Gwendolyn

Scattered – Part III

“If a man is to shed the Light of the sun upon other men, he must first of all have it within himself.”
Romain Rolland


The Cabal machine skimmed over the ground, jostling its rider when it passed over any mound or ditch. Gwen growled at it in an un-Warlock fashion and wrenched the controls violently to each side to avoid the trees. The Hunters were already far ahead,  much more comfortable with their stolen mounts than their companion. Gwen fired the boosters in an attempt to catch up.

“Threshers behind us,” reported Anu. As if that were a cue, slugs began tearing up the foliage overhead and chewed into the needle-covered earth to their right, tracking in their direction. Gwen gunned the engine again and shoved the Interceptor to the left, and narrowly avoided being torn to pieces by the rounds. The bole of a tree exploded and showered the Cabal machine and its Guardian rider in splinters and dirt. The tree groaned in protest as it fell, smashing into its neighbors and splitting with a violent crack on impact.

Another Thresher flew ahead, pivoted sharply and pointed its weapons down at the lonely Warlock. Gwen slammed the Interceptor’s brakes violently, stopping just before the slugs slammed into the ground where she had been going. She jumped clear of the Interceptor before it disintegrated under the Cabal fire.

“Stars above!” Gwen swore as she ran. There was a crash of brush and branches and the distinct grunts of Cabal soldiers as their feet hit the ground. The Harvester that had dropped them off flew away, but the Threshers remained, trying to reorient on their target. She jumped down into a stream bed that had cut a deep trench through the forest. There was no water visibly running through it, but the earth was dark and wet and the stones were slick. Mud splattered her white robes as she ran.

“Warlock, where are you?” Arianna’s voice was tight with tension. Gwen didn’t reply, partly because she was worried that would make it easier for the Cabal to find her, more so because she was out of breath. The heavy thud of Cabal feet behind her sent tremors through her own legs.

Some instinct made her look over her shoulder. There was a glitter of red light in the corner of her eye and she reflexively ducked: a heavy round smacked into the wall of the trench, kicking up mud and shattered rock. She spun around to aim her own weapon back at the Psion, slipped, and landed on her rump in the mud. The ungraceful maneuver saved her life: her head snapped right as if the face of her helmet had been given an open-handed slap, the bullet leaving a long gash in the side.

Gwen raised her pulse rifle one-handed and squeezed the trigger. Firing a rifle with a single hand made it almost impossible to aim, but at this range and in the narrow confines of the trench, she could hardly miss. The bursts of bullets cracked the Psion’s armor like the shell of an egg and it collapsed, ichor staining the mud.

Cabal grunted and shouted and she scrambled to her feet again, slipping and sliding her way down the trench. Up ahead the trench led into a dark tangle of dead branches and vines: the edge of the Dead Zone and the source of whatever poisoned the land.

“We’re not going in there alone, are we?” asked Anu. Before Gwen could answer a splash of mud and a shout behind her galvanized her to make a last sprint for the cover of the woods. The branches snapped and cracked as she hit them, and vines threatened to tangle her feet. Every step was a sudden tripping hazard, and here the light was so faded she could barely see more than a few meters ahead.

“It doesn’t want us here,” gasped Gwen as she pushed through the foliage. “It doesn’t like visitors.”

“What doesn’t?” asked her Ghost.

“The forest.”

The grunts and pounding boots of the Cabal became muted behind them. There were breaking sounds and grunts, but they faded with each step. She risked a look back: she could see beams of weak light cutting through the forest shadows. A tree groaned and was shoved aside, uprooted by the brute strength of the pursuing Legionary: the Cabal were moving through the terrain much faster than she by simply plowing through trees.

“Arianna!” Gwen said into her mic as she scrambled up a rocky bank, stones clattering under her feet. “Miranda! I’m pinging you my location.”

The comms were silent. The air cracked with the sound of slug fire and a round tore up the earth near her hand. At the top of the bank Gwen turned around and aimed her rifle down at the pursuing Cabal. Even in the darkness of the trees she could see six Legionaries following her led by a Centurion. A Legionary hefted a grenade in its meaty fist and cocked its arm to throw.

She aimed and squeezed the trigger, knowing it wasn’t enough. There was a bright flash of Light –

…the Song that echoed into eternity swelled into a choir deep and wide and…

– and Gwen flinched to the side in surprise. A Legionary dissolved into a wash of yellow flame that engulfed his companions. There was another needle of Light –

…life in all its forms beneath the glow of Light to lift their voices into the Void…

– and the other Legionaries burned away in an explosion of heat, scorching bark and leaves to black. Gwen turned to look at the source of the Light, and saw the outline of a figure with a shining pistol in his hand. Another flash –

…the Dark into something new and beautiful with every note that reverberated…

– and the pistol cooled into mere metal and wood. The Centurion crumbled into ash. Gwen stared. She realized her mouth was hanging open and was glad the helmet hid her expression.

The Hunter was an Exo, judging by the glowing eyes under his hood. His Ghost’s shell was a metallic brown and blue and decorated by spikes, and it scanned Gwen with impudence.

“Awoken, female…the bond on her arm is a plasma generator, so I would say she was a Sunsinger. No Light on this one either.”

The Exo grunted and turned away without a word, heading deeper into the forest.

“Wait!” said Gwen.

“Can’t wait,” said the Exo without slowing.

Gwen scrambled to her feet to follow before he disappeared into the trees.

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Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , ,

Scattered – Part II

“People often believed they were safer in the Light, thinking monsters only came out at night.”
C.J. Roberts, Captive in the Dark


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?”

Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , , , , ,

Scattered – Part 1

“Stories are Light. Light is precious in a world so Dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some Light.”
Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux


“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.

Categories: Gwendolyn | Tags: , , , , , ,

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