"Shuttle's ETA two minutes," Harper's voice rang in his ear. "Hold on."
Alec took a shuddering breath only to be forced to take another. Each one he took, his lungs begged him for just one more. Habitat Seven was going to be his grave. His tombstone would say nothing but "failed husband and father". Why had he dragged them all here for? For a fresh start he wasn't truly committed to? For a cure he knew in his hearts of heart was a vain hope.
Tears leaked from his eyes as a sob ripped from his throat. He thought himself strong, but he was by far the weakest of them all. Ellen was ready for the end, he decided his need was more important than her wishes. He could see that now. How clearly he was seeing that now.
Sara's vitals were failing again. It holding steady for a short time was a fluke. Whatever SAM was doing, it wasn't working. He had consigned his daughter to death, his son to a life alone on Andromeda if he woke and his wife to an uncertain fate.
A roar shook the ground. His heart lurching and stuttering in panic as he reached futilely for a rifle he no longer had the strength to fire. Craning his neck, he saw a shuttle of white and blue shot across the sky before landing somewhere out of sight. It was here. Maybe there was hope for Sara.
"Hold on, sir!" Harper's voice drifted away further and further away. All that was left was his pulse thumping in his ear and the rising and falling of Sara's chest under his hand.
"Hold on," he whispered to Sara.
"Fuck," Sara whispered as they stepped in. The bright glow coming from the alien interface reflected in her eyes, bright, gleaming and bold.
"Yeah," Alec chuckled.
Sara looked at him as if he had grown a second head. Snorting, he jerked his head towards the triangle of light floating in mid-air. Slow and steady, they approached. She had her rifle out, ready for the first sign of hostiles. Approval and pride, both foreign emotions when it came to Sara, but this mission had prove her mettle ten-fold. Even now with all the revelations he had. His tongue still tasted sour. Sour of guilt, sour of unspoken words, sour of the anger he was beginning to chisel from his heart.
Soon, he promised himself. Soon he'd have a good talk with Sara. Good explanations, those he didn't have, they would sound like excuses. They were excuses. It might seemed impossible for hate and love to exist at the same time, focused on the same person, but it did.
He had no right to take his anxiety and worry out of his daughter but she bore the brunt of his impotence and anger. Tidying it away and calling it discipline didn't excuse his actions. His daughter needed a father, not a commanding officer. It was to Ellen's credit they still were a family and not sundered and spread across the entire galaxy, too angry and frustrated to remain together.
Soon. I promise.
"So what's next?" Sara asked, her eyes still trained on the silver glittering lights.
"SAM decoded part of the language by interfacing with the console outside," he replied. "Now maybe we can have a conversation."
She frowned at him. "With who?"
"With what," he corrected. "I think this thing is automated."
She huffed, a soft sound of wonder mixed with acceptance. Without waiting for his command, she strode ahead, taking the lead. Blue light bathed over her, tingeing her white armour. Exposed panels of green and black on the ground flared as she passed. The closer she got to the alien interface, the stronger the light pulsed.
Her acceptance of her role in the team seemed to come at the cost of the spark and fire he saw when she was a child of five. It was a fire that weathered so much only for him to nearly extinguish.
"Sara," blurting her name before he knew what he wanted to say.
She spun around. Suspicion, wariness and apprehension, but beyond them was a tiny bit of hope and yearning.
"You did good," the words spilled from his lips in a rough tumble.
Straightening, the edges of a smile tugged at her lips. "Thank you, sir."
Alec grimaced. There was a sudden tightness in his chest, a need to hear her call him Pa again. When was the last time the word graced her lips? When was the last time he had actually heard it? Months? Years? The fact that he couldn't remember scared him.
What kind of father have I been?
Sara frowned, the tightening between her brow was an expression he had seen so often on his own. For all his stupid fucked up anger, she was truly his daughter. One moulded in his shape and his damned personality too.
"Shall we continue?" she asked. "We should really shut this down. I don't like the look of Pike's and Fisher's injuries."
He inhaled sharply. Her priorities were right, he had indulged in his own strange musings enough for a day. His legs took him passed her.
Beams of light pierced the gloomy interior, forming a triangle. The entire interface was seemingly suspended in midair.
"I am here, Alec," SAM replied.
The shimmering core of the interface pulsed like it was breathing, steady and regular. Is it sentient?
"Translation complete," SAM reported.
"Let's shut this thing down," he ordered.
"Yes Alec," SAM said.
Alec could feel Sara's eyes on his back as he raised his palm towards the alien interface. His omni-tool flickered to life, throwing bright orange against his face. He couldn't say if it was merely a visual aid thrown on his HUD to help him make sense of what was happening, but tendrils of orange lights drifted from his hand towards the alien interface. Spreading and reaching, it was all he could do to hope SAM's translations were accurate.
Lights at the points of the interface flared in unison in an intensity so strong that his visor couldn't keep it from blinded him. He winced, twisting away. Sara stepped up to his side. It was fitting she stood by his side as he attempted this.
White flashed across the perimeter of the triangular interface. Alec took a step back, bumping into Sara. The ground rumbled and shook. Just like that the oppressive feeling on Habitat Seven faded.
It was the storm, it always had been the storm. Alec could truly breathe again. The first hurdle was cleared. All he had to do was let SAM do his thing. Now they could head way back to the Hyperion, lick their wounds and plan their next step.
Walking out of the structure was like stepping onto a whole new world. The skies were clear. Though the rocks still floated, the storm was completely gone. Maybe this could work, maybe Habitat Seven could still be viable. Maybe a cure for AEND wasn't all that far away, maybe he could find a way to love his daughter the way she deserved to be. Maybe a man could wish and pray and have it all.
"You did it," Sara whispered, her voice reverent as she gazed out at what potentially was new Earth.
His arm rose, fingers splayed out as it hovered just over her shoulder. Hesitation froze his hand as the sour taste returned. Alec grunted and forced his hand to rest against Sara's shoulder. He felt her flinch under his grip, but he pretended he did not notice.
"We did it," he replied.
Sara stared at him. "Thank you," the words released from between her lips lifted the tightness in his chest. "Pa—"
Her sentence hung half finished. She spun, eyes jerking to look back at the alien structure. A warning on her lips, a frown on her brow. Roiling waves of energy and gas rushing towards them. A roar filled his ears, rocking him to the core. Its hunger would not be denied.
A brilliant blue wrapped around them, a barrier against the rushing tide. She stood in a pose not unlike his just mere moments before. His to unlock an alien tech, hers to keep them from certain death. Determination and grit stretched across her shoulders as her face scrunched up in concentration.
The storm slammed into them. Her barrier stood no chance. It flickered and shattered upon contact. All Sara had time for was a sharp inhale of surprise, then she was ripped away from his grip. There was no time to even scream. One moment Alec had his feet planted on the ground, the next he was falling and falling and falling.
Alec's vision was more dark than clear now. His breath wheezed in shuddering spurts too weak to answer his body's desperate need for air. He was suffocating.
This was it.
Boots clomping against the packed soil of Habitat Seven. Dark figures were running towards them, probably Harper and Carlyle. They had to hurry. Sara needed their help.
This was it.
"I'm sorry," Alec gasped. "I'm so sorry for everything."
The last words he ever uttered were in apology to his daughter, words he should have told her while she was still capable of hearing them, words he needed to say, words she needed to hear. As the darkness consumed Alec Ryder, his thoughts lingered on his daughter, and the duty and burden he had saddled her with. A sense of confidence lifting him as he sank down into the depths of inky darkness. She would rise to the challenge, of that, he had no doubt.