Alec forced himself on, pain spiking up his thigh. His armour had tightened, keeping the bone from displacing further. It hurt, but it wasn't completely impossible to move. A broken bone wasn't what scared him and set his pulse skyrocketing, it was the desperate gasps coming through the comms.
"We need an emergency evac," he shouted, checking Sara's location from his omni-tool.
"Thank the goddess, you're ok," Harper's voice came through. "We read a massive energy spike at your location."
Alec panted and staggered forwards. Sara's signal was getting stronger, her vitals started syncing up to his suit. Waves and numbers were thrown on his HUD. They were helpfully labelled in increasingly alarming red colours.
"SAM," he called urgently. "Is my medical suite damaged?"
"Yes, bypassing the medical suite on your suit," SAM replied. "Administering medi-gel."
A sharp prick stabbed his thigh and instantly military grade medi-gel flooding his body, dialling down the spike of pain down to a manageable dull throb.
"What about Sara's," he hissed as he laboured on.
Before SAM could reply, he could make out a figure just before him, down on all fours, panting, gasping. Sara. She had one hand clawing at her throat.
"Pulse and blood pressure elevated, respiratory rate failing," SAM reported.
Alec didn't need SAM's report to know what the problem was. Her visor had shattered, her eyes were wide and wild as she sought his.
A single word, uttered with the last wisps of her breath, laced with a despair he didn't thought possible. It brought back everything. Regret, guilt and remorse. Sara was suffocating. He was going to lose his daughter. There was no time to apologise, to make amends.
Alec Ryder refused to let his daughter die. He had been a failure of a father, he saw that now. He wouldn't, couldn't, failed her in this. Sara must survive.
"Repeat, we need an emergency extraction now!" he shouted into his comms.
"They are spinning up the shuttle, ETA three, maybe four minutes."
His jaw tightened. He stared into Sara's pain glazed eyes. "We don't have that long."
"Alec," a voice called out. He didn't recognise it. "Can you hear me?"
Alec fought to peel his eyes open. His first attempt let in light so bright it seared his retinas. He groaned. A hand touched his shoulder and soothed, "Take it easy, waking up from cryo is a slow process. Let your eyes adjust."
He grunted and opened his eyes again, no mere light was going to keep him down. Hissing but blinking rapidly to counter the light, he tried again. It took a while, but his blurry vision started to resolve itself into a familiar asari standing before him.
"Dr. T'Perro," he rasped. His tongue must have been stuck to the roof of his mouth for the past 600 years. Pushing himself upright, he swung his legs over the side of his pod. The panel already removed, facilitating an easier dismount. He braced himself against the edge.
"Here," she handed him a bottle of water, its cap already twisted off. "Welcome to Andromeda."
Orange light swept over him as he drank. Blissfully cool and refreshing water coating the inside of his throat. He clenched and unclenched his hands, flexed his arms and legs. Everything felt good, a little stiff, but his muscles hadn't atrophied through the long journey. The pod had made sure of it.
"How does it look, doctor?" Alec glanced about the room. The recovery bay was empty. He must have been one of the first few woken up from cryo.
Here they were. 600 light year, that was how long this took. Uprooting his entire family from everything they knew, to come to a new galaxy for a fresh start. Andromeda would be the stage for that. A brand new career, an opportunity to work on a cure for AEND, a chance to keep his family safe and near.
Scott had nothing left for him in the Alliance after news of Alec's research and development of an AI came to light. It wasn't his intention to destroy his son's career, but it was inevitable given the Milky Way's view on AI research. He had no intention to lose Ellen to AEND just because nobody wanted to look into having an AI manage her condition.
Sara… Just thinking about his daughter brought up conflicting emotions. An odd mix of pride at her accomplishments with the Alliance, guilt that soured his tongue, an old resentment that refused to go away. Alec sighed and scrubbed his face. Sara wasn't entirely willing to come, she came because Scott did. She gave up a flourishing career, despite carrying the taint of his last name, under Shepard. He still had contacts within the Alliance. From all that he heard it was clear Shepard had taken a shine on his daughter. Under her wing, Sara would have weathered the storm developing SAM had created.
But… Alec shook his head. No. It was better this way. The Milky Way was compromised. Far better she lose a career than be dead.
And then, there was Ellen. A flare of pain spiked in his chest. T'Perro's eyes glanced up from her omni-tool. It must have registered in his vital signs. He breathed, fighting keep his face passive. Ellen would be pissed, but she'd be alive. That was what mattered the most. His family would be here and they would all be alive. Nothing else mattered. As long as they were together, he could fix everything again. He had time.
"Everything looks good," T'Perro said. "Let's check your connection with SAM."
He peeled the electrodes from his arms, chest and legs before pulling on the Initiative hoodie placed nearby for him. It was a little chilly to sit around only in his underwear.
"SAM?" T'Perro called out.
There was a slight tingle at the back of Alec's skull before SAM reported, "The connection is strong. Hello Alec."
SAM, it could be said that he was his third child, one he had created, built, developed and nurtured. He had spent so much time holed up in his office working on SAM, working with SAM. A familiar sour taste filled his mouth — guilt. He had spent more time with SAM than his actual human children, or even Ellen, but it was all for the better good. With SAM, Ellen wouldn't had needed to suffer, but he ran out of time. Ellen had been stubborn about taking the meds. Damn the side effects. It would have given him more time to get SAM ready. It all almost went down the drain he hadn't been able to pull some strings, bribe some people to get Ellen smuggled on board the Hyperion as Elisabeth Riley. This was all for her sake, she'll see. Alec packed the guilt away to the back of his mind. He did the right thing, but somehow that sour taste refused to fade.
He had time, he repeated to himself. There was no looming death threat over all their heads here in Andromeda. He could make things right here. That was what a fresh start meant.
"Hello SAM," Alec greeted and stood, pulling on a pair of sweatpants. He needed to get into armour and soon. It'd not do nobody any good to see the Pathfinder walking about like this. "Prioritise the Pathfinder team. I want them all to be up in an hour."
Carlyle said, "Understood, Pathfinder." He was pulling a fresh pod out from the Cryo bay.
Alec wandered over out of curiosity as Carlyle docked the pod. Glacing at it, he saw the vitals were displayed right on the outside panel. Everything were in the green.
"Who is this?"
"Your daughter," Carlyle replied. "You might want to stick around while we bring Sara around. It helps."
He hesitated. Sara wouldn't exactly be happy that he was the first person she saw, but she was his daughter and subordinate. Carlyle popped the top panel and it hissed. Cold air came pouring out.
Sara was still asleep. Her face smooth and unmarred by the stress of combat, grief of her mother's death and the strange mix of anger, defiance and yearning she always looked at him with. T'Perro administered the drug into the IV to begin the process of waking her up.
"It will take a while for the drug to work," she said as Carlyle headed off to help with another pod.
T'Perro stepped back. Alec took a deep breath before approaching. Sara was twitching, small minute movements of her fingers while her eyes rolled around behind closed eyelids. It looked almost like she was having a nightmare.
He remembered Sara as the five year old screaming herself awake. Tiny fingers scrambling for someone to hold her as she shivered and babbled about the same recurring nightmare, the one where her mother lay still in a pool of her own blood. He was the one who held her as she sobbed, he was the one who told her everything would be fine, that her mother was alive because of her quick thinking. How did their relationship became this fraught?
An instinctual need seized him and he reached out. His fingers brushed against her bare shoulder and squeezed it. It instantly calmed her. Sara exhaled as her eyes started fluttering open. He stepped away as T'Perro swept in to wake Sara. Flexing his hand, he tried to rid himself of the tingle running across his hand. Without a backwards glance, he didn't turned on his heels and strode out.
The mission came first. Everything else could wait. They had time.
Gravity cut out suddenly, leaving Alec and everything in his room floating. His training took over. Fast fingers danced across his omni-tool interface as he called Dunn.
"What's going on?" he growled over comms.
"We hit some kind of energy cloud," Dunn's voice came through, her voice tight and curt.
He nodded. The Initiative had chose well with Dunn. She's unflappable and took no shit, not from him or anyone else when it came to the safety of the Ark and its 20,000 sleepers.
"You better come up and see this yourself. Our sensors were picking up some strange readings before they were knocked offline."
"Understood, heading to the Command Bridge," Alec said.
He found handholds on the furniture bolted to the floor. Using them, he pulled himself back to the terminal and found the system access he needed. With a jab of the finger, gravity returned. He slammed chest first onto the floor. Pressing a hand against his sternum, he stood, glad that he had already put on his armour.
"SAM, what's the status of the Ark?"
"Gravity is out at Cryo and Engineering," SAM reported.
He grimaced. Getting gravity restored would be key. "SAM, what's the status on the Pathfinder team?"
"Lieutenant Cora Harper has been cleared. Specialist Sara Ryder and Liam Kosta are still being processed by the medical staff."
He grunted and strode out the door. Staff were rushing about trying to ascertain the myriad of problems the energy cloud had caused and set about fixing them. He had every confidence in the crew of the Hyperion. They were trained and well motivated. This was but the first baby steps in a brand new cluster.
"Harper!" he shouted as he spotted his second.
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant jogged over. Her blue eyes piercing and sharp as they met his. She was a powerful biotic, one that had trained with asari commandos and was a huntress herself.
"Cryo and Engineering's gravity is offline. You take Cryo, I'll take Engineering."
"Understood," Harper acknowledged and navigated her way through the crowd.
Alec watched Harper's disappearing back for a moment. The sour taste filled his mouth again. False pretences was what got Harper on board the Initiative. She was an invaluable part of his team. With luck, he'd be able to give Harper her own team and she'd never find out about the truth about the SAM implant. It was a necessary evil, one that didn't truly hurt anyone if things went as he planned. There was time to smooth things over now that they were in Andromeda.
Alec stared out of the wide windows installed over the Command Bridge. His hand clenched and unclenched on its own accord. Inside the Hyperion, he imagined he could hear the crackle of electricity as orange glow rippled across the energy cloud before his eyes. It was wide and vast, stretching as far as the eye could see, a blanket covering and obscuring their path forward.
Dunn was fighting fire behind him, bellowing orders and demanding status reports. Harper was still working her way towards Cryo, hopefully she'd get gravity restored soon. Alec yanked his attention from the strange scene to face Dunn.
"We should still maintain course for Habitat Seven."
"Are you out of your mind, Ryder?" Dunn snapped. "We have to get our systems back up and running before we rush headlong into any further situations."
He stiffened. Habitat Seven was out there. New Earth, a fresh start for him, for Ellen and the kids. And the sleepers.
"I know you want to start exploring, we need to—"
One of Dunn's ensign spoke up. "Captain, gravity to Cryo has been restored."
Alec nodded. No doubt it was Harper. He was determined to get the team down to Habitat Seven. Once the initial outpost had been set up, he could resumed work on an implant that was going to manage Ellen's condition and with SAM they could work towards a cure. One way or another, he was determined to make sure things returned to the way they should.
His omni-tool buzzed. It was a call from Carlyle. "Alec, I've got some bad news."
Alec's pulse quickened. Ellen.
Was Carlyle going to tell him that they had lost her pod? Nobody knew she was on board, he kept the truth from the records. There was no way the Initiative would allow Ellen to come, wife or no. She had made it clear she wasn't willing to go into cryo early to save herself. As much as he hated watching his children grieve, to shed tears over their mother who wasn't truly dead, this was the only way he could manage to get her on board. The effort, the tears, the anger would all be worthwhile once they finally see what he had been trying to do. They'd understand, and they could be reunited as a family. He had time to make amends.
Relief warred with fear. His throat seized up. "What about Scott? Isn't he out of cryo?"
"No, the power outage disrupted the process. To force him to wake now would damage his brain. We feel it's better to put him into a low level coma and allow his brain to come around naturally."
Bitterness curled over his tongue. He exhaled, his breath forced its way out through his nose, but the facade he had cultivated over his successful career as an N7 held. Shoving his emotions to the side was how he lived. "Understood, do what you think is best," he said. "What about Sara? Is she okay?"
Voices rose behind Carlyle, he muttered something the mic couldn't pick up and turned back to Alec. "Yes, she is fine. Took a bit of a fall from when the gravity came back, but she's otherwise fine."
"Good," his voice clipped and curt, possessing no hint of concern. Andromeda seemed hellbent on making things difficult for him, but the way forward was clear. Terra Firma, the rest would follow. One step at a time. "Thanks for letting me know. Keep me updated?"
"Will do, Alec."
Dunn had overheard everything, but she didn't offer platitudes. They had bigger problems to tackle. Scott Ryder, in the grand scheme of things was merely a drop in the bucket. She nodded and turned back to her work. It was best the rest of the team got suited up sooner rather than later. They'd be making landfall one way or another.
Tapping on his omni-tool, he spoke, knowing his voice would be pipped directly to the Cryo bay, "This is the Pathfinder, mission team continue preparation. Cora, Sara, report to the Bridge."