going on?”

“Shift change. We just got back,” the dusky skinned man replied as he moved back to his bunk to stow his gear.

Ryder glanced around at the barracks and realised it was empty save for Tao and Kovács. Both of them were still snoring away. She tapped on her omni-tool - 0600 hours. One glance out the windows, Ryder could see the swirling sands, the storm hadn’t blown itself out just yet. She barely had three hours of sleep. And that’s hot on the heels of all the bad sleep she got transferring from ship to ship trying to get from the Citadel to Janus.

“What’s your name?” The boy asked, a cheeky grin on his face, recovering from his fright. “I’m Melnik.”

Ryder regarded Melnik for a moment. His stance wide and open, the cock of his hip confident. He was assured with his charm. She raised an eyebrow at him and blinked, unsure what to make of this quick shift. Before she could formulate a response, the other interrupted. "Introductions will come later, Melnik. After Ishida has a chance to brief her.”

Ryder nodded her thanks, not quite ready to be social so early in the day and not having brush her teeth yet. She grabbed her toiletries and headed to the showers.


Ryder took herself down to the mess. Well, to call it a mess hall was a little too generous. It was merely a room with a single food dispenser. The Janus base didn't house enough soldiers to warrant an actual mess hall.

So no real food.

Ryder was utterly disappointed when faced with the single food dispenser after properly waking up. Last night, Tao just waved a hand towards the mess and pointed it out to her.

She stared at the selection. It was abysmal. Ryder tapped at her omni-tool hoping that more choices were available for her via the tool.

Nope, no such luck.

According to the information, the selections were cycled through every day. Though it ran through a grand total of three sets of selections. Ryder sighed.

Her eyes scanned through the choices, reconstituted chicken stew with rice, reconstituted scrambled eggs with bread and reconstituted garden salad with barley. Ryder frowned.

How does one reconstitute a salad?

Her eyes drifted over to the opened box of ration bars. Ryder knew how they smelt faintly of salted fish and tasted like cardboard, if she was lucky. But they were familiar and reliably bad. The stuff that came out of the food dispenser were usually a toss up. She narrowed her eyes and eventually pushed her cup into the holder. A quick jab at the screen for scrambled eggs with bread. The machine hummed as it did its magic.

Yellow sludge oozed out of the nozzle. She wasn't holding out much hope for taste. The machine shuddered to a halt as the final bit of sludge fell into her cup with a plop.

At least they got the colour right.

She sat down at one of the many empty tables. Her plastic spoon hovering in the air as she contemplated throwing the entire thing out. Tentatively, Ryder brought it to her nose and sniffed.

Doesn’t smell bad, but it doesn’t smell quite right either.

She plunged the spoon deep into the yellow gooey mess and lifted a small portion out.

Don’t try, don’t know.

Ryder opened her mouth and closed it around the spoon before she could chicken out. With a quick pull, the spoon came out clean. Her tongue swirled the sludge around in her mouth, not quite sure if it wanted to cringe away in horror or luxuriate in having warm food. Her jaws worked slowly, chewing though there wasn’t any real need to. Ryder hummed as her brain tried to decide if she was actually enjoying the experience.

The sludge was salty and peppery with a rich taste of eggs but over it all was a cardboard like texture. It was too firm to be properly cooked scrambled eggs. Ryder’s mouth twisted as she forced herself to swallow it.

Maybe that’s the bread part?

“Ugh, what more can I expect?” she muttered as she deliberately spooned a second mouthful in.

Ryder looked up from her omni-tool, her spoon hovering somewhere between her mouth and her cup. She had been studying the dossiers of the soldiers on base, trying to put names to faces. Voices drifted into the mess as footsteps approached. She looked up to see Melnik and his friend coming in. Cocking her head, she tried to remember the name. There was only one soldier on the base with an Indian ancestry.

Yes, this is Sagh, Lance-Corporal.

Ryder nodded to herself, satisfied. “Guys,” she greeted as they slipped into a table. "Enjoy your breakfast."

"Aww," Melnik said, pouting a little, "you're done? Come on, don't go yet."

He kicked out a chair into her way. Ryder's jaw twitched. "No, I got a briefing with the Sergeant."

Her foot pushed the chair back towards their table. With the empty cup in hand she headed towards the recycler, Ryder stiffened as she felt eyes on her. She rolled her shoulders and continued her way to the recycler. Turning around, she caught Melnik's unabashed stare.

Why am I not surprised?

Ryder elected to ignore it. Glancing at her omni-tool, she was cutting it a little close. With a fast walk, she headed towards the Sergeant's quarters.

Hopefully I won't get lost.


“Ryder,” Ishida called from his office when she entered.

“Sir,” she said, snapping off a salute.

“At ease, soldier. And dispense with those. We’re a small base and if we’re snapping salutes all day long, nothing will get done.”

Ryder nodded and stood at ease, feet shoulder-length apart, arms clasped at her back.

“So you’re taking over the supervision of the night shift and I’ll do the morning. You have Sagh, Kovács and Menik under your command," Ishida said.

Ryder's breath halted for a spilt second. Now that's a good mix of personalities there.

Melnik had been pushing against her comfort zone since the moment they met. Kovács seemed slightly distracted but ultimately good-natured. As for Sagh, Ryder don't know him well enough to say one way or another.

"You report to me at shift change, I report to Lieutenant Walker over on Hephaestus. The science people won’t bother you much,” Ishida went on.

Ryder nodded. She guessed as much. Given the information she dug up from her research on the way over. New beginnings were always hard. It was times like this when she missed her old squad. But there was no way Ryder could have stayed on, too many corporals there and not enough here. It was just the way of life in the military. Friendships for her never lasted more than the duration of her stint with the unit, if they even formed in the first place.

“Yes, sir.”

Ishida nodded, picking one datapad up. “Yes, here," he said, handing her the datapad. “Here are the personnel under your command. These are the patrol routes and your security access.”

Ryder took the datapad and skimmed over the contents. “Any questions?”

“No, sir.”


Shift start was still an hour away, but Ryder had much to prepare. First thing was a meal before the shift, yet another helping of reconstituted food. This time, the chicken stew. The experience was a repeat of her breakfast. Then, it was packing ration bars to last her through the shift along with a thermos of hot tea. She stared at her stash of loose leaf tea and wondered if she could actually order more. Ryder shuddered, thinking about the shipping costs.

Her eyes watered a little as she stifled a yawn First impressions are important. And so she threw an extra helping of tea into her tea bag before pouring hot water into her thermos, steeping time be damned. Melnik and Kovács were still playing a card game. Sagh was oiling his rifle. She wasn’t really paying attention to them. Though it was 30 minutes away from shift change, Ryder started pulling on her armour.

She could feel eyes on her again. Ryder turned and found Melnik staring. Kovács was frowning at him. “Melnik!” he hissed, slapping his shoulder.

Sagh shook his head but kept his attention on his gun. Kovács frowned at Melnik's unabashed interest on their new corporal. He tossed his cards to the pile and muttered, “I give up.”

Kovács started getting ready. Ryder kept her attention on Melnik, her gaze hardening. “Something wrong?” she asked, her tone mild.

Ryder waited as she pulled her gauntlets on, they connected to the rest of the suit with a satisfying click.

“Nothing, Corporal. Just enjoying the view.”

Kovács’ mouth dropped opened in an O shape while Sagh’s looked up from his work. Ryder frowned. This was brazen. Melnik looked at her with something akin to hunger. She fought a chill crawling up her spine.

Her mouth opened and closed a few times. Words were chosen and discarded in favour for another. Melnik’s comment hung between them. Her jaw tightened and turned away. Even as her legs took her away, she was silently berating herself.

You should have said something. You should have said anything. You’re going lose the respect of the others.

She grimaced but kept walking. The moment had passed.


Ryder entered the control room for the first time. It was a moderately sized room. Multiple screens dominated the front. There were four desks with terminals lined up in two rows. Three in front and one at the back. As the NCO in charge for the shift, she got the terminal at the back.

This room was the heart and soul of the base' defences. From her terminal, Ryder would be able to turn on the AA guns, automated turrets and monitor all camera feeds on the base. It was a little like playing as an omni-present deity.

Tao handed her a datapad with a report of all the events of their shift. One glance at the report told her it was a peaceful shift. Tao clapped a hand on her shoulder and said, "Good luck, baby Corporal."

Ryder bit back a sigh at the nickname. She was settled in her seat when the others came in. All of them clad in standard Alliance issued armour as they clomped into the room, exchanging a few words with their colleagues before taking their seats.

Their duties were pretty much straightforward. Patrols ran every 30 minutes, rotated between the four of them. Anyone not on patrol get to watch the camera feed and monitor the sensors for anything out of the ordinary.

After the first 30 minutes, Ryder was more than a little bored. There was not much need for a human at the terminal if the computers were doing all the heavy lifting. She barely had to tap a button. Technically, the systems was self monitoring. Alarms would blare if it detected any abnormalities.

Sagh returned from the patrol and it was Melnik's turn. Ryder relaxed a little as soon as he left. His behaviour still gnawed at her. As she considered her options, Sagh let out a wide yawn. Ryder pressed her hand over her mouth, repressing her own. It is just sympathetic yawning. That must be it. She took a sip of her tea.

“Corporal, what’s your story?” Sagh asked.

“What about?” Ryder replied, capping her thermos and got started on her first ration bar of the shift.

“How did you end up on Janus?” Sagh clarified. “We’re all here dregs of the barrel.”

Kovács frowned. “Speak for yourself Sagh,” he said. “This is merely a rotation for me. I’ll be reassigned soon.”

Sagh laughed. “How many rotations are you on? Think that way if it helps.”

"My second. I was posted here fresh from boot," Kovács retorted. "How many are you here for anyway?"

"This is my fifth rotation. And I'll probably be here till I get my retirement papers." Sagh said as he counted off the years on his fingers. "Anyway, I'm interested in the baby Corporal, not you."

Sagh waved his hand dismissively at his much younger colleague and turned his attention to her expectantly.

“Well, I’m just following in the family tradition,” Ryder replied. There was enough truth in that statement that the words didn’t taste bitter in her mouth.

Sagh turned around in his chair to face her while Kovács kept his eyes on the monitors. “Are you related to that Ryder?” he asked, his brow furrowed, trying to remember something.

“Which Ryder?” she asked with a straight face.

If it wasn’t her family name, it was the other thing. There was no hiding either. It always came out sooner or later. Ryder didn’t intend to lie, but she preferred to push off the discovery for as long as she could.

“There was one Alec Ryder, N7 operative. He helped evacuate civilians from the Presidium when Commander Shepard was fighting the bird Spectre.”

Ryder frowned at the slur. “Saren,” she said, her tone flat.

“Yeah, Saren, that fucking bird. I knew we couldn't trust any one of them. This was bound to happen sooner or later,” Sagh said, his upper lip curling into a sneer.

Ryder eyed Sagh, he was just about the right age to have taken part in the First Contact War as a rookie. She looked away for a moment, unsure if this was where she wanted to take her stand. She exhaled, packing the information aside and replied, "Yeah, that’s my father.”

As much as she tried, the bitterness was clear in her voice. But Sagh misunderstood, he had assumed the harshness was directly at Saren. Somehow not addressing the slur made her feel complicit even if there weren't any turians around to hear it.

“Bird,” Kovács laughed, he turned to catch her eye.

Ryder’s gaze hardened and his words faltered. She shook her head and repeated, “Saren.”

“Yes, Saren,” Kovács said, his words tumbling over themselves. “I’m glad we got someone like Commander Shepard on our side.”

There was no need to elaborate who they were talking about. There was only one Shepard to all Alliance soldiers, hell all humanity.

First fucking human Spectre.

Sagh and Kovács were obviously fans and Ryder was no exception. The Commander Shepard had been Ryder's role model. The Alliance recruitment poster of Shepard taken not long after the Blitz, graced the wall of her room for years. And it still hung on wall if nobody had touched her room.

Ryder's thoughts turned towards her childhood home. A home she outgrew, and it rapidly turned into a sort of cage. It wasn't just her home, it was just being on the Citadel. She rubbed the back of her neck, fingers brushing at the nape of her neck and sighed.

“Wait, you’re his daughter?” Sagh asked. “Why are you here? Ryder’s daughter shouldn’t be sitting here with us on Janus!”

Kovács eyed her with renewed awe. Ryder shrugged. “I go where I am assigned. Janus is the place for now, I guess.”

Sagh turned and faced her. His eyes lined with crowfeet narrowed in her direction. “No, no,” he said. “Don’t think you can foist that shit on me. What did you do to get assigned here?”

Being born wrong.

Ryder didn’t voice the thought, but it burnt brightly in her mind. Her visit home seemed to have dredged up memories and emotions she thought long buried. She shook her head. “I have no idea. I got a promotion and the brass sent me off for more training back on Earth then I got reassigned.”

Sagh raised an eyebrow, totally not convinced at all. “How old are you anyway? You must be a baby.”

Kovács sniggered. Ryder bit back a sigh. Is this the way it’s going to go the entire night? But she was saved from answering when Melnik entered the control room. He tracked sand into the room. Sagh straightened and barked, “Melnik! How many times must I tell you? Decontaminate before you come in!”

“Ahh fuck,” Melnik exclaimed as he backed out of the room, presumingly towards the decon unit.

Ryder took the chance to enter the small en-suite toilet just to escape the questions. When she was done, Kovács was gone. Melnik and Sagh were back to watching the screens and the line of questioning forgotten.

Time crawled. Ryder stifled a yawn that was crawling up her throat. Shifting her sleep schedule was one of the worst thing ever, Ryder resigned herself to feeling tired at all the wrong times, at least for a while.


Ryder sighed.

Melnik chuckled. “Bored already, Corporal?”

A chill ran down her spine at that. Ryder rolled her shoulders, somehow it had cramped up without having to do anything the entire shift. “How do you guys keep your vigilance up?” she asked.

Sagh snorted, “What vigilance? We’re all just glorified machine tenders. Who would attack a dig site that isn't producing anything interesting?”

“Well, we’re not exactly in the safest part of the galaxy. Sharring is literally on the edge of Alliance space,” Ryder pointed out.

Melnik laughed. “I’ve not seen any action since boot camp,” he confessed. “And I am itching for it.”

Spoken like a rookie who doesn't know what he is asking for.

“I’ve been here the longest, five years. Five long boring years,” Sagh said. "The best years of my career."

Ryder watched as Sagh and Melnik went back and forth. Her attention on the set of monitors that they should be paying more attention to. Eventually even conversation died out. She hummed quietly, beginning to see what the main problem with this assignment was going to be. How long am I expected to be here?

Ryder tapped against the datapad, that Ishida had given her. Her eyes searched the line she had left off and started reading it for the fifth time. Just before her eyes glazed over, forcing her to start over again, the door hissed open. Tao hobbled in. He glanced about the room. “Damn, I missed Kovács.”

“What is it?” Ryder asked, approaching Tao. She relished any opportunity that broke the tedium.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Tao said, “I wanted to find out more about the damage on the Mako’s windscreen. It’s strange that it didn’t just completely shatter.”

Ryder’s heart sank. She knew there was no hiding it. This must be some kind of record. Both on the same day.

Ishida knew what she was. It was clear on her military record if anyone wanted to check. Her armour was a dead giveaway if anyone knew what to look for. Ryder’s hand twitched towards the back of her neck, hidden behind her low ponytail.

I’ll not be ashamed of who I am. I refuse to be.

“Oh, what about it?” Sagh asked as Melnik craned his neck.

“Given what data I got off our sensors, the windscreen shouldn't be able to hold up as well as it did. I got to know what Kovács did. That way we can be ready when the next storm hits,” Tao replied.

“Kovács didn’t do anything,” Ryder said.

All eyes turned to her. Tao’s eyes brightened and his bushy eyebrows shot up. “What did you do? I didn’t see any materials you used to shore up the crack. Whatever it was, it’s damn effective. I’m going to write a report and send it up the chain. I’m sure there are other bases on less than welcoming planets that need this solution.”

“I don’t think you can replicate it, at least not without someone like me on board,” she replied, dread coiling around her gut like a snake.

This must be what coming out felt out. And it’s a process that got repeated time after time after time. Ryder was seriously tired of it. She took a deep breath, “I kept a tight barrier over the crack with my biotics.”

Tao’s eyes got impossibly wider, but Ryder couldn’t read any malice in them. Melnik whistled, the odd hunger in his eyes seemed to intensify. Her eyes narrowed, aversion turning her stomach. She would have to deal with Melnik sooner or later. Her eyes shifted to Sagh. There was an anger there, so pure and concentrated. His chair rolled and hit the wall as he stood up abruptly. Ryder tensed, instinctively gathering her biotics but taking care to keep a tight grip on it.

“Fucking biotics. I knew it! That’s why you’re here. Daddy couldn’t wait to rid himself of the tainted blood,” he muttered.

Sagh wasn’t loud, but the words carried in the silence. Ryder clenched her fists. Her stint in the Alliance biotics programme was the best time of her life. It was tough, but it was also a place of acceptance. She found a place there she hadn’t found at home or at school.

But after? It was a mixed bag. You'd think biotics is one thing prized in among the military types?

She had been here so many times before, but never with such vehemency. Tao stepped forward and put himself between Sagh and herself. “Get out of here, Sagh,” he said.

Sagh’s deep brown eyes jerked towards Tao’s black ones. His lips curled before clamping down again. His dark skin flushed a deep red. “Melnik, take Sagh out now,” Tao barked.

Melnik glanced between Tao and herself. Ryder took a steady breath and nodded. Melnik didn’t need further prompting. He tugged at Sagh a couple of times before Sagh allowed himself to be dragged away.

Tao crossed the space between them and looked at her. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” she said, her voice coming out all shaky, “I’m fine.”

Ryder clamped her mouth shut lest it gave away more of her secrets. “You went completely white,” he pressed.

“I’m fine,” she repeated, this time her voice steadier.

With a giant huff of breath, she turned back towards her seat and sank into it. Tao hesitated, his eyes following her every move. Fuck, he must think I’m a complete inept useless asshole.

“Err… I didn’t intend for this to happen,” Tao started, “I’m sorry.”

With that, Ryder watched Tao beat a hasty retreat. She glanced at the time on the console and sighed long and loud into the empty room. She was barely half way through the shift. The machines just hummed along completely ignoring her.

The door slid open. A shock of blonde hair led the way, sand trailing as Kovács walked in, helmet in hand. He glanced at the empty seats and looked at her.

“What did I miss?”

Chapter 3 - The Ride Back

 

Art by Seo Kanori on Tumblr

 

Tao glanced at his omni-tool. He turned to the sky outside. The storm had slammed into the base like a blast from a Thannix canon. Amir and Garcia were still in the showers.

And Kovács is still not back.

Tao grunted as he stood. The medi-cast took his weight well, but it was still sore if he overworked the ankle. He was worried. Tao headed out their shared sleeping quarters towards Ishida's room.

That bastard took the only private room in the place.

There was a red holo-lock on the door. Tao pressed his palm against it to announce his presence. It took just a couple of seconds for it to turn green and hissed open. “One minute,” a voice drifted over from inside.

Tao hobbled in.

"Hey buddy, that's all for today. I'll record another chapter to you tomorrow," Ishida spoke.

"Story time for your son?" Tao asked.

A black hair man dressed in the standard blue Alliance uniform got up from his desk and approached him. “Yeah, recording it. I was supposed to call him tonight but you know... the storm,” he gestured at the windows.

Tao and Ishida weren't just fellow soldiers. They had enlisted and trained together as rookies.

Ishida nodded as he got up from his desk. "It's not the same, but it's the best I can do, being stuck here," he said. "What's up?"

“Has Kovács reported in, Sergeant?”

“Come on, Tao. Do you really want me to address you by your rank instead of your name?” Ishida asked. “You know better than to call me that when we’re alone,”

Tao grinned while Ishida ran his hand through his hair before checking the time on his omni-tool. "No, to answer your question,” he replied, “but I’ve checked with the guys at the port, the shuttle left just before the storm hit. Our baby Corporal isn’t stranded somewhere out in space waiting out the storm.”

Tao snorted as he glanced out of the window meaningfully. There was nothing to see, just sand and more sand swirling around. He hummed in frustration.

Ishida chuckled. “Ever the mother hen huh?”

He glanced at the window and grunted. With a quick tap on his omni-tool, Ishida turned his window opaque. “Worry only when they are actually late. They probably left just ahead of the storm.”

Tao sighed, not looking convinced.

“With the only hard lines running between the base and port, they will be out of comms signal anyway. You know how hardy those Makos are anyway.”

“Yeah, those things never die, no matter how badly you drive one,” Tao agreed.

He couldn’t help think his desire to have a kid had sent his paternal instincts into overdrive. And this flock of wild children needed some serious tending. He had two missing chicks out there in the storm.

“But maybe if we could send-“

Ishida sighed, running her fingers through his hair. “You know sending another Mako out to look for them is not going to be a great idea.”

Tao grimaced. “Fine, fine,” he said as he sank into an empty chair.

Ishida turned back to his terminal, ignoring Tao. They were so similar at the start of their career but after boot camp, they were assigned to different posts. Look how they turned out. Tao was still a lowly lance-corporal while Ishida was a sergeant, running the show, albeit a backwater Alliance base but that was still something, right?

That’s what getting blown up in your first posting does to your career.

Tao shook his head, pushing old thoughts out of his head. It was useless to dwell on shit like this. He just wanted to last long enough to end of his current five-year stint and get out with his bonus.

And Ryan has waited long enough. With the bonus we can finally finding a nice and quiet colony and actually spend more time together.

That thought put a smile on his lips. Tao sighed.

“I’ll let you know when it’s really time to worry,” Ishida called as Tao made his way out.


The Mako was quiet. Well, quiet was a relative term. The plinks and clanks of debris hitting the Mako, even muffled through the heavy armour plates, was a near constant drone. Ryder’s eyes darted worryingly over everything within her field of vision. An odd creaking sound caught her ears. Worry spiked as she searched for the source of the noise. The soldier’s leather gloves were tightening over the rubber grip of the steering wheel over and over.

Creak…

She sighed.

Say something. The private is way too wind up. He is going to freak out if something just goes slightly wrong and jerk that damn wheel. And we’ll all go flipping in the wind.

Ryder blurted the first question that came to her mind. “What’s your name?”

Oh for fuck’s sake, that’s the best question you can think of? She groaned inwardly at herself. However, the question seemed to work. The soldier blinked and frowned a little, but his grip relaxed.

He turned and looked at her, blue eyed and blonde hair, looking so damn young. Fuck, did he just came out of boot?

“Ahh…” he said.

Did I fucking break him?

“Private, what’s your name?” she repeated, pressing her advantage, checking his collar for his rank.

He cleared his throat this time. “Kovács, Istvan,” the answer came out shakily and a little higher than before.

Well, that was a better response than before. Then, his gloves creaked again. Come on, keep the conversation going. That’s not hard right? This should be fucking easy. Just simple human shit.

“My name is Ryder,” she offered.

He nodded and repeated her name to himself. “Ryder, yeah Ryder.”

She waited for the instant look of recognition, the double take, the question that inevitably came from having a well known father. Her eyes narrowed, sure it was going to come any moment now. The seconds ticked by. Nothing. She exhaled.

Now that’s refreshing.

Pleasantly surprised, she hummed. Kovács took his eyes off the road, his expression bemused and a little more relaxed than before.

In the space between seconds, Ryder spotted something dark ahead. “Watch the road!” she hissed.

But as her voice launched the words from her mouth, the Mako jerked. The movement launched them for a split second into the air, as it ran over a larger than usual crater. Without the five point harness strapping her securely against the seat, Ryder was sure she would have smashed her head against the windscreen. “Fuck,” Ryder cursed, bracing herself against the dashboard. “Just watch the road.”

Her eyes couldn’t help, but check the integrity of the windscreen again. Her heart thudded in protest of the scare. Kovács looked paler than he had before as he nodded fevertly. His gloves creaked again.

And we’re back at square one.

The Mako hummed happily along, the only one blasé about the entire situation.

Maybe shutting up is the best thing to do.

She sighed inwardly. Being a corporal was different from being a private or even a lance-corporal. She was expected to lead, to inspire, to bolster morale. Despite going through the training, having the chevron on her collar to prove that she was a corporal, Ryder didn’t feel remotely ready to do it.

She wasn’t good with talking or charismatic like Scott was. She didn’t have the years of experience or the sheer competence like her father. What she did have was her common sense and her biotics. Her jaw tightened as she pushed her doubts and apprehension aside. There were more pressing business at hand.

Minutes ticked by, but they passed like they were hours. Kovács broke the silence. “There’s the base,” he said, relief ringing clear in his voice.

Her eyes darted towards her map, their tiny little blip was indeed closer now. She could make out the road a little better, like they were finally outpacing the storm. In the distance, there was something, but it was still vague enough that she refused to celebrate yet. She kept a vigilant watch. She didn’t need a repeat of what happened earlier. That took five years off her lifespan, she was sure.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kovács turned towards her, taking his fucking eyes off the road again. His mouth split in a goofy grin as he jabbed his finger at the vague structure ahead.

There was something small, something fast whizzed directly at them. Even a pebble at the velocity that the winds were travelling would be deadly. Ryder acted. Instincts overriding everything else.

A warning. “Look out!”

Then, her hand shot out and jerked the steering wheel out of Kovács’ hands.

“Hey!” he protested, angry and confused.

As the Mako swerved to the left, their bodies slammed against the side. A loud thump was followed by the unmistakable sound of something cracking.

Fuck.

She let go of the wheel once she was sure Kovács had his attention where it belonged once more. Her eyes were focused on the spider-web lines of cracking glass radiated from the top right corner of the windscreen.

“Shit,” he cursed, also noticing it.

“Watch where you're going!” she shouted.

Ryder’s heart slammed against her chest. She had to do something. Her left hand twisted in the familiar mnemonic, drawing from her core. A sharp scent of ozone suffused the air.

She kept it tightly controlled, keeping the flashy parts of biotics under wraps. Ryder grimaced behind her helmet, her teeth set on edge. Her concentration pin-point sharp as she pulled up a barrier just over the affected area.

No need to make it too obvious.

Ryder didn’t want to take any chances especially with the windscreen, but at the same time she didn’t trust Kovács not to freak out. Most Alliance grunts weren’t trained to work alongside biotics, unless they were part of the combat squads. Kovács is green and part of a garrison force. Both things pointed towards a lack of exposure to biotics.

Fear and biogtry against biotics were commonplace and the Alliance was no different. And as far as biotics had come, there were still so many people who didn’t understand biotics, didn’t care to understand them. Thus biotics would always remained as freaks, mutants and all manner of unsavoury words to those people. Biotics were discovered in the wake of babies being born with horrible birth defects and incurable cancers. The fear, the hatred were understandable to a certain degree, but the biotics were children too. They didn’t ask for the curse they bore.

She sighed. This wasn’t the time to ponder about the misogyny that biotics faced. As much as she didn’t want to announce the fact she was a biotic, even though a simple check of her Alliance records would reveal the truth easily enough, she wasn’t about to let them get eaten up by a sand storm.

Ryder gritted her teeth and concentrated on keeping the windscreen in one piece. Corporal or no, Alliance or no, some prejudices ran too deep.


Kovács frowned but kept his eyes trained on the road, finally learning his lesson. The faint cracking sound tugged at his attention. Out of his peripheral vision, he could see the snaking lines as the crack widened. It was expanding. Panic surged up his chest. This is not good. A strange faint blue glow covered the crack. The sound stopped. What the fuck?

“This is reinforced glass right?” Kovács blurted, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.

“Fuck, should I know!” Ryder barked their voice curt, trying to keep a tight control on something. They gestured with their hand. “Just drive!”

The bright spot on the horizon grew brighter until a sudden shift in the wind direction revealed the lights of the base. The perimeter gates was wide open and inviting. Kovács, to his credit, drove the Mako in safely. As it came to a jerky stop, he panted. Sweat drenched his brow as he took in his surroundings. He couldn’t quite believe he did it.

Ryder sagged back against their seat, their breaths coming through the helmet harsh and loud. As if they were the one actually keeping their asses out of the damn storm. Kovács snorted, noticing that pieces of the windscreen were actually falling onto the dashboard. It wasn’t just a crack it was now a fucking hole. He frowned as he picked up one of the larger pieces.

“How?” he turned towards the Corporal, but he found they had exited the Mako.

Kovács hopped out quickly to follow. “Did you see that? The windscreen, it…” His words dried up in his mouth as the Corporal took off their helmet.

Long brown hair that was bundled into a ponytail tumbled out of the helmet. Large brown eyes turned to regard him and Kovács blinked. “You’re a girl?”

She frowned, narrowing her eyes at him. “What about it, Private?” she replied, the emphasis on his rank.

Shit, shit, shit. “No ma’am, no problem, ma’am,” Kovács stammered, snapping a salute at her. “I…”

She shook her head and snorted, cutting him off. “Just show me to the barracks, Kovács.”

She rubbed her forehead, looking at him as if he was a mild irritant. It was then he realised she wasn’t dressed in the standard blue Alliance armour as his eyes drifted over her. Hers was a matte grey, black and blue. She only had a pistol strapped to her thigh, no weapons on her magnetic holsters.

A sigh pulled his attention. His eyes snapped back to hers, noting her much shorter height. Why the fuck didn’t I notice before?

“Kovács, I’m tired, it’s late. I want to get some chow, a shower and then bunk in. How does that sound?”

Kovács nodded. “Sounds great, ma’am.”

Before he could lead her anywhere, the Sergeant came in with Tao. Kovács’ gaze drifted between the two and gulped. I’m probably in big fucking trouble. She must have been writing me up on her omni-tool. He sighed and waited to be berated.

She snapped to attention and saluted. “At ease, Corporal,” Ishida said. “Welcome to Janus, I’m sorry you arrived in one of the worst storms ever.”

She offered a wan smile. “It’s fine, sir. I survived, thanks to Private Kovács.”

Ishida’s eyes flicked over to him. Kovács straightened, his hand automatically snapping a salute. “Is that so, Kovács?”

“Yes, Sergeant.” he said, “But uhh… the windscreen is broken.”

Ishida sighed. “How did you manage that? The Mako is well nigh in destructible. There is always just something with you huh, Kovács.”

Then a clear growl of an empty stomach interrupted him. All eyes turned to the new Corporal. He laughed.

“Right,” he said, turning to Tao, “Get our baby Corporal to the mess and show her around, will you?”

“Will do,” Tao replied easily.

Ishida turned back to him, hands on his hips. “Now show me what the fuck you broke, Kovács.”

Tao jerked his head towards the door that led to the rest of the base. She pulled her duffle bag over her shoulder. “Thanks for the ride, Kovács,” she said as she left.

Kovács nodded. “Yes, ma’am"

The baby Corporal sighed. “Enough with the ma’am bullshit, Kovács. My name is Ryder, use it.”

Chapter 2 - Hello Janus

 

Art by Seo Kanori on Tumblr

 

I’m running a giveaway on my Tumblr. Check it out if you’re interested.


“Have you got your assignment?”

Ryder looked up from her omni-tool. Her eyes darted to her father, narrowing slightly. “Are you talking to me?” she asked tentatively.

“Yes.” His eyes pierced her, making her feel stupid for asking.

Scott was looking at her expectantly. “Tell me where the brand spanking new Corporal is heading to?” he asked, wagging his eyebrows in her direction.


“Hey, I heard we’re getting a baby Corporal,” Sagh said as he cleaned his rifle.

“Yeah,” Tao replied, “she’s coming in about a week, I think.”

“Her? The baby corporal is a girl?” Melnik spluttered.

“What’s the problem? Is that so surprising?” Tao narrowing his eyes at the younger man. Boy, actually.

Melnik shrugged while Sagh watched the exchange. “So the girls get all the easy assignments huh?” Melnik sneered.

Tao tossed his oil covered rag at him. The cloth smacked right into his face mid-rant. Sagh and Tao roared with laughter as Melnik spat, flinging the cloth back.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” Sagh pointed out.

Melnik sulked, turning back to his dismantled rifle, his fair skin blushing with embarrassment.

Sagh cocked his head at Tao. “Do you know who she is?”

Tao shrugged. “No fucking clue. Ishida seemed impressed though.”

Sagh cocked his head, curiosity rising with his eyebrows. "The Sarge is probably more relieved that he doesn't have to deal with us anymore," he retorted.

“Maybe so,” Melnik said, “Ah damn, I hope she is a looker.”

Tao rolled his eyes. What’s wrong with him? It's like he is some sex-starved fiend. It was this kind of “locker room” talk that got his ire up. For him, it didn't bother him. he didn’t swing that way. Tao was loyal and Ryan was always a message away.

Tao looked outside. Janus was not happy today.

Janus, one of Sharring’s 60 moons, twin to Hephaestus. Both giant grey balls of matter floating around in space. Normally boring and useless until someone found signs of Prothean ruins. Janus was the ugly sister to Hephaestus. With the interesting finds happening over on Hephaestus, Janus was pretty much neglected. Despite that, the archaeologists stationed here were optimistic.

The archaeologists are always optimistic, even after years of digging.

That’s why they were here, sitting pretty in the Theseus system. A bunch of misfits guarding a bunch of Prothean archaeologists. Tao was there because he was injured while on active duty. It was the cumulative effect of his injuries that made him a little more fragile than the regular grunt but being too qualified for desk duty; he was relegated to playing bodyguard at a base that didn't really need it. The others were varying degrees of unsuitable for one reason or another and got shunted from place to place till they ended up on Janus.

Tao wasn't complaining, it was boring work mostly. But boring was good. As far as he was concerned, maintaining a garrison of eight was overkill. This was after all the ass end of nowhere. That and they were getting a brand spanking new anti-air defence system. It was the first of its kind, a mid-range system that could hit any craft in the upper atmosphere. Why the brass figured Janus was a good place as any to act as a test bed when there was nothing to shoot at, Tao had no idea.

And now we have a baby corporal coming. Melnik isn't wrong, this is an easy assignment. The brass probably want to get the kid’s feet wet before transferring her out if she had any potential.

Tao shrugged it wasn’t any of his business but he didn’t envy the kid’s placement here. It would be dull as hell, but maybe keeping up with eight other guys was adventure enough for the baby Corporal.


“The ass end of nowhere apparently,” Ryder said. “Janus, one of Sharring’s moons.”

Scott cocked his head and blinked. “Indeed, I don’t know we have a base on Janus.”

“It’s barely garrison duty, it’s more like baby-sitting duty,” she muttered. “It makes no sense why I’m posted here. I’m a fully trained biotic specialist.”

Their father cleared his throat, looking somewhat satisfied. “Every job is important, don’t disrespect your orders. It is unbecoming of you.”

Ryder took a deep breath and shook her head. Fuck, I can’t even grouse. “I’m off to see Ma,” she announced, standing up and cleared her space.

The trash went into the recycler. And the plates into the washer. Scott was busy slurping the remnants of his food as quickly as he could.

“I’m coming too,” Scott blurted.

Their father’s eyes lingered on the closed door even after they had left.


It was late morning and the skycar lines were empty. The Ryder twins piled into the first car. Ryder sighed while Scott snorted. “You know, I’m pissed with you,” he said.

She kept her eyes to the front, not looking at her older twin. “Yeah, I figured.”

“Would it kill you to visit more often?” he went on. “You know how much Ma misses you. And Pa isn’t always home.”

“Well for one thing, I was mostly on pirate patrol, I couldn’t just leave whenever I feel like it. The travel alone means I wouldn’t be able to stay long for my visits, anyway.”

“What does this mean for this visit?”

Ryder shook her head. “I have to leave tonight.”

Scott sighed, his jaw tightening. “Maybe it’s for the best. You and Pa…”

“Yeah, me and Pa. You know, I wish…” she took a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry that so much has been put on you."

Scott reached out and grabbed her hand. It was warm, it was here. Her exhale joined his as their hands tightened over each other’s. “I know. I know,” he said.

For a moment, there was no sound, just the purring of the mini mass effect drive. Scott cleared his throat and said, “Enough about that. Why don’t we talk about that shiny new chevron on your BDU? You’re making me look bad, I’m still a lowly lance-corporal. Can you leave me some room to shine?”

At that she turned to meet Scott’s eyes. “You’re doing fine. Someone is bound to figure that out eventually,” she said, punching him in the arm.

“Easy for you to say, war hero, huh?”

“What? It was just a scratch.”

“Wounded in the line of duty, saved colonists from being chipped, hailed as a war hero in Citadel space,” Scott listed off on his fingers.

“War hero?” That earned him a harder punch. “If that’s what it takes to get promoted, I think I’ll pass. I’ll doubt I’ll see any action anytime soon.”

“What about you? Are you still stationed on Earth?”

Scott shook his head as his lips pulled into a grin. “No, My transfer has been approved. Arcturus station here I come!”

“Congratulations!”

The skycar shuddered as it landed on the pad. Ryder pushed the door and slid out. They walked shoulder to shoulder into Huerta Memorial Hospital.


“Sara, I’m sorry that I’m stuck in the hospital throughout your visit,” her mother said.

“No, don’t apologise,” she soothed. “I’m sorry for not visiting more often.”

“Don’t be silly,” her mother pulled Ryder into a hug.

She buried her nose into the crook of her mother’s neck and breathed in the scent. Underneath the sterile smell of the hospital, underneath the dry cotton of her gown, there was the faint scent of lavender she associated with her mother. Ryder inhaled, trying to store the memory for when she missed her mother.

“I’ll still be here when you come back to visit again,” Ma whispered into her ear. “Take care of yourself.”

“I will,” she promised.

As her mother released her from the embrace, Ryder lingered for a moment longer before pulling apart, her hand wiping the stray tear away.

After sharing a much shorter hug with Scott, she left. Their father had taken off earlier for yet another mission. There was always another mission, another job. If not that, it was holing up in his armoury turned office for this new project that seemed to consume all his time. Scott had been vague on the details. She didn’t want to know. Asking meant she cared, and she didn’t.

Sighing, she jammed herself into the only available seat, ready for the first leg of her journey to her new assignment. The guilt still rode heavy in her gut, balanced only by worry. Still, it didn’t stop Ryder from running away from it all. That much she was honest about.


Kovács sighed, running his hand through his blonde hair. Sitting inside the Mako with nothing to do was a special kind of hell. Janus’ connection to the comm buoy was sporadic at best. It was good enough for surface communications but anything beyond Janus was sketchy. With one of Janus’ frequent sand storms winding up right then, it meant shitty connections to the wider system. An awful connection meant no extranet, and that meant utter boredom.

At least these storms are just an inconvenience and not actually deadly.

He tapped at his omni-tool. The shuttle was inbound, but it was still a little while off. “I hope the shuttle comes before the storm slams into the port,” he muttered.

Kovács yawned, stretching his legs out as far as the Mako allowed. He had spent the entire night taking advantage of the clear signal to chat with his girlfriend. The five minute lag both ways sucked, but at least he got to see his girl. Kovács folded his hands and placed them behind his head. He closed his eyes, preferring the view in his mind’s eye than the brown flat expanse that was Janus.

A series of three solid taps sounded from his side of the Mako. His eyes flew open. Kovács jerked upright, attempting to stand up but only half succeeding.

“What?!”

His exclamation was abruptly cut off when his head made contact against the roof of the Mako. Kovács pressed both hands over his bruised skull as his eyes squeezed shut.

Another series of three taps came again.

Kovács opened an eye to see what was making the sound. It was a blurry image of a fully armoured Alliance soldier hanging onto the exterior of the Mako. He blinked, clearing the tears from his eyes. The soldier waved their hand at him and cocked their head. They mimed opening the door. Kovács could see a duffle over the soldier's shoulder, one hand cupping their visor as they pressed their helmet against the Mako's window. He jerked backwards at the sight of an opaque helmet so close to his face. The fright helped a little to clear the fuzziness from sleep and the distracting pain of his head. Then, Kovács remembered.

“Oh, shit.”


Ryder sighed.

Wonderful, sleeping on the fucking job. Is this going to be the calibre of people on Janus? Let’s hope this is the exception to the rule.

She glanced at the horizon. The storm was approaching and at a speed she had never seen before. Getting caught in the storm, even riding something as known for its durability as the Mako wouldn’t be pleasant. The rolling cloud of dust put new meaning to dust storms.

She turned back to the soldier that was blinking owlishly at her. With a finger, she pointed at the horizon and tried the Mako’s door again. It was locked. Frustration mounting, she rapped her knuckles on the window, pointed at the storm and mimed opening the door.

Maybe he concussed himself from that thump against the roof of the Mako. The Mako is hard after all.

The vast storm front was picking up dust, sand and debris along the way. It was sending a wall of brown fog directly towards them. Come on, wake up soldier. I don’t want to fucking die because you won’t open the damn door.

Ryder formed a gun with her fingers and pantomimed shooting the door off. That seemed to get the soldier’s attention. He peered out the windscreen at the horizon. His eyes widened as his lips flapped. She could make out a single word repeated many times over.


“Shit, shit, shit,” Kovács all but shouted as he tapped on his omni-tool, unlocking the doors.

The soldier wasted no time hopping into the Mako and slamming the door shut. Kovács thumbed the starter button and mini drive core hummed to life. The soldier threw their duffle into the back. The moment their safety belt clicked shut, Kovács stepped on the accelerator and Mako lurched into motion. The soldier turned to look at Kovács, but he couldn’t see their expression. Their helmet was opaque except for the slit of reinforced clear visor revealing a pair of brown eyes. The pair of eyes narrowed as they stabbed at the windscreen. Kovács instantly shifted his attention back to where they were going.


The storm was in full force. “Thank fuck, the barracks is weather sealed,” Tao said.

Melnik snorted. “If it wasn’t, we would have our asses flapping in the fucking wind.”

Sagh rolled his eyes as he buckled his armour on. “And you get to sit here, all nice and warm and fucking sand free while the rest of us have to work,” he said as he straightened, holstering the standard issue Avenger to his back and Predator to his hip.

“Try breaking an ankle and see how you like it,” Tao retorted, lifting his omni-cast encased leg in the air.

“I'd much rather work. Sitting around doesn't suit me. I am a man of action,” Melnik said, preening a little with his rifle.

“Come on, Private,” Sagh said, pulling his helmet on, securing it.

With a couple of snaps, their helmets sealed over their faces. Their armour all scratched and dinged, not from battle but from the elements. Janus was hard on everything, the equipment, the vehicles and most of all the people. It wore everything down, and it got everywhere. Small, deceptively innocuous, but it ground down the best in people. Slowly but surly it buffed away the edges of some, leaving them a ball of apathy. Others had their quirks sharpened, distilling the essence, good or bad, of their personality.

All Tao wanted was to finish his tour and get the fuck out. He gave his word to Ryan, and he intended to fulfil his promise. Sagh, Melnik and the others? He had no clue and he couldn't summon the interest to care beyond a cursory curiosity.

“See you later,” Tao said from his position on his bunk.

Melnik nodded. “We’ll put the baby Corporal through her paces tomorrow,” he said, his voice getting filtered through his helmet, making it sound unreal.

There was but a moment of peace after Melnik's and Sagh’s departure when Tao’s team, Amir and Gracia, came in from their shift. There was a decontamination process that helped keep the sand they track around the barracks down.

“Has the ankle rotted off yet?” Gracia asked as he peeled himself out of his armour.

“Not quite but it is marinating quite nicely in my own juices.”

Amir's dusky skin paled at the mention of juices. He made a face and left for the showers in his boxers, a towel over one shoulder. Gracia came over, pulling Tao’s ankle towards him roughly. His olive skin turned orange in the glow of the omni-cast. After a perfunctory check, he smacked the omni-cast with his armoured hand, Tao jerked his foot back. “What the fuck?” he yelled.

“There, see. No pain, right? It’s mostly healed. You can probably avoid a trip to the medical centre on Hephaestus,” Gracia said.

The shorter man walked to his bunk to stow his armour away.

“When can I get rid of this?” Tao asked, gesturing towards the cast.

“In a day or two. Then you get a fuck ton of physio,” Gracia said as he stripped down to his boxers.

Tao shrugged. They were glorified security guards for a Prothean dig site. And it was a minor one at that. There were just 20 archaeologists on site. Or as Garcia will call them, dirt diggers. They were mostly no trouble, maybe a little unruly after some drinks. But it didn't take much to subdue a sad drunk.

“Walker won’t care unless there is a big screwup. Anyway, he is over on Hephaestus, why would he deign to grace us with his attention?” Tao snorted.

Lieutenant Walker was indifferent with the comings and goings of the Janus base. He had left Sergeant Ishida in charge and that was the extent of his involvement. Tao shook his head, he wished he was ignorant to such things. It would have made life much easier. It was a stone in his chest knowing their base, by extension he and his squad mates, didn't even registered on his CO's mind.

“Well, Ishida will keep the show running, I mean how hard is it to just stare at the screens and let the computer do all the work,” Tao continued.

“Don’t forget about all the patrolling for non-existent threats,” Garcia pointed out. “My fucking feet hurts from all that walking.”

“You’d think you'll be used to it by now. How long have you been here? Hasn’t it been years?"

Garcia shrugged, stripping out of his armour. "This is the easiest job I have since I enlisted, boy," he said, putting emphasis on the last word.

Tao frowned, their age gap wasn’t all that much, but he didn't bother calling Garcia out on it. It wasn't worth the effort.

“I hear we have a baby coming today?” Gracia asked, now somehow completely buck naked with his towel on his shoulder, standing with his hands on his hips. "It's our first one in months."

Tao blinked. As much as he enjoyed the male form, this was a little too much right before bedtime. “Yeah, Kovács went to get the baby. They should be here soon unless the storm turned the shuttle back to Hephaestus.”

Gracia snorted. “The old baby getting the new baby?”

Tao shrugged, watching as the naked man walked towards the showers.


Ryder kept her eyes forward. The soldier kept stealing glances at her. Her helmet's HUD kept flickering, registering the motion. It was getting close to irritating. Normally Ryder would have removed her helmet the moment she got into a vehicle, but with the storm blowing in, she figured to keep it on just in case things went horribly wrong.

She fought to keep from continuously glancing behind to check on the storm. The Mako didn’t have a clear window on the rear. There was nothing she could see. Still, it didn’t assuage the itch that was developing between her shoulder blades. In a bid to distract herself, she started on a message to her mother.


Kovács couldn’t help the surreptitious glances at his passenger. They had opted to tap on their omni-tool, ignoring him. Detecting a slight turn of their head in his direction, Kovács quickly flicked his eyes back on the road. They shifted their attention back to their omni-tool, and the Mako hummed along.

He shifted in his seat, he couldn’t quite get comfortable. The silence ate at him. Even though the barracks didn’t house hundreds of soldiers like back at boot camp, it wasn’t as quiet as a tomb either.

“I hear you’re going to be our new Corporal,” he said as he winced, his voice pitched higher than usual. Why the hell did I say that? Of course they're our new Corporal. Way to put your foot in your mouth.

His passenger nodded but their fingers were busy on their omni-tool.

What could they possibly be tapping their omni-tool for? With the storm on our asses, there is no way they’re accessing the extranet.

Kovács cleared his throat and went on. “You’ll like the guys. The Sarge is pretty chill. Oh, his name is Ishida. The others are great too. Sagh and Melnik those are the guys on my squad. And there’s also Amir and Garcia. Tao’s laid up in the barrack after breaking his ankle.”

Kovács glanced at his passenger. There was no way to tell if they were paying attention or just nodding along to humour him, but he was already committed. He soldiered on. “You got to get him to tell you how he broke his ankle. Garcia is our field medic, he fixed Tao right up.”

Kovács laughed nervously, filling in both ends of the conversation himself. “I’ve never heard a man scream so high, like a girl,” his voice cracked right at the end.

His passenger coughed, trying to hide a chuckle. Kovács wanted to die right then. It wasn’t bad enough he had fallen asleep while waiting for the Corporal, he made a fool of himself twice. Biting on his tongue, Kovács decided maybe silence wasn’t so bad after all.


Ryder almost choked trying to hold back her laughter as her typing faltered. The soldier was comedic gold in that unintentional manner. But she was still worried about the storm. From the data she had pulled up during her shuttle ride down to Janus, she knew the distance between the port and the base was a 30-minute trip each way

With the way the Mako was eating up the distance. They were just barely keeping their lead on the storm. But it was definitely gaining on them fast. Ryder could feel the Mako drifting sideways when sudden gusts of wind slammed into the vehicle. The soldier kept his grip firm on the steering wheel as he guided the Mako as safely and quickly as he could.

Even though it was close to sunset, it was supposed to still be light enough to see the road by. The storm was doing its best to swallow the sun. There was a constant clattering of sand flinging themselves against the exterior. It felt like the Mako had a blanket of debris wrapped around it.

Ryder stiffened. Her typing stilled. Her focus shifted from the vast expanse they were racing down to the reinforced glass windscreen. It was the most fragile barrier between them and the storm. The constant plinking sound was unsettling.

Can the windscreen take this?

The light plinks of sand and stones against glass gave way to a dull roar. She turned her head and cast an eye on the interior of the Mako. Her teeth worried at her upper lip. Tapping at her omni-tool, she hooked herself into the Mako’s computers, bringing up the view from the rear camera.

There was nothing but a dark swirling mess.

Her heart clenched. Ryder turned slightly to the soldier. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes flicking between the road and herself. “Can this thing go any faster?” she asked, praying that her armour’s voice box hid the worry.

The soldier didn’t bother answering, he stepped down on the pedal. The Mako lurched forward, going faster than before, but there was no outrunning a storm. She didn’t need to look to know sweat was beading along the soldier’s forehead.

Then the sun winked out. Fuck.

The dull roar was now a cacophony of sand, rocks, large and small clanking against the Mako. All that was visible was the mere ten metres ahead. The headlights were the only light that was beating back the chaos of the storm.

Worry was fast turning into fear. “Is this normal?”

The soldier’s jaw twitched. “Never so bad,” he gulped, his hands tightened over the steering wheel.

“Right,” she nodded, trying to steady herself.

She brought up the map, the distance between them and the base rapidly shrinking but not as fast as she wanted. Get a grip, you're the commanding NCO. Don't fucking freak out on your first day here. She took a deep breath silently inside her helmet. “You can do this, you can get us home.”

The soldier nodded.

Chapter 1 - Homecoming

Chapter 1 - Homecoming

Home… Home was the Citadel, home was the little apartment she spent her childhood years, home was her room she spent nights looking at her poster of Commander Shepard looking all heroic, calling on people to join up. The day she walked out for good she joined the early biotic intake programme and she had never been back except for some scattered visits.

And now she was almost home.

Read More