NE 4th ST, South Bellevue Ruins
Nicole hurried across Bellevue with Rykis and the other Fallen that had survived the ambush. The Baron’s den was completely across town from where they had stowed the vehicles. It was the final hour before dawn, and a few flurries of snow had blown in while they were gone.
There were not many other Fallen out and about like there had been that morning, aside from the occasional sentry on patrol. Their glowing eyes made spotting them fairly easy inside windows or on rooftops. Nicole’s Ghost flew around her head and glanced out at the buildings.
“I still find it highly unusual that this House is active during the day… and not at night like many of the other Houses,” he said quietly, blinking along with their walk.
Rykis looked over at the small machine and simply waved across the buildings. “While our night vision is very good, there are things to do here that can only be done when the sun is out,” he nodded enthusiastically.
“Interesting.” The Ghost flew around and orbited Rykis once before returning to Nicole’s side. “I still do not entirely approve of this, Guardian. We should be on our way to the Last City.”
“I don’t think so, Ghost. I don’t know if you’ve noticed… but I suck,” Nicole said. “I think we should stay here as long as these Fallen will have me. At least until I have more experience.”
The Ghost’s fins angled down, seemingly to mimic an angry frown. “Fine, you make a good point.”
The group of Fallen, plus one Guardian, walked across the city, towards the Baron’s dome. When they arrived, the Baron’s guards ushered them inside. Nicole followed along, but Rykis was not translating anything at the moment. She passed through the dining room she had met the Baron in before, and into a large chamber with a variety of screens.
The Baron himself was sitting in a large chair in the back of the room. “This guy probably has a throne in every room here,” she whispered to her Ghost. Even if what she said was transmitted beyond her helmet, only Rykis would understand.
“He does seem the type,” her Ghost replied.
The Fallen proceed to reiterate what happened upon the mountain, at least which is what Nicole thought they were doing; none of it was being translated for her. Up in his chair, the Baron looked distressed and sounded extremely frustrated whenever he spoke.
It was a full hour of testimony before Rykis nudged her. She had sort of zoned out again, watching a series of screens displaying maps of the area. There was not much of a purpose to listening to a bunch of gibberish she could not understand.
“Guardian, have your ghost display his recording.” Rykis gestured to the main screen facing the Baron.
“Got it; Ghost, if you may?” Nicole held out her hand, summoning her companion.
The small machine appeared in her palm and glanced towards the slightly curved screen. “I will see if I can make a solid connection. I’ve never interfaced with a Fallen screen before.” A small beam of energy shot from the Ghost’s eye and connected to the screen.
It took a moment, but the screen flashed and the group was treated to a video of her sitting on the tank. It was taken over her shoulder, and she assumed it was taken by her Ghost’s eye, however the past version of herself took the Ghost out, yet the camera remained in the same position.
“This is a bit early; I will jump to the point in question. I will also be able to rotate the view to focus on anything that happened around us,” the Ghost said; Rykis translated that for the Baron, who simply waved a hand in acknowledgement.
The video jumped forward to the moments before the fighting started earlier that night. The Baron watched the combat through completely before instructing the Ghost to rewind and rectangle different shots. He halted the recording on a good shot of the blockade and ruined Pikes. The frozen image also held a downed Skiff; she had not noticed its burning wreckage when she was up there, but it explains why there was no aerial cover like she had been told.
Nicole leaned over to her while the Fallen continued to discuss amongst themselves. “So… how exactly did you manage to get this angle?” she whispered.
The Ghost dipped one wing and turned to look at her. “Space Magic.”
“Rea-” She started and then was immediately interrupted.
“Well that just seems like a cop-out, to be honest,” Nicole replied, reaching out and giving the Ghost a light push with her finger.
“Some sort of nano-camera system along your helmet and armor.” Her Ghost imitated a shrug with his fins. “Some just call it space magic, so I do to.”
“Isn’t it nice to explain things though?”
“Absolutely… not.” His damaged fin sparked slightly.
Nicole shook her head and sighed. “You are no help.”
Meanwhile it appeared that the Baron had finished deliberating with the other Fallen. Nicole noticed him nod and gesture for the others to leave, except for Rykis who stayed behind. The Baron waved a hand at Nicole and spoke.
Rykis resumed his second job, being her translator. “By all means this was a failure, but you are lucky I cannot place the blame on you. You survived, where my fellows did not; a feat I am not sure how I feel about… Unfortunately I am aware you are unable to die, but that is also fortunate for me…” Rykis glanced back at the Baron, seemingly stopping mid-sentence. The Baron barked, and nodded for Rykis to finish. “…that I can kill you without consequence.”
“Wait, hold on-” Nicole raised her left arm while her right felt for the grip of her pistol. However she stopped mid pull. There was no way she could kill this creature with a peashooter like that. Plus, even trying would ruin her chances here. Instead she looked on, and flashed five fingers at her Ghost.
“Five minutes? Got it,” the Ghost replied with what seemed like the quietest response over the radio she had ever heard.
The Baron’s lower arms appeared with a handgun, and fired once. The bullet flashed through her helmet and through her forehead, once again banishing her to the darkness.
Time passed in the void and eventually she was brought back to the land of the living. She had been dumped in the snow outside the Baron’s compound, so upon awakening she was quite cold. Rykis offered a hand to help her up as soon as he saw movement. “Apologies, Guardian… the Baron is not pleased with the events that have transpired.”
“No shit.” Nicole took Rykis’ hand and he pulled her up. “At least that plan worked…”
She took off her helmet and checked the front. Where the bullet had passed through there was an obvious paint chip and dent, the Ghost had patched it fairly well. She rubbed her thumb across the spot, barely feeling anything through her gloves, and then plopped it back onto her head. “What next?”
“There is nothing more tonight,” Rykis said. “We should return to your tower.”
“Oh, well that’s fine.” Nicole turned and looked over the skyline. “Which direction is that?”
“It is on the other side of the city,” Rykis nodded. “I will take you, but pay attention this time.”
Across the snow dusted city the old hotel stood out among the smaller structures on the peninsula; it was the only one over three floors. The hotel itself appeared to be in better repair than the rest of the buildings. It might be an acceptable place after all.
Nicole walked up the stairs and found her room. She flopped back down onto the old be and decided to go back to sleep for a good bit, she was more tired than she thought.
The next few days went on and Nicole found herself slotting into a daily routine. Rykis was spending the morning hours teaching her their language, which was not easy in any aspect. Afterwards she would collect food and water from the depot in the city, and return for more language class. It was just as hard for him to teach her as it was for her to actually pronounce many of the needed vernacular; however she was slowly starting to get the basics down after a week.
Her ventures into the city became more than just water runs after the first week. There was so much out there that the Fallen had not yet claimed, or they did not use. By the second week, there had been an increase in patrols going out; none of which she was part of. There was a lot of force build up down by the old highway. Rykis had said he was not sure what it was for, it was just in response to the patrol she had been on.
Between the day’s language lessons, Nicole sat in the corner of the room reading a semi-water damaged book she had found in one of the empty Hotel rooms. It was a tour guide for hikes out in the mountains; though of course all the trails would be long overgrown by now, it was more for her to understand what the area was like. A sudden gust of wind blew in through the window and disturbed the flaking paint. Chunks fluttered to the floor around her discarded armor plates, and she stopped reading to look around the dilapidated room. As the cogs of thought turned in her head, she set the book down and summoned her Ghost. “You know… I think I can fix this place up a bit.”
“Finally! We’re actually going to do something.” He popped off her hand and flew around the room, his eye producing a blue light and he scanned the space. “The structural integrity is still stable, so it’s all going to be cosmetic work.”
“Good.” Nicole tapped her chin with a finger. “So we need paint and some materials to fix the walls… and I could kill for something more comfortable than the cloth I’ve been sleeping on. Let’s see if we can find some out there.”
She pulled on her chest plate and clamped the pieces all together. Nicole pulled the plate away slightly from beneath. “Oof… It didn’t feel this tight yesterday. It really… compresses… stuff, you know?”
Her Ghost turned around and blinked at her. “I apologize, the measurements may be wrong; they were the default set by the provider. Time without the plate has allowed your body to expand to your natural form. We should find materials to make some adjustments while we are out there.”
Nicole clicked all the small miscellaneous armored plates into place, but then tapped the plate over her hip with a knuckle. “Okay, this stuff feels thin.”
“I did not have much material to make the gear, it provides life support but that is pretty much it,” her Ghost said. “You can get better gear in time, with materials I can rework and break down existing armor to help upgrade what you have, or restore older sets you find… if that’s what you like.”
“Another reason to get going.” Nicole headed out the door of her room and dropped off the side of the balcony to the floor below. Rykis’ room was across the floor, but he was not in the room. A written note, in english, was up on the door. Apparently Rykis had been called away by the House’s Archon. He would not be around for an undetermined amount of time. “Oh that’s just great, I don’t have an interpreter.”
“Are you still going out then?” the Ghost asked.
“Of course, I don’t feel like being cooped up in here.” She spun around and walked down the stairs
“Good,” the Ghost quipped. “When I was searching for you, I passed a great deal of warehouses south of here. There might be untapped resources left there we could check out.”
Nicole ducked to get out through the old lobby doors and into the cloudy weather. “Okay that’s where we’re headed. How far is that?”
“It is about twenty five kilometers.” The Ghost projected a map of the area onto her helmet HUD with a path from her current location to somewhere south of them. “It’s a six hour slow walk, two at a jogging pace, if you’re up for it.”
“Are we sticking to a clear path?” She asked, heading up the nearby onramp that led onto one of the many ancient highways. The concrete roads remained relatively passable with all the old rusted cars pushed to the sides, grass and other shrubbery had long penetrated through cracks though.
“Best route keeps us following this old highway.” He replied. “They’re not overgrown as much as the surface streets.”
“Alright, just keep the route up for me.” Nicole took off down the road, staying in the middle of all the ruins. They had built the highways here with high walls on either side to keep the sound down for the homes and businesses that had once lined either side; however, it now just made it look like she was running down a dry river channel.
They traveled south at a quick pace, staying on the path the Ghost had set. Snow had fallen again while she slept; hopefully the winter season would end soon, her armor was not the best insulator. Nicole used the run to practice her language lessons, her Ghost would say a phrase in english and then she would repeat it back to him in the language of the Fallen. It was hopefully helpful, though she had no way of knowing if she was actually pronouncing it correctly. The scenery was a lot of rust, greens and greys, not much at all to look at; she needed something to keep her busy to pass the time.
Eventually the highway evened out and lost its concrete walls, switching to something slightly elevated above the land around it. The land here was flatter, losing the hills and steep valleys she had been running through for the last two hours. It was a welcomed change. These were wide valleys, she could see the other side but it was a good distance away. Though she could see why the Ghost had brought her all this way, this valley was filled with massive flat buildings. Warehouses, by the hundreds. She came to a stop outside the first warehouse. “Alright, one last phrase, lay it out for me.”
“How about you translate what I say?” her Ghost said. “Here it goes, Hiss hiss, chitter chitter, growl growl.”
“Rude.” Nicole frowned and summoned her Ghost to her hand. He appeared, with his fins formed into what her mind interpreted as a snide smirk. She pulled her hand away from beneath the Ghost and gently slapped the little ball.
“Okay fine, fine.” The Ghost twitched its fins and flew around Nicole’s helmet. “Shall we find out if there is anything of use here?”
“Yeah, okay.” Nicole hopped over a rusted container truck partially buried in the eroded soil. There were a lot of scenes like that across the area she had explored; piles of earth and vegetation had gathered along walls or anything else that got in the way of the wind and rain. An entrance to this monolithic concrete structure was thankfully shielded by the container; one of the loading dock doors had rusted and fallen away. She walked inside and glanced around the massive open space, columns were evenly placed in the open space, supporting the ceiling far above her. Rows and rows of metal racks were filled with crates and the remains of ancient cardboard boxes… Their contents rotted and growing moss.
“Well, I don’t see anything here that looks like it can be salvaged,” the Ghost said, flying around and through the shelves. “There are a large amount of computer screen mounts, not that we need any of those right now.”
Nicole shook her head, “No, nothing valuable for us… though, if we did need it, could you do what you did to my gun? Clean it up and make it work again?”
“Possibly, but I was only able to do that because I had some glimmer, that is programmable matter, to reconfigure into the missing parts,” he replied. “My reserves are running very low right now.”
“Where do we get you more? I’m sure there there’s bound to be some stored in one of these warehouses.” Nicole walked further into the structure and passed a rusted forklift, some yellow paint flakes were still barely holding onto the frame.
“Glimmer could be found anywhere really; Bits of Golden Age technology house components made from the stuff, but there does not appear to be any here anymore.” The Ghost spun around the old forklift, his eye scanning over its surface. He mumbled afterwards, she could barely hear him. “Oh my, this thing was ancient during the Golden Age…”
She hopped over an area where the floor had given way to the basement below, though she spied a promising sign not too far ahead. Vault Storage. Nicole stopped before a set of massive doors, and waved the Ghost over. “Can you get these open? They look like they haven’t been touched yet, and vaults always hold something good, right?”
The little machine sailed over and shot a beam of light at the control panel that she assumed belonged to the door. “Just a little repair work to bring this back online… as long as the cables to the motors are still intact.”
As soon as he finished, there was a loud rumble as dust and rust broke free of the doors. They slid with a loud screeching that echoed across the cavernous space. Daylight streamed in from inside the doors, a bad sign to the integrity of the room beyond. Nicole raised her hand to block the sun, and then frowned at what she saw inside. The space was dominated by dozens of large wooden crates. Moss was plentiful, along with grass and ferns that grew on top of the old crates. The boxes themselves were taller than she was, but otherwise unimpressive. Stenciled across the front of one crate nearest to her were the words ‘Vault N042′.
“Who the hell calls a wooden crate, a Vault?” She muttered, walking over to one over on its own and yanking the panel marked ‘Door’ free from its rusted clamps. The inside was equally as disappointing as the rest of the room. Crushed boxes and rotting furniture; some long dead person’s belongings. Nothing that looked like it would be of any help to Nicole in her search for intact furnishings for her home. Everything here reeked of rot and mold. “Well this is all shit. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that everything here is old furniture.”
Giving the entire area a once over with his scanner, her Ghost nodded in place. “It does appear so; I am only detecting small quantities of Glimmer, and nothing that can help with the hole in the ceiling back in your tower.” He passed over the area one time more, “And the Glimmer is too far buried to be worth the retrieval attempt. However there does appear to be a pre-Golden Age car stored up behind the first row.”
“How exactly is that useful to me?” She asked, slightly confused.
“Not at all, just an interesting bit that I noticed.” He returned to her and vanished into thin air. His voice now coming from her internal helmet speakers. “There are a lot more Warehouses to check, however. We should get moving before dark.”
Nicole used the hole in the wall to exit the warehouse. “I am not going to search each and every one of these buildings…”
“I will do my best to indicate which buildings might be better to search, however building materials aren’t exactly something that my scanners are made for.”
“Got it, there has got to be something useful out here.” Nicole walked on to check the next warehouse, hoping she would have better luck as the day went on.