A few days passed before Alex felt ok enough to do more than sit and supervise. She ached and no painkillers worked to take that away. And to be honest, she was tired too. Stayed tired enough that it wore her down to the point she had to take naps mid-day. That aggravated her but she felt better for it every time.
By the fourth day she was more than ready to do more than sleep, eat and sleep. That was when the director that was supervising the students on their last dig came up to her while she was eating at the Blue Land. Alex was enjoying a real burger that made her mouth water when the Asari sat down across from her. Alex swallowed the mouthful she had and then arched one brow up.
“What can I do for you?” Alex studied the Asari a moment, long enough to get the impression on her.
“I am Nosra H’marl, the director of the archeological section of the University. From what Liara T’soni has said, you intend to come along with her right?” The Asari sat almost stiffly in the chair till Alex grinned at her.
“Let me guess, you are rather happy to have me along?” Alex gave her a questioning look a moment but the furrowed brows from Nosra had her grin fade and she leaned towards her.
“I have a… concern you could say. The planet we are going to is at the edge of the Terminus and the students, the ones willing to go… I am still worried that having just you along will not be enough,” Nosra sighed and clenched her hands together tightly, her shoulders straining from the worry.
“Look, you know your Commandos?” Alex waited till Nosra nodded. “You should know that I can take a unit of them down with no issue because of the training I’ve had in the military. If that is not enough, I also am a N7, Special Forces for the Alliance. I am on sabbatical right now. And if push comes you shove, I have a small army here that would be willing to come to me and I can hold out. On top of that, I am a tech expert so I can help with that if you need it. Lastly, gods know these kids haven’t learned to cook so someone should be able to feed you all.” Alex smiled after that, almost smirking.
Nosra listened, put at ease by the human at first till she started to name off things she could take care of. That put her worry up till the N7 was mentioned. Then she couldn’t help but laugh at the end because it was true. “True, none of us are concerned about our meal being tasty, not with fascinating ruins to explore and dig up. I came here looking for a reason to tell you no and I can’t find one reason to not beg you to come!”
Alex laughed. “You will not find me disagreeing. I am glad I eased your mind. Was there anything else you wanted?”
Nosra smiled at Alex and then paused to think it over. “I have never supervised a class before on a dig so knowing what to bring and what you would bring would be helpful. Do you think you could come to my office at the University tomorrow afternoon?”
Alex thought about it a moment then nodded. “If you could tell me where it is…?”
Nosra waved her hand. “Liara can show you where it is. With the last professor off world to visit family, we have no one here who knows how to supply the students. And the University will pay you for your time, that they told me to tell you.”
Alex leaned back in her chair and eyed Nosra as she took a sip of her drink. “Why is it that you head the department but have never experienced being out on a dig?”
Nosra blushed an almost violet color and ducked her head before sighing and slumping her shoulders a bit. “Academic mostly, no real experience. I know everything but it’s all class room and tablets. I wouldn’t be doing this if there was anyone else who had the actual knowledge and experience. Dr. H’rul was the only one in the entire department who had done it out there in that quite frankly scary area. She was the only one willing to do it, otherwise we would have never considered a dig anywhere on a planet near the terminus.”
Alex knew that Nosra’s bluster wouldn’t last past the question she asked but she waited for the truth and found herself shaking her head slowly. “I don’t blame you. Its nasty and with the Batarians and pirates, well you never know when you will suddenly find yourself not in a classroom.” Then she switched gears. “Have you eaten yet?”
Nosra caught herself nodding to Alex’s words and then blinked at her and thought about it. “Umm, I had breakfast… I think,” she said and frowned. She honestly could not remember when she last ate.
Alex snorted in amusement and motioned Hinema over. “Please give this lovely lady anything she wants to eat on my tab Hinema. Ignore her protesting,” Alex added with a chuckle when Nosra started to do that.
It was not funny that the human grinned at her and all but demanded she ate. Then again, she had seen Liara lately. The maiden had more of an aura about her that spoke of health and she glared briefly at Alex. “Might as well give me my regular Hinema,” she finally said much to Alex’s perpetual amusement.
Nosra waited till Hinema had dropped her drink off and then studied the human female. While Nosra sipped at her wine Alex finished off the burger and chased it with a swallow of whatever she was drinking from the bottle. To the Asari, she seemed more than competent. There was a ease to her movement that showed she was wasting nothing and at the same time Alex was making sure everyone around her was where they were supposed to be.
When her food was served she turned her attention to that and started to eat it slowly, paying attention to the sauce that could drip on her suit if she wasn’t careful. Alex at that point watched her a moment then glanced away, lifting her bottle up to Hinema who came over with a fresh one for her. She tipped it back and took a drink of the imported beer and then looked past Nosra to see Kraz there. She waved and then checked the time.
“Well I have to get to work… paperwork at least. Send Liara the information and I will see you tomorrow at least. I’ll have a dossier of stuff you will need. I assume this is frontier and no prefabs?” Alex arched a brow up.
Nosra took a sip of her wine. “I think there will be prefabs. I’ll check when I get back. I never expected a human to be so kind to an alien,” she said hesitantly but knew, just knew, that Alex wouldn’t be offended. Something about her said so to Nosra.
Alex glanced at the Asari from the corner of her eye and then smirked. “I aim to confuse,” she said teasingly before walking off.
Nosra sat there a minute, trying to understand the idiom that Alex quipped and then shrugged. She finished up her meal and drink quickly then rose up and nodded to Hinema before leaving to head back to her office. There she shot off a message to Liara before getting into her own work and forgetting about what happened for now.
The next day Alex met up with Nosra with Liara and they worked out all the supply issues along with logistics of the dig trip. Nosra was rather pleased with the results though later on she would curse herself for the whole thing. If she had only known at the time.
The rest of the week Alex spent in helping Liara with her things or making sure that Selah and Narzun would be fine running things while she was away. They had to both keep reassuring her that they had it handled. After the twentieth time, Selah all but forcefully pushed Alex back with her biotics, surprising both of them. And then Selah profusely apologized about that. Ales laughed it out and grinned, saying she deserved it.
The morning the students were to leave found Alex sitting at the Blue Land having breakfast with Liara. Neither of them spoke much as they ate though Alex finished before Liara because the Asari kept on nursing her tea, nervous about the last trip she would take before graduating from the Serrice University.
Alex pushed her plate away and sipped her coffee, pleased that Morlena had imported it. It was a acquired taste that Narzun, Kraz and she enjoyed. Liara sat there picking at her breakfast, her eyes showing she was deep in thought and it took Alex poking her nose lightly to get her out of her thoughts.
“Want to share?” Alex smiled at Liara and then tilted her head slightly.
Liara stared at her a moment then blinked a little. “Oh, sorry. This is the last thing I am doing as a student. After that, I will graduate and… I don’t know if I can get a job. My. Mother dislikes this path I’ve taken.” She trailed off with a soft sigh and glanced outside.
Alex thought over what she said a moment. This was new to her but now that she thought back, Liara never spoke of her mother which said a lot about the two’s relationship. Alex furrowed her brows because she had always been close to her father. Akak was always there for her even after her mother had died and the two were close as a result of their shared tragedy. And that brought her back to the present and she glanced at her omni tool then opened it up and sent a message to her father, apologizing to him for not contacting him sooner.
Liara finally looked back then down at her breakfast and finished it up. “We should be meeting the rest at the space port in a hour.”
Alex looked at the time and nodded. “Narzun is going to drive us over there and bring my skycar back.” They had packed and put everything in the skycar before coming over to Blue Land for breakfast. Alex swallowed the last of her coffee and then rose up, nodding to Narzun who set his cup down and got up.
“You two have fun,” the Turian said in his dual tones.
Morlena was there and handed Alex a small box. “If something happens, use this.” She knew about the area they were going and it was better to have some sort of safety than nothing at all.
Alex just laughed Narzun and Liara gave him a nervous smile. “I hope so,” Liara said after a moment.
Then Alex glanced down at the box and opened it. In it was a plain, cheap looking necklace and she arched a brow at Morlena. “No one would steal that and it won’t activate till you crush the pendant’s crystal. It’s a homing device to which I hope you do not need it.”
Alex nodded and slipped it over her neck. “Pray the gods see fit to keep us safe,” she said and smiled before turning away.
Narzun slipped into the car after Alex and Liara got in and then started it up. It took them thirty minutes to get to the space port and another 10 to get to the departure zone where they met up with the 7 others including Nosra. From there they made it to the gate where their transport was waiting and loaded their personal items into it. Crew were loading the heavier items like the prefab cases and equipment they would need.
Alex waited with the rest, listening to the students nervously twitter about random things. Liara was silent, fidgeting one moment and the next still. This, to Alex’s knowledge, was something new from the maiden Asari. She arched a brow after catching Liara’s eye and the Asari stopped with a sheepish smile.
A few hours after that found the students and two chaperones on their way. It would take a day to get to the relay and then a week to get to the planet they intended to explore. Alex took the time to catch up with some reading, speaking to Nosra when she wanted to talk and relaxing. She never realized till that moment just how busy running the bouncers were.
After hitting the relay the transport cruised towards their destination. Alex received a response from her father and smiled at it. He wanted to know why she had been silent so long and where she was and when she was going to come home to visit. So she replied that she was on a ship heading for planet out near the Terminus and that it was best to not tell him where. She also told him she found herself on the other side of the galaxy and had been busy and that she didn’t know when she would have time to visit but maybe after this trip she could take the time. After that, she sent the message off and went back to her book.
“Vector approach is 5 by 5 sir,” the helmsman said as the captain watched their approach.
“Keep her steady so we don’t burn up in the atmos. The landing zone is in sector 9 G Mr. Glassglow,” the captain responded with.
“Aye, aye, sir! Approaching the window now… and through. Hull temperature is within acceptable levels.”
“Keep her steady…,” the captain was happy to find everything in order and glanced over at the visitor at his side.
“We should be landing in about 10 minutes Ms. Stefanos. If you would like to, you can tell the kids that we are almost there now,” he said with a laugh.
“Naw, they know. Most of them are chomping at the bit to be back on solid ground or sticking their nose in the dirt. We should see you in about 2 weeks right?” Alex shifted, her crossed arms dropping down to her sides as the captain nodded.
“Yup, we should be back around after the cargo delivery back in the Sol system. You keep them safe here, it’s still too close to the Terminus for my liking,” the captain replied.
“Yes sir,” Alex said and snapped a salute to him.
The captain laughed and shooed her off. She nodded with a grin and turned, leaving the bridge to find the rest who were various states of excitement. Liara was quite, her fingers flexing as she sat in her chair, waiting for the ship to land. A few of the others were either talking quietly or sleeping, taking rest while they had a chance.
Alex sat down next to Liara as the ship’s motion changed. They were breaking to land now and she relaxed, waiting for the signal from the captain. When it came she rose up and eyed the rest. “Ok listen to me. Let’s get everything unloaded and worry about who’s going where later after we get the prefabs set up. The ship will be unloaded as quick as they can and then will be off. They will be back here in two weeks so we have time to explore to your heart’s content. Later.”
Nosra nodded in agreement knowing Alex only had their safety in mind when she said it. She, like the rest, grabbed their stuff and disembarked once the hatch was down. The air that hit them was a bit dry but cool with a strange scent of sweetness. Thankfully it wasn’t something to worry about and they brought their stuff out, setting it down well away from the ship then turned to help the crew unload the supplies.
A hour later saw the ship departing and everyone turned to break out the pieces of the prefabs. With daylight starting to fade they had very little time before dark came upon them and Alex finished the last prefab just as darkness fell. The students piled in to the prefabs and started to unpack while Alex checked on their dinner she had started earlier. Finding it done she covered the large pot up and it was not too long before the students came back out to get their dinner.
It was in silence that the eight ate, a few looking up at the sky and others too tired to care about more than their food. One by one they cleaned their plates and then slipped into bed, leaving Alex and Nosra to clean up after. And when that was done, both retired to the prefab they shared with Liara and another student.
It was late morning when Alex woke and ventured out of the prefab. She yawned then started setting up for breakfast for the students. When it was simmering she found a clear space and started to run through a half forgotten kata, enjoying the movements that cleared her mind. She was finished by the time the first of the students came out, eager to get started.
After breakfast, the students were assigned areas to search and work on and most of them packed up their equipment and started out. Liara lifted up her backpack and then turned to Alex with a faint smile. “Ready?”
Alex nodded, slapping the Karpov on the mag-strip at her side. “I’ll make sure we are back in time for dinner and I packed a lunch for the both of us.” She tugged on her own pack that carried the food and other things then motioned for Liara. The Asari turned and then accessed the map before shifting her orientation and started walking. Mostly the land was flat and dusty, with patches of grass the only reason there was no dust storms to greet them.
It made her uneasy at first because there were no signs of any sort of creature till she finally spotted one well camouflaged. It was the same color as the grass and its pattern was exactly alike. Alex pointed it out and Liara smiled at it, explaining that it was similar to vermin though less destructive and more wanting to hoard shiny things.
They arrived at the spot assigned to Liara and Alex set up a temporary camp while the Asari started to grid out the area she picked. It was bare ground with no grass growing and in fact the dirt was a different color than the dirt they had walked over. Liara explained that something kept the grass from taking hold and whatever it was also discolored the dirt because of degradation.
Alex set up the small tent, leaving the sides rolled up so the breeze could blow through and keep her out of the sun. She unpacked the water and took one bottle, sipping at the cold water. Then she watched Liara for a few minutes before turning to her book and reading. It was a few hours later, when she checked the time and realized it was past noon. She got up and grabbed a sandwich and bottle of water and walked over to where Liara was.
“Lunch time,” she said as Liara glanced up at her with dirt smudged on her nose.
“Is it?” Liara glanced around, realizing she had worked long and hard for a few hours and then glanced down at the piece that she had started to uncover. While it was not Prothean, it had the characteristics of one of the earlier Turian colonies that had settled out in the galaxy a long time ago. She couldn’t quite tell what was depicted on it yet and sighed as she set her brush down next to it and got up.
Alex handed her the sandwich and water and then turned to tent, motioning. They both settled down in the shade and ate though Liara kept giving her dig a longing glance. That made Alex snort in amusement and she gave Liara a look that told the Asari to eat first then go back to her work. Liara visibly deflated at that and dug into her sandwich.
It was a job in itself to make sure the Asari didn’t starve herself. Once she got on a tangent it was hard to pull her away and Alex knew this from experience. It didn’t take Liara long to demolish the sandwich and then she took her bottle of water and went back to the digging. Alex glanced up at the sky a moment, seeing a white trail that could have been a cloud before turning back to her book without another thought.
The sun was shining in her eyes when she realized it was time to head back and she shut down the app for the book she was reading and got up, packing up everything she had set out then turning to Liara. “It’s time,” she said to the Asari who looked up tiredly at her and nodded.
Liara quickly packed up her stuff and shouldered the back before they turned to head back. They weren’t the last to arrive but they weren’t the first either. Nosra nodded to them when they got back and Alex started to make dinner for the group. This is how the next four days went for them.
The fifth day found Nosra pacing well after dark as one of the students hadn’t returned yet. Kaldro was not there. Alex told Nosra she would wait to see if the Salarian returned and told her to get some sleep. She settled down in the dark and waited, making sure all the lights were off so she could see better in the darkness.
Movement caught her eye and she looked away, letting the darker shape show in the edges of her vision. It was too large to be the Salarian which worried her. She got up and crouched down, waiting for the movement to get closer. The muttered curse and the sound of someone kicking a box hit her ears and she slipped her Karpov out. When she was able to distinguish the form her Karpov wavered a bit because another form followed and both wore armor. She backed up and away from them only to stop when the feel of cold metal pressed against the back of her neck.
“Get up,” the gruff voice said and snatched her Karpov from her grasp. Like lightening, she shifted and spun, grabbing the shoulder armor and falling back, throwing whoever that was towards one of the other bodies.
The impact of two armored beings met her ears and she grabbed her Karpov, the thunder of the gun making it all but a moot point to be silent when she fired two shots into the two down beings. The crack of another pistol had her dodging, rolling back into the shadows and making whoever had taken that shot at her curse. A barked order had 10 different lights shine in the dark and Alex barely made it behind one of the prefab boxes before someone shinned their light on where she had just been standing. She backed up more and dodged around one of the prefabs just as one of the students came out, rubbing their eyes tiredly to ask what was going on.
Alex heard the sound of a fist meeting flesh and the student crying out before going silent. She silently made her way towards where she hid her other weapons. She came around the otherside of the prefab where the armored beings didn’t expect and fired 3 more shots. One thudded against a shield, the second pierced one figure’s shoulder and the last snapped back the head of what appeared to be an Asari. Alex had to dive to cover after that as one of them unloaded an assault rifle on her location.
A shouted command to find her came from the leader and she rolled under the prefab, crawling in the space underneath. Footsteps came around and then another curse was heard when they found no one where they expected Alex to be. With 3 of them dozen out of commission she crawled out from between two of the prefabs and waited for someone to come around the corner. They were met with the handle of the Karpov to the temple and taken down. Alex kicked the crappy rifle under the prefab and then peered around the corner.
The leader ordered the rest to pull the students out of the prefabs and the mercs, for that was what they were, did so. All the students including Liara were tossed to the ground in front of the merc leader and tied up. Then the leader’s voice came out of the dark.
“Whoever you are, come out and we will not hurt you but continue to fight and you will be killed,” he said with a growl.
Alex shook her head and looked around, trying to see a way out of this situation they found themselves in. She couldn’t and straightened up. There was more of them than there was of her first off and second, she saw no way to kill them all without having the students suffer too. “Yea, alright,” she said and came out, hands up and pistol held by the barrel.
“Throw that over there,” the leader said and she did as he said. Then he dropped his hand down and the crack of a sniper rifle echoed in the dark.
Alex felt a burning pain hit her, staggering her back. She looked down to find blood pouring from her chest. Her lungs burned as she took in air and then coughed up blood. Then the world tilted and she saw the stars, the pain overtaking any thought of peace she had. One hand pressed over the bullet wound and the other creeped up to the necklace, grabbing a hold of it and crushing the pendant between her fingers. That was the last thing she remembered as darkness crushed her sight.