It seemed like forever, but it’s been just barely an hour since Zotti-12 and her Ghost went through the Vex portal buried beneath the European Dead Zone. Expecting to come out in the same tunnels in another time after hearing tales from the Guardians back at The Tower, that wasn’t the case for Zotti. An open night sky awaited her on the other side. Aside from the gate they came from all the horizon contained was flat lands of rock. Judging by the stars they were still on Earth, yet something was off.
“Well we’ve navigated through the stars before, humans have done it for centuries before the Traveler’s arrival. I’ve not done it myself yet it seems like there’s a definite change in the patterns.” Zotti nodded towards the Ghost in agreement. It confirmed her thoughts. Worse though was the matter that she knew why they were off.
“It’s not now anymore… We’ve skipped ahead in time. Why aren’t we in the tunnels that we left in though? This… all of this is wrong. I say we make towards the outpost to see if it’s still there. Maybe we can reach out to someone in this time to see where… and when we are. If there’s anyone else out here even.”
Zotti glanced down at her mechanical hands. Exos willingly transferred their life into a new body to enhance their abilities. Built to withstand more damage, stronger than flesh, exhaustion comes less, and the need for nourishment dwindles to a few ounces of consumables a week. Yet what if this was the end of humanity’s natural form? What if the end conclusion was just a step towards making themselves obsolete? She’d never been one for the company of others, but the barren world she left behind felt more alive than the plains she was crossing now. What if she was the last person on Earth in this time?
Her Ghost floats into view in front of her hand. Its deep green shell was one of the only colors she’s seen since entering the portal. “We can always head back. We know enough to report back it isn’t a threat now. There’s time plenty to get word back to the others and we can add this to the patrol routes.” Zotti could sense the concern in its voice. “There’s no shame in heading back and letting the others figure out what’s going on here.” With that she felt a fire burn inside her.
“NO! ‘I’ found that portal. ‘I’ was the one who crossed over. ‘I’ am the one that is going to find out why there’s a Vex gate linked to our time. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some other guardian come in and take claim to this! This is what you brought me back for. To do great things, to help the Traveler, to bring some peace to those that’re left. If you don’t trust me to see this through why do you chose me, Ghost? Above all your options, all the other Guardians, you chose ME.” Floating at a distance she saw its light dim. Years with the tiny bot she’s learned to read its reactions clearly. If the light filling the Ghost made it alive this would be considered emotions in any human. It knew that it shouldn’t have taken this from her. The dimming light gave her validation in its shame.
Zotti-12 broke gaze with the tiny machine. Looking around looked like the terrain had been glassed over. There’s no rivers, no mountains, no caves, nothing. Just flat earth surfaced with stone gravel, rocks, and boulders everywhere. In such barren wastes it felt foolish to lash out at the only other life on this dead land. A few minutes of walking in the silence of a graveyard began to chew at her righteous stance as guilt settled in.
“I’m sorry. You know I chose you because there’s greatness in you. It’s buried in there. In a rich moment you’ll shine unlike any of the Guardians. I know you can’t always see it, but I can tell you feel it. A light beyond any of those at the Tower. Even beyond that of The Speaker. You’ll…” – again, Zotti places her hand to its face to quiet the little bot.
Focusing in she thought there was something there. She knew she heard something humming again like the portal. Peering into the distance a bright red glint catches her eye just in time – A quick dive to the right as she pulls her rifle from her back and a beam of light shoots past her. The discomfort of robotic speech is heard. “SNIPER! VEX!” Waiting for the glint of its scope she lines up her shot waiting for it. Through a dusty haze she catches a quick shine as she lets loose a shot. Through her own scope she sees the machine slump to the ground in a pile of parts, as the haze she fired through appears a few dozen more Vex machines. Zotti shouts at herself as the adrenaline and fear take over “ZOTTI, RUN YOU FOOL!”
Quickly as her feet will carry her she makes for the portal that brought her here. She couldn’t die like this, overrun by Vex. Glancing over her should in the distance they were closing in fast. They’re couldn’t be moving on foot judging by their speed. She’d never beat them back to the gate. Turning and taking what little cover she could behind an oversized rock she considers her handgun. “Zotti, I count at least 15 Vex of various forms, we need to keep moving!” Her Ghost had always been by her side, and again was right from the start. It was too late to listen to it now. “Don’t you throw your light away like this!”. She sighed as that crushing feeling rushed over her. If this was to be her final stand, she was going to do it on her feet. Pleading with the Traveler to guide her aim she lobbed a grenade as she broke from behind the rock. As it exploded into a rich purple line of void energy she was in awe of its color against the horizon. Maybe they could pull through this.
It wasn’t enough as the Vex continued to push through. “9 threats still engaging!” Her Ghost excitedly updated her. It wasn’t enough as they enraged machines pressed on. Closing the distance she hoped her rifle could thin their ranks more before they reached her. Each shot fired kicked back into her shoulder as she heard each shell hit the ground. The fourth shell discharged from the chamber followed by an empty click. That was all the ammo she brought for that, discarding it to the side. “6 engaged!”
“You mean 5?” she returned in disbelief. There’s no way she missed any of those shots.
“Negative! 6 remain!”
A shot caught her in the hip as she dropped back behind her cover. Looking down at the damage, there’s definitely no way she could outrun them now. Unyielding to the threat, the Ghost calls out “40 yards. 25 yards. Closing in.”
Zotti takes a deep breath, clenching her handgun to her chest. “Well. It’s been a good run, buddy. Let’s give them the Traveler’s regards.” Exiting from cover just as they reach her there’s an exchange of fire. In a flurry of light and steel they danced around that rock until nothing but scrap metal and wiring littered the ground. Zotti-12 stood, wounded but alive. “We need to make it back. Patch into this heap… Find out what you can. Where are we?”
Eager to leave while they still stand, her Ghost began downloading what it could from the mind of the Vex. “Information on this location. We never left the European Dead Zone. Confirmed. We’re still here. It’s been transformed by the Vex. It seems they’ve reformed history, eradicated all life on Earth in this time.” The Ghost went silent for a moment as an unsettling calm sent a chill through her nerves.
“What? What is it?!”
In a hushed tone it muttered back “I can’t believe… The Traveler. It’s… Destroyed. We need to get back, now. This can’t happen. We still have time!” At a loss for words the two made their way to gateway back to their time. Once on the other side they’d be safe long enough to patch up their wounds. Maybe destroy the gate from the other side? No good could come from it remaining operational… Too much evil resides within this time without the Traveler’s light to break the darkness. They just needed to get there first. As their pace hastened finally they could see that blue light that brought them here in the distance. A beacon in the dark abyss of stone and shadows. Limping through the final stretch towards the gate she could feel her light blooming within.
“I knew it wouldn’t be this easy…” A dozen or so yards from their exodus a haze fell between her and the portal. She knew that there was no hope for her to make it through that field before another wave of Vex materialized. How many would come this time? Three? A few dozen? Maybe a Cyclops or Hydra this time? There were no guarantees here. Only one option remained.
“Ghost – We run, don’t look back, and blow the portal from the other side. We go, NOW!” – There was an understanding as they pushed forward through, the undamaged Ghost ahead of Zotti. Just as she planned, it made it through the portal just as the Vex appeared, unaware it’s light snuck out. Now it was only her they knew to hunt. If they took her they’re mission would be complete, they wouldn’t seek out her Ghost. The knowledge of this gate, this time, how the Traveler would fall, the Vex’s destruction of Earth. Her Ghost took it beyond their reach and back to a time that could prevent it. As the Vex surrounded her she dropped her handgun, drew her bow and loosed a void arrow into the frame of the portal. As she watched the structure collapse she fell to her knees relieved the threat would be handled. A wall of Vex was all that remained in sight.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough, Ghost…”