Further on up the road
Further on up the road
Where the way is Dark and the night is cold
One sunny mornin’ we’ll rise I know
And I’ll meet you further on up the road.
~Johnny Cash, Further On Up The Road
Morc-35 stared up at the Tower overhead, glowing with flames and crowned in smoke. A hand slapped his shoulder, shaking the Exo from his stupor. “C’mon, we’re out of time!” Findlay was running ahead through the City streets as only a Titan could. Morc followed, his cloak snapping in the breeze of his passing as they abandoned the battered Tower.
“Those ships are here, just like Morc promised,” Miranda reported. “We’re loading up civilians now.”
“They take off as soon as they’re full,” ordered Farstride. “Make sure the pilots have House’s comm frequency.”
“I can’t believe we’re running,” said Telrik.
Morc and Findlay barreled into the loading area where two large ships in Dead Orbit colors sat and carried their crates to the nearest waiting ship. Emma Eriksson was directing traffic to her longboat and pointed them at the cargo flaps, spaces too small to hold people but big enough for ammo crates.
“Enough ammo to last an army,” said Findlay proudly.
“Get airborne, Fin,” said Farstride.
The younger Titan spluttered. “But -”
“No ‘buts’,” ordered Farstride. “You’re going with Arianna and Miranda to keep the civilians safe. We’ll regroup once we know what the Vanguard plan to do. Then-”
Morc-35 lost track of what Farstride was saying: the world filled with a sharp ringing tone and he stumbled as something…ripped out of him. A figure of Light stood at his side, wrapped with tendrils of what looked like dark goo and starlight. Then it evaporated, and Ebony fell to the earth.
“Ebony?” the Exo sank his to his knees and scooped up his Ghost. “Ebony?!”
The little Ghost didn’t respond as he turned it over in his hands: its eye was faded and dark. The ringing noise subsided, and Morc stood to his feet. He felt…light: as if some strange burden he had not been aware of had lifted, or a broken part had finally been fixed. It was equal parts strange and exhilarating, tainted only by the horror of his Ghost’s sudden silence. He looked at the others as his senses came back to life.
Every other Guardian was on their knees as if something had suddenly struck them. Only Heisenberg-3 was standing. The loading of the ships had ground to a halt, and the civilians were either staring in terror at the fallen Guardians or running for their lives.
“What the hell’s going on with you?” shouted Emma. She was kneeling next to Drake and shaking him: the Awoken had taken off his helmet, revealing eyes that were wide and hollow. Emma turned to the Exos. “What is this?”
Heisenberg-3 pointed at the Traveler. “I’d say that has something to do with it.”
The Traveler’s form was covered in a golden glow, the great Cabal machine clinging to it like an enormous tick.
“We have to go, now! Before they occlude the airspace!” Emma waved at the remaining civilians. “Help me get these Guardians aboard! Do it!”
Humans, frames and even an Awoken jumped out of the longboats and began running to the fallen Guardians, lifting them up in pairs and scooping up their dropped Ghosts and weapons. Magnus, Telrik, and the Awoken Hunters were all but dragged to the ships.
Farstride shook off his helpers. “No, I’ve got it.” He picked up his pistol and took off his helmet as well. “Someone get me a rocket launcher.”
Morc-35 reached into one of the cargo flaps and tugged two launchers out, along with some ammo. He handed one to the human. “Can you fight?” he asked.
“Long enough,” replied Farstride as he loaded his weapon. “New plan. Everyone get on board. I’ll provide air cover.”
“One won’t do it,” said Morc-35, loading his own rocket launcher. “We should get on top of one of these buildings, shoot down any Threshers that get too close.”
Gunfire erupted at the edge of the platform: Drake was on his feet again, his pulse rifle barking at charging Cabal scouts with Findlay at his side.
“Take off!” shouted Farstride. He waved at Emma. “Take off, take off now!”
Emma clambered into the cockpit and the doors to the longboats closed, the civilians and remainder of the Valherjar inside.
Findlay rushed a Legionary and smashed the monster’s face with a fist, sending it to the ground. He shot another with his rifle, then drove the butt of his weapon into another. A war beast tackled him to the ground, and Findlay caved its skull in with a hammer-blow from both fists. Another war beast gripped his leg with its jaws and began dragging him away before Morc-35 lost sight of him in the pack of animals.
Drake was steadily backing up into the loading zone, his rifle chattering as he delayed the Cabal.
“Threshers!” said Farstride, raising the rocket launcher to his shoulder. Morc-35 followed his motion and locked the weapon onto a low-flying ship. The rocket flew free and struck the engine of an attacking Thresher, sending it careening away. For a few, harrowed seconds, the human and Exo fired and reloaded as fast as they could while the longboats behind them fired up their engines and began to lift off the platform. Then there was a blast of heat and the ships were away, skimming the rooftops of the Last City, racing for the Wall as fast as they could.
Morc-35 pointed his heavy weapon at the attacking Cabal foot soldiers and fired, scattering them with the explosion. “Out,” he reported and tossed it aside. He drew his sword: the blade wasn’t entirely devoid of stored Light, and the heavy edge could still cut.
Drake had retreated and the three now stood back to back on the platform: once Titan, Warlock, and Hunter, now just Human, Awoken and Exo. More Cabal were rushing in. Farstride fired another rocket before tossing it aside. “Also out.” He pulled out his pistol and checked the cylinder. “I have enough to make them pay for it.”
“We can make for that high-rise,” said Drake. He pointed with his rifle down the street. “It’s a library, plastisteel and stone. We could regroup there and make a run for the Wall.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Morc-35.
“Go, go!” They broke formation and ran. Morc-35 suddenly discovered he was the fastest, easily outpacing his organic companions. A Phalanx stepped out from between buildings in an attempt to block their retreat. The Exo leaped over his shield, pivoted, and opened his armor with the blade, leaving the Cabal in the dirt. Then he ran on.
Rounds skipped off the ground around them as Psion snipers tried to take them out. Farstride fired back at them over his shoulder without looking as he ran. Morc-35 turned around to check on his companions.
Drake stumbled and fell, a burnt hole in his chest from a sniper. His rifle clattered on the paved street.
Morc swore and ran back. He picked up the Phalanx’s shield and braced it to cover the fallen Awoken. Farstride grabbed Drake’s shoulders and hauled him behind cover of a building and Morc followed.
“Drake? Drake, buddy, talk to me.” Farstride patted the Awoken’s cheek. “Drake?”
The Awoken’s head lolled to one side and hung, his eyes wide and sightless. His Ghost rolled from his open hand and stared overhead at the silent Traveler.
Farstride grabbed the Ghost and pocketed it. “We’ll come back. Maybe if we can restore its Light…”
The thought was cut off as more rounds smacked into the wall over their heads. They ran, leaving Drake’s body behind.
More Cabal blocked their way at an intersection. Farstride fired, his hand cannon thundering. Several of the Phalanxes collapsed with pristine shots to the head, opening a gap. “Go, go!” he shouted.
Morc-35 ran through the opening, slicing at exposed Cabal armor. A war beast attacked and he split its head open with a blow. Farstride pressed in behind him.
A soldier landed in front of them, blades swinging wildly. Morc parried, ducked, and buried his blade in the gap beneath its arm. Farstride blew its head off with a well-placed shot. He jumped over the body, and another Cabal landed. It skewered the human on its blade and lifted him high overhead, then threw him down to the ground and smashed him underfoot.
Morc cut the head from the soldier and stood over Farstride’s corpse. More Phalanxes rushed in, shooting over their shields. The Exo bent to look for the Ghosts, but saw nothing but blood and smashed circuitry. Then a shot took him in the chest and he fell, his sword spinning away.
“Damn it!” The Exo pulled his knife free and tried to stand, but his legs didn’t respond to the command. A war beast charged in, snarling. Morc-35 buried the knife in its face and it was wrenched away by the creature’s convulsions. Then something heavy stepped on his back and pressed down, and there was only Darkness.