“Stories are Light. Light is precious in a world so Dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some Light.”
― Kate DiCamillo,
“Gwen, I think they’re arguing.”
Gwendolyn opened her green eyes and blinked couple of times to center herself. “Who is arguing, Anu? About what?”
Anu, her silver and green Ghost, spun its shell a couple of times. “The Valherjar Guardians. It sounds like they’re in disagreement.”
Gwendolyn rolled her head a couple times, feeling the slight pops in her neck from sitting still for so long. Then she stood up, stretched, and pulled aside the curtain to her enclosure.
Her little living space was one of nearly a dozen such partitioned spaces beneath a canopy stretched between the two “longboats”: winged troop transports that were several times the length of a standard one-person jump ship. They had been painted in Dead Orbit colors, but the paint job had been covered by branches and camouflage canvas to hide them beneath the trees. The inside of the longboats were housing the civilians, but the canopied space was for cooking fires and spaces for the Guardians to sleep. She passed one of the cooking fires as she walked the length of the longboats to their stern. A couple of teenagers hunkered over a small spit. One of them peeled off a strip of meat from the spit and skewered it on a sharpened stick, then offered it as Gwendolyn passed. She smiled and took it with a silent mouthing of “thanks.” Raised voices traveled to her ears from the stern space, muffled by the tent fabrics but unmistakably agitated. She followed the sound, Anu floating over her shoulder.
“…leaving them behind.”
“It’s been a week, Telrik. We’re not leaving anyone behind.”
Gwen pulled aside the tent wall and stepped into the weak sunlight. Four Guardians were gathered around tail fins of one of the longboats. Two of them perched on the fins themselves: both were Awoken Hunters. One was bald and relatively silent, flipping her throwing knife end to end in her hand. The other sported a bright red Mohawk and was opening her mouth as if to speak, but was cut off by one of the Titans that stood opposite her.
“We’re moving on rather than making an effort to find our people. That’s abandoning them. I won’t do it, and neither should you.”
All Titans could fill a room: even smaller, squat Titans had a presence that was unmistakable and inescapable, a part of their nature that demanded attention and respect. Still, the green-armored giant speaking was a towering presence even by Titan standards, a massive wall of muscle and metal that would give even a Cabal pause. His hair and beard were ragged from days of wilderness living, and his little green Ghost at his side was quiet. Next to the green giant stood another Titan, this one an Exo in gold-plated armor. Both Titans had their rifles out and looked ready to march on a moment’s notice, packs on their backs and blood-lust in their eyes.
“Telrik,” said the Mohawk hunter, her voice tired, “we can’t just assault the City in the condition we’re in. There’s four of us and four thousand or more them. If we had our Light we would already be moving.”
“I won’t leave our leader, Arianna. I’m going, whether or not you agree.” Telrik looked at the other Hunter. “How about you, Miranda? Want to help find Farstride and the others? Heisenberg and I would welcome the help.”
The bald hunter stopped flipping her knife. “I don’t do suicide missions, Telrik. Especially when I know that there’s no point. They’re dead. That Warlock there,” she pointed at Gwendolyn with the tip of her knife, “brought back Morc-35’s journal. Just what do you think that means?”
Telrik turned his head. “That she found a dead Exo,” he said. “That’s not proof it was Morc. It’s not proof the others are dead.”
Miranda sighed. “Warlock. That Exo corpse you found: describe him, please.”
Gwendolyn finished chewing the strip of meat she had been given and thought for a moment. “Steel and leather armor. Red cloak. Broadsword nearby. His body was damaged, but it looked like his exoskeleton was blue.”
“Blue Exo with a red cloak and a sword, Telrik. Morc’s dead. The others probably are too.” Miranda resumed flipping the knife.
The Titan sighed and looked at Heisenberg. “Ready?”
The silent Exo nodded, and both Titans turned away. “We’ll be on the frequency we established a couple of days ago.”
“It’ll be no good if we don’t set up a transmitter to get that far out,” countered Arianna. “At least wait until then. Or just wait until we hear from House and Magnus.”
“Everyday we wait it’s more likely we lose them. We’ll call you in a week.” Then the two Titans marched away, soon disappearing into the trees.
“Idiots,” said Miranda under breath.
“Can’t make a Titan do something he doesn’t want to,” sighed Arianna. She looked at Gwendolyn. “Sorry you had to see that.”
Gwen shrugged. “As you say, Titans are difficult to redirect. What is your next step?”
“Find a good place to set up our long-range transmitter,” said Arianna. “That evacuation order we heard was incomplete, and if we try to use the longboats to signal we’ll just draw the Cabal. There are too many civilians here to risk that.” She sized Gwendolyn up with a head-to-foot gaze. “We could use a third to round out our fireteam. With everyone scattered to the winds, we’ll take all the help we can get.”
“Just let me get my rifle,” said Gwendolyn.