“It’s just men and ants. There the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That’s what we are now – just ants.”
― H.G. Wells,
We approached our target zone on Sparrows, dismounting a mere kilometer away, and then only because the path became too narrow for the machines. We walked in single file, into the mouth of what looked like a natural cavern blemished by out-thrust blocks of Vex tech. Arianna took the lead, then Farstride. Drake was dead center of the file, Blue chattering with Ivory over his head. Telrik was next, and I took up the end of the file.
“You should have gone with the rocket,” said Telrik over his shoulder. “If we run into any big units you’ll wish you had more stoppin’ power.”
“If I’m the doorman, crowd control might be an issue,” I replied, hefting the machine gun in my hands for emphasis. “Ever seen a Minotaur attack on its own?” I didn’t tell him I had never actually seen a Minotaur attack anyone.
“Fair enough,” said the Titan. “If you – Brutus!” He interrupted himself.
Brutus the green Ghost was hovering over a beam of energy, wire-thin, that ran from one side of the narrow passage to the other overhead and scanning it, then zipping down to scan it again from another angle.
“Brutus!” repeated Telrik, stopping. The others continued walking ahead of us.
“What? Oh, I was just wondering if this was some kind of relay that might feed back into -”
Brutus sighed and floated down. “But this is boring,” I heard it mutter.
Telrik jogged to catch up to the others who had disappeared through an opening that widened suddenly, and I hurried to close the gap. I caught up in time to hear Drake speaking. “We met resistance by this point the last time we tried this. It is much quieter.” Farstride grunted in reply.
We stood in a wide open space, lit in orange hues of light from overhead. High in the ceiling was a gap wide enough to reveal the Venus sky, stars dim: the storm had passed, but the evidence of its passage dripped throughout the cavern. A double row of 12 columns to our right and left, no 2 of the same height and unevenly spaced, ran the length of the room to a set of wide stairs. On each side of the room, behind the columns, were 3 Vex teleport gates. At the top of the stairs were another smattering of columns around a wide open space. The last gate, easily the largest I had ever seen, crowned the far side of the room, almost flush against the back wall. The walls of the cavern were made of Vex machinery, outcroppings and ledges all humming with power. And dead center of it all, reaching up to the ceiling, was the Vex conflux.
“Let’s do it,” said Farstride. Arianna jogged forward, took a running leap, and skipped off the air to the top of a column, then hopped from column to column until she stood on the tallest above the stairs. She settled into a crouch and readied her scout rifle. The rest of us approached the conflux and let our Ghosts out. They flitted around the conflux, like hummingbirds around a stalk of flowers. I could see Arianna standing on the column, bringing her scope up to her eye every few seconds.
I took a moment to go over my gear, and idly listened to the Ghosts, who had struck up a chatter that was difficult to follow.
“…numbers match a sequence of pi. Might explain their thought process,” said Farstride’s Ghost, Freyja.
“How?” asked Brutus.
“If Time is circular, and they’ve built their whole process on this idea…” said Ebony.
“Oh! I see!”
“We might be able to give that info to the cryptarchs, let them…”
“Something’s happening,” said Drake. The Warlock’s words were barely in the air before the gates all around us hummed and filled with watery illumination one after the other, as if some invisible pulse were traveling along their network, waking them up. What happened next takes longer to describe than the events themselves.
“Incoming!” The warning crackled over our comms in unison with the whisper of teleporting Vex stepping through the gates, and I thought Arianna had meant to warn us about the Goblins that were now advancing on our position.
Farstride thrust out his hands and the world around us shimmered with Light a hairsbreadth before the first pulse crashed into our position, a wave of sound and energy that would have easily annihilated all four us and our Ghosts. We all started back from the attack – except for Drake, who stood still and poised, as if this were all quite normal and expected.
“See?” said Farstride, nodding triumphantly. “I told you this was a trap!”
“No…no you didn’t!” spluttered Telrik. Even with his helm on I could imagine his expression of disbelief.
“Sure I did!” said the other Titan cheerfully as he checked the cylinder on his hand cannon. “When Drake said, ‘It seems much quieter than our last attempt’, I said, ‘It’s probably a trap.'”
“No. You. Didn’t!” insisted Telrik. “That’s malarkey!”
“Anyway!” Farstride continued, “Arianna, what do you see?”
“2 big Hydras came out of the main gate, that’s what’s bombing your position,” the Hunter reported. “And there are Minotaurs coming down the stairs to back up those Goblins that are surrounding you. Sniper nest on the far column behind you, I can’t tap them from here.”
“Morc, take out that sniper nest. I’ll take care of the Minotaurs when you give the all clear,” said Telrik, as he locked and loaded his auto rifle.
I crouched for a moment, drew my knife, and activated my camouflage. My vision warped as light bent around me and I darted back the way we had come, nimbly side-stepping the attacking Goblins preparing to press through the shield to take on the Guardians inside.
Over the comms, Farstride started giving orders. “Telrik, reinforce Arianna when you take out those Minotaurs. Arianna, we need those Hydras distracted before this shield comes down.”
“Already on it,” she replied. Over the sound of Goblin-fire I heard an explosion, followed by a staccato crackle of smaller explosions. The noises repeated, and the ground under my feet ceased shaking.
A running leap took me to the top of the shortest column and I spotted the snipers: a pair of Hobgoblins were on a large outcropping near the entrance, peppering the bubble shield with fire. I ran and skipped from column to column and jumped at them just as my camouflage faded.
The first reacted fast enough to snap off a shot, but it went wide. The second didn’t even have time for that: I stuck my landing and rammed my knife into the space between its chassis and head, tearing it off in a shower of sparks and boiling fluid. It jerked like an injured bug and I kicked it from the ledge, letting gravity do the rest.
My own chassis registered heat and stoppage gel solidified over the injury where the close-range shot had ripped through the armor on my upper arm. //Fear. I drew my hand cannon and gut-shot the other Hobgoblin the moment it cleared leather.
The damn thing hunkered down into a glowing ball of Solar energy, and I stumbled back as it washed over me. I dropped off the ledge and caught the edge with a hand, waiting for the stasis to subside. When the heat dissipated I popped up onto the ledge again and shot it 3 times, shattering it into several pieces. “You’re clear!” I said into my comm and surveyed the scene.
The air was filled with the crackle and roar of weapons fire. Drake and Farstride stood their ground near the conflux. Drake circled the conflux with his back to it, taking down Goblins with snap shots, using an economy of movement and poise. Farstride was less restrained, spinning and shooting at targets of opportunity that came too close to the conflux. A small army of Vex chassis’s littered the ground around them in an almost perfect circle: nothing was getting to the Ghosts.
Telrik was moving steadily toward the big gate, his auto rifle chattering as he cut a wide wedge through the Vex. He seized a Goblin by its bronze crest and bodily hurled it into a column, crunching it into a mangled heap, then casually strafed it with bullets as he passed. His advance only slowed when the 3 Mintotaurs closed into range, their heavy Void weapons giving him pause. He lobbed a grenade at them and they likewise halted their advance as bolts of lightning filled their immediate area.
Arianna had her hands full as well. The Hyrdras were fully focused on her, but she skipped from point to point, cracking off shots of opportunity or the occasional grenade.
I picked up my knife from where I had dropped it and jumped from my own position. I used the columns as stepping stones. As I passed Drake and Farstride I shot a couple of Goblins below me, and then when I was above Telrik’s head I prepped my own grenade and hurled it at the center Minotaur. The air crackled with Arc energy and the scent of ozone and burnt bronze. The Minotaurs broke ranks, teleporting forward aggressively to end the threat. Telrik charged, firing, and rammed his fist through the leg of the nearest. It collapsed at his feet with a groan and he emptied his rifle into it. I paused and opened fire, bringing the shields on a Minotaur down. It roared and teleported back to get an angle, a pulse of Void energy thrown my way. I leapt to another column, closer to the Vex beast, and emptied the rest of my gun into its chassis. It sparked and stuttered back. While I was reloading, Telrik’s gun rattled below my feet and it collapsed. I looked for the third, but it was already down.
I jumped down to join the Titan and we ran up the rest of the stairs in time to see Arianna…well, I can only describe it as an impressive performance.
She stood on one of the far columns, putting precise rounds into the floating Hydras, both of which were of above average size. Their Void weapons split the air with crashes and she jumped over their attack to another column. Then she threw her fist into the air and it filled with bright Light. Arianna leapt into the air right at the nearest Hyrda and fired a Solar round that passed through the Vex like a hot needle through butter. She skipped off the air and somersaulted over the Hydra, firing the next round straight down through its dome. The machine split and cracked open like an overripe fruit and released a wall of flame that engulfed its ally in Solar energy. Arianna landed in a crouch with her back to the surviving Hydra, a hand splayed on the ground, the other behind her pointing the Solar gun at the Vex. Without even looking over her shoulder she pulled the trigger: the shot finished what the fire had begun, and the second Hydra exploded in a wash of Light and heat.
“And that, gentlemen,” she said as she stood up to face us, “is how it’s done.”
Behind her, the large gate hummed and crackled. The Ghosts’ chatter filled the comm waves.
“We got something incoming…
…the gate network is going active…
…coalescing! It’s activating a defense!”
Arianna turned and we all saw the air fill with the faint outlines of a Minotaur chassis. A very, very big chassis. Behind it, the gate whispered as Goblins poured out like angry ants from a disturbed nest.
Telrik summed up my feelings on the matter: “Aww, crap.”