“Knowing someone isn’t coming back doesn’t mean you ever stop waiting”
― Toby Barlow
The recording is time-stamped 25 years prior, and shows the Tower Hangar. Two human technicians, both in Dead Orbit colors, and a handful of frames mill around an Awoken-style jump-ship. The vessel is suspended by cables and appears inert. A worker frame is preparing a cutting torch near the cockpit. The ship itself has had its side opened, exposing its inner-workings, and a tangle of cables have been attached and now run to a monitor. The humans concentrate their efforts on these and occasionally flit back to the blank monitor. After another cable is spliced into the vessel, the monitor lights up…
“Hey, Carl, look at this.”
“Please tell me we’re in, El. I’m missing Crucible Hour you know…”
“Definitely!” El grinned and waved her male compatriot over. “I’ll buy you your drinks tonight, I promise. I told you this would be worth the extra time.”
“Hope the boss agrees. I’ll take glimmer over free drinks any night.”
“Liar,” said El. Her fingers flew over the keys. “You’d just spend it on drinks anyway.”
Carl grunted but didn’t argue. He walked over to stand next to El. “System locked?”
“Yeah…gimme a second…” El frowned at the monitor. “I’m going to pipe this into the record. Might be useful if we ever salvage another like this.”
The feed splits with the monitor’s readout. A baffling display of scrolling characters in an unidentified language or script plays over in a loop every 43 seconds.
Carl grunted again. “This could take months.”
El sighed. “Yeah. Maybe we can get a Cryptarch to give it a look.”
“Back to Plan B then. We cut it open.”
“But that could ruin the integrity, Carl! We’ve been over this. When was the last time you saw an intact jump-ship from the Reef like this?”
“It’s useless like it is now, El. At least if we slice it open we can have some salvage, get an idea of how these things work.”
As the technicians argue, a little orange Ghost floats up behind them…
“Hello.” The Ghost’s voice was one of the exceptionally weary.
The technicians both jumped and turned around. “Oh, uh, hello,” said El.
“What do you have here?” asked the Ghost.
“Oh, we found this ship near Venus. We’re trying to get it open.”
“Hmm.” The Ghost floated down to the monitor and scanned it briefly. Carl lifted a hand and opened his mouth as if to protest, but El slapped him in the chest and shook her head sharply.
“Advanced encryption. Not impossible though. I could crack it open for you.” The Ghost turned to look at the techs. The upper portion of his shell drooped over his eye, as if in a perpetual frown.
“Oh. Sure!” said El. Carl crossed his arms and grunted. He glared at El in a manner that bespoke disapproval.
“OK, just a minute…” The Ghost floated over the ship itself and scanned the open side.
“We don’t know who that Ghost is attached to!” Carl hissed at El.
“He’s not! Just look at him: he doesn’t have a Guardian. If anything can decrypt this ship in record time it’s a Ghost!”
“I have a bad feeling about this…”
“Carl, even if he had a Guardian, there’s no way I’m getting in the way of a Ghost. Those things are Traveler-born.”
“Don’t start with that ‘Traveler is a god’ thing again. I swear, you ought to just go join the Monarchy or maybe that cult down on Salem street…”
The monitor flickered, cutting off the discussion. A recording began to play.
“Got something here,” said the Ghost. “Still need a few minutes…”
The recording displayed a clear view of Venus from low orbit, seen through the ship’s cockpit. The planet was approaching rapidly, its various shades of green lit with the occasional flash of blue from a storm…
“Target has leveled out. Looks like they’re heading into the storm. I’m in pursuit and going comm-silent.”
“Understood. Watch your back Arianna.”
Arianna’s hand flicked out and killed the comm, then pulled back on the ship’s joystick to level off, veering in the direction of the storm clouds. They swirled and clung to the sides of the ship as it cut through, and soon the cockpit was lit only by the internal displays, reflected in thousands of rain droplets splattered over the view. A blinding flash of blue washed everything out for a moment, and the vessel shuddered from the shock wave, the sound muted by the ship’s insulation. Arianna’s view flicked over to a 3-D sensor display: 3 large dots at the 12’oclock position and just below. She nudged the ship down slightly and accelerated.
The clouds broke for a moment, and a solid black mass could just be seen cutting through the storm below her. It was gone again in an instant, and a flash of lightning revealed nothing but more clouds.
“You can run…” the pilot murmured. She nosed the ship down sharply, broke through the bottom of the cloud cover to expose the landscape below, and leveled off just beneath the clouds. Wispy fingers clutched at her ship, as if beckoning her back into the morass of the storm. She craned her head side to side, looking for the target, then back at the sensor: her position was absorbed in red. “Where are you?” She looked up.
The black mass pushed through the cloud cover and descended. Two smaller objects broke from beneath it and were lit up with Arc energy from their guns: Fallen skiffs.
Arianna shoved the nose down again, heading into an accelerated dive, then pulled up sharply, back into the storm. The ship wailed with reported hits. She guided her vessel past the spearing nose of the Fallen Ketch, which was gone just as quickly as it had appeared.
The Awoken ship continued to whine and wail. Displays lit up and flashed urgently. Arianna kicked it into a barrel-roll, but continued to push for altitude. She broke through the upper reaches of the storm and into the light of Sol as lights all over her display flickered and winked out.
Arianna reached for her comms. “Reef Control, Granuaille One: copy?” Nothing. “Reef Control, Granuaille One: copy?” The comm remained silent. She pushed the stick and rolled the ship over, giving her a clear view of Venus. The pursuers were gone. “Reef Control, Granuaille One. Direct contact with target. I was ambushed. I am losing power to all systems: looks like something was Arc fried. Transmitting combat telemetry. Establishing Geo-synchronous orbit at these coordinates…”
The flight recording ends abruptly and cuts back to the Tower view. The Ghost flits over to the cockpit while the technicians begin another unintelligible discussion.
“Oh! Oh! Where have you been all this time?” The Ghost flickered and shone brightly over the cockpit.
End of Record 078.