“People often believed they were safer in the Light, thinking monsters only came out at night.”
― C.J. Roberts,
The two Hunters flitted between the trees like sparrows: short, quick flaps of their cloaks from brush to branch and disappearing into the background the moment they were still, even in the bright daylight. Gwendolyn was convinced she stuck out like a streak of chalk on a clean blackboard in her white robes. A branch cracked like a gunshot under her feet and she winced when Miranda turned her head to look back at her. Arianna waved them beneath a tall pine and hunkered down. Her Ghost peeked out of a satchel on her belt.
“There’s an old tower of some kind about half a kilometer away.” Arianna kept her voice low. “We get to the top, set up our transmitter there, and we should be able to get a signal from anywhere in the solar system. I’ll go to the top, you two establish a perimeter. Radio silence until the transmitter is on and the channel is encrypted.”
Gwen nodded. Arianna motioned them on and flitted forward through the scattered shadows cast by the branches. Miranda motioned for Gwen to follow and took up the rear.
The structure was beyond the edge of the trees in a wide field that the forest was slowly reclaiming with saplings and brush. It was a twenty-five meter tall round tower of rusting metal with a domed top and crowned with antennae that stuck out at odd angles, some leaning like they would fall. It was joined to a scaffolding of metal that had tracks and gears designed to raise a large square frame up and down the side. An ancient staircase wound around its shell to a narrow platform at the top of the tower.
“It’s a launch platform,” whispered Anu in Gwen’s ear. Her Ghost sounded excited. “Probably for satellites for private companies or family use back in the Golden Age.”
At the foot of the tower Arianna motioned them to different points before scaling the tower stairs. Gwen knelt and pointed her rifle back the way they had come and waited. As the minutes passed she settled her breathing and listened: the wind sighed through the ancient trees and stirred the grasses, birds called to one another, and she could faintly make out the sound of water running over stones somewhere.
Time ticked by. A squirrel scrambled up a nearby sapling and watched her with curious eyes. Then he hunched with his tail over his head and chattered at her. When she didn’t respond he jumped from the sapling to a nearby bush and disappeared.
The light from the sun dimmed for a moment. Gwen was filled with a sudden sense of loss: she remembered trying to sing in the burning library and how Sol did not answer her call. It was like being caught in a blizzard, blowing on the ashes of a cold fire and seeing no spark flicker to life. The thought made her shiver with cold and she shut her eyes, and tried to imagine the heat of Light at her fingertips again.
The darkness behind her eyelids slowly filled with a deeper black, a hollow feeling of space so vast she felt as if she was suddenly in free-fall to some unimaginable depth. Sparks of Light spun past like distant stars as she rushed down, down-
“Transmitter online.” Ariann’s voice cut into her consciousness and Gwen snapped back into reality. She stood up and turned toward the tower, shaking a little.
“Did either of you…feel that?” asked Miranda.
“That weirdness a minute ago? Yeah. Come up to the top, there’s something you’ll want to see.”
They climbed the rickety stairs to the top. The transmitter had been attached to one of the antennae and blended in with the other aging equipment. Gwen’s Ghost opened a channel to receive on the new encryption, but only static came through.
Arianna was looking into the distance with a scope and motioned them closer. She handed the scope over and pointed out to the forest beyond. Miranda took it and stared for a long minute. Gwen couldn’t see what it was they were looking at.
“That’s the shard,” Miranda said after a long moment. She handed the scope over to Gwen.
“Yeah. I think we should go take a look.”
“That’s a long way. Shouldn’t we get back to the ships? If we get a signal we’ll need to move.”
“I think we have time,” said Arianna. She looked at Gwen. “What do you think, Warlock? You felt it too, right?”
Gwen looked through the scope: on the edge of the horizon was a great white and gray piece of metal, crowned in clouds and what looked like flashes of light. She nodded at Arianna. “Yes. That’s a piece of the Traveler. I’ve read about it.”
Miranda sighed. “Chasing weirdness with everything else going on right now.”
“Weirdness is all we have left at this point, Meer.”
Miranda shrugged. “OK. Hope you like walking, because that’s a long hike.”
Arianna laughed. “Oh, we’re not walking all the way.” She pointed south.
Gwen followed her pointing finger and saw a Cabal cruiser in the sky a few clicks away.
“I think the Cabal can spare a few rides, don’t you?”