Consciousness returned like lapping waves of the rising tides. The cold unyielding surface against her back chilled her to the bones. Lights flickering over her closed eyelids, turned her world alternatingly red and black. A hum, all encompassing and steady, filled her ears. The air tasted crisp and sterile.
She inhaled and shifted. That was the wrong thing to do. It woke the pain and everything hurt. A groan spilled from her lips unbidden.
She cracked her eyelids opened. Light was a spike straight into her brain. "Fuck," she hissed, squeezed them shut again. With a grunt and eyes tightly shut, she levered herself upright.
"Hey, hey, easy."
Frowning, she tried to place the voice. "Kosta?"
"Liam, but yes," he replied, chuckling a little. "It's me. How are you feeling?"
Sara attempted opening her eyes again, this time directing them to the floor. It worked better. The floor was silver and polished. It reflected the ceiling lights, it had ceiling lights. She was most definitely not on Habitat Seven any longer.
Hunched over, her ribs ached something fierce. "What happened?" she gasped, fighting to gain her feet. There was an urgency burning in her gut, but she couldn't quite place why that was.
The world tilted the moment she got to her feet, the floor seemed to surge up to her face. Strong arms wrapped around her hip, halting her downward fall. Liam pulled her arm over his shoulder. "Come on, you shouldn't be on your feet yet."
He eased her back onto the makeshift bed she had been lying on. The dark spots in her vision retreated once she was no longer upright. It took her a moment to realise where she was. "We're in SAM node? The Hyperion?"
Though her memories were still fuzzy at best, a sudden tightness squeezed her chest, her headache intensified. "What happened?"
Her eyes were locked on Liam's, but he grimaced and looked away. "I should get Harry or Lexi to come check in on you."
Fingers digging into her temples, she tried to squeeze the drumming from her skull. "Just tell me, where's the Pathfinder?" she asked. "Where's my father?"
His jaw tightened, looking longingly at the door, probably wishing he could escape. Her heart thudding against her chest at an ever increasing rate the longer he held his tongue.
It felt like an eternity later when Liam took a deep breath and said, "He died."
The words didn't register. Sara blinked. "Dead?"
"How?" Her voice held steady despite the air rushing out of her lungs. Despite being seated, she wavered. Her arms braced against the bed were the only thing that held her up. She'd never ever thought this was possible. Her father was the invincible N7 soldier, decorated Alliance soldier, Pathfinder to Ark Hyperion. He could never die, never.
"I should get someone to check on you," Liam inched towards the door, determined not to be the one answering her questions. "You don't look too good."
"Liam," she called, forcing herself to her feet again, her vision darkened for a second, but it cleared up quickly. "Just tell me."
"Are you sure?"
As the words poured from between Liam's lips, like a broken dam, she found she needed to sit again. The tightness intensified to a degree she found herself gasping softly.
"And now you're the Pathfinder, Ryder."
Her eyes snapped up to meet his. "I'm the Pathfinder?"
"Yes, Cora has confirmed it with SAM, the Pathfinder authority has been passed to you," he replied. "Shit, you really do not look good. Please just stay here, Ryder. I'm going to get someone."
It had started then. She had taken on her father's mantle whether she wanted it or not. All the hurt and pain that stretched from the Milky Way to Andromeda came to an abrupt halt, but it didn't mean she didn't have questions. The whys she needed answers for but had never dared ask. Now, they would remain forever a mystery. That tenuous cord that tied her to her father was roughly sliced off, leaving her bleeding and confused.
"Pathfinder," a voice spoke up in the recesses of her mind, unexpected and sudden.
She flinched before groaning. The motion jarring her aching body.
"I'm sorry, Pathfinder," the voice said — she jerked again, reality never hit her harder — "I didn't mean to startle you. This is SAM, speaking to you via our private channel."
Pathfinder, she was the Pathfinder now, because her father was dead. Dead, like her mother. Dead, because of her? Her memories were still a jumbled mess. She remembered her father's curt manner during the briefing, his stern and calculating eyes when she boarded the shuttle, the roar of the wind as she and Liam was ripped out of it. Fisher, Greer and Kirkland's faces flashed before her eyes. Injuries and death pressed against her mind. She grunted and squeezed her eyes shut. There was no stopping the roiling chaos in her mind.
"SAM," she called out. "What's happening to me?"
"My transfer to your implant had been highly traumatic and you were clinically died for 22 seconds."
I died. Why am I here when Pa isn't? I died. Why did he pick me over himself? I died. Why me? I died. It doesn't make sense. I died. This should have been Cora's job, not mine. I died.
"Pathfinder, your cortisol level is rising," SAM informed, but his voice was far away.
Her brain throbbed inside her skull harder. A whimper escaped her clenched tight jaw. She could almost feel her father's eyes burning a hole against her back, forcing her to turn and look. There was nothing, just SAM. The blue undulating shape that hung in the middle of an empty room felt impersonal, his voice in her head invasive.
"Do you require assistance, Pathfinder?" SAM asked.
This was all too much to take in.
Can I do it? Ark Hyperion depends on me now. Habitat Seven isn't viable, not really. 20,000 lives, they all depend on me, just me. I don't think I can.
She caught herself, noticing her breath had quickened, growing shallow. Squeezing her eyes shut, she forced herself to take slow deliberate breaths. It wouldn't do nobody any good if she freaked out and have a panic attack. "Get a grip." Her fingernails dug into her palms, cutting half moons into them. Focusing on the pain, she used it to ground herself to reality, to drag herself back from the chaos of doubts and crashing waves of anxiety.
It's fine, I'm fine, everything will be fine.
Sara couldn't say how long she repeated that to herself, but her breathing was almost back to normal when Harry and Lexi entered.
"Ryder," Harry called out, stopping an arm's length away while Lexi approached, her omni-tool already out in a well-practised motion. Orange light swept over her, scanning her vitals. She looked up and saw the guilt in the twisted grimace plastered across Harry's face.
"Thank you, both of you for saving my life." She tried to raise only to be pushed back onto her butt by Lexi.
"Sit, your blood pressure is a little low, I do not like that," Lexi said. Fishing a ration bar from her pocket, she thrusted it into Sara's face. "Eat this."
Despite not feeling the least bit hungry and the thought of eating turning her stomach, she forced herself to bite a piece off. She chewed on it deliberately and slowly, hopefully her gut wouldn't rebel and toss it back out again later.
"SAM," Harry straightened, shifting his attention to the blue blob behind her. "How does the connection look?"
"The connection is stable now. Resetting her connection to me has helped," SAM replied. "The Pathfinder's vitals has stabilised."
"Good," he nodded, turning back to Sara. "Ryder, how do you feel? Any soreness or discomfort?"
Ryder. She had lost her name without even realising it, just because she was the only Ryder left. Scott was locked in a coma, her mother long dead and her father now gone because he sacrificed himself for a daughter he never loved. It just didn't make any sense.
"Just my ribs and a killer headache."
"That is to be expected," Lexi replied. "You broke your ribs and punctured your lung. The transfer wrecked havoc with your brain, which is also likely to be the cause of your headache."
Harry nodded with relief.
"Thankfully, the scan results are normal. All you need rest, a proper one this time and some painkillers to tide you over."
The door slid open, this time admitting Cora and Liam. Ryder's eyes found Cora's. Apologies crowded in her mouth, but they died seeing the anger and confusion rippling across Cora's face. Words were inadequate for this. She had no explanation to offer, none that was good enough. Cora took a deep breath and within the span of the ten steps it took to get from the door to an arm's length from Sara's face, the anger and confusion was stowed away. There was nothing left but a stoic stony expression.
"Pathfinder," Cora greeted, her voice a little harsher than usual. The word cut like broken shards of glass.
Ryder's jaw tightened. "Are you sure—"
"I will stand by Alec's decision. He transferred the Pathfinder authority to you."
It stung to hear Cora's voice so sharp, so bitter, but it felt right. Cora deserved to let her anger be known. This was supposed to be her job after all.
"We are arriving at the Nexus soon, it's best you get prepared. We need our Pathfinder," Cora went on as if she hadn't had spoken at all.
Harry was about to object, but Sara shook her head. He folded his arms across his chest, disapproval radiating.
Sara — no Ryder — rolled her shoulders, trying to settle the newfound weight across them. She grunted and pushed herself to her feet. Her legs held this time, eating had helped. Nodding her thanks to Lexi and Harry, she took her first steps as the human Pathfinder. They were stiff and a little awkward, but they were hers.
"Come on, we have work to do," she said, striding towards the exit.