Abandoned Industrial Sector, Pacific Northwest
Unfortunately, Nicole’s hunt for viable building materials and decor had turned up nothing that she could actually use. They had found more than one warehouse full of old building materials, however the issue changed into how they were going to transport the resources they found. The Ghost mentioned that if she located some sort of Jump Ship, he would be able to store items there, but she had no idea where to find something like that. Her Ghost however, had some ideas.
Nicole hoisted a plate of sheet metal and tied it to her back with a pair of salvaged straps. There were a lot of those around the area. If she was only going to be able to take one piece, it would have been the one made of the lightest material.
“Alright, which way now?” She glanced down to her helmet’s internal clock. They probably had five or six hours of sunlight left.
“If my memory serves, I once saw a ship that had collided with a building across those tracks just south of us,” her Ghost chimed.
Nicole turned and started off in that direction. She could see the berm that the railroad tracks rested on top of in the distance less than a kilometer away; however she did not see any sign of a ship. “What makes you think that it still works?”
The Ghost chirped in her ear. “Well… we Ghosts are actually very good at bringing the dead back to life.”
“I would think that a ship is much more complicated than a person”
“Not entirely, in the past I’ve peeked into the inner workings of that crashed ship, and it looked far simpler than you were.”
“If you say so, Ghost.” Nicole rolled her eyes. She crossed the tracks and saw the tail of the craft sitting in the wall of a nearby building. Old, torn tarps fluttered in the wind and were secured to the fuselage as some sort of makeshift camp; the former residents were long gone, judging by how ruined the camp was. Walking closer, her Ghost emerged from her back and flew towards the old aircraft. She stepped around a pile of bones that were buried in the dirt. The Ghost stopped momentarily near another pile of bones. “So why didn’t you bring any of these back, not that I’m not grateful for the second chance.”
“Well, they didn’t have the spark that you had,” he replied. “Some were close, but I was confident that I would find the right one.”
“Hmm…” Nicole carefully stepped over a single rib cage. It was grim, but they had been dead for a very long time. “Any idea who they use to be?”
“They were soldiers, that’s all I was able to figure out; but let’s let the dead rest, and see about getting this ship running.”
One of the ship’s wings had broken off at one point, and come to rest against a toppled train car. Nicole pointed over to it. “Well isn’t that something we’re going to need? I don’t think that you can fix that.”
“Oh nonsense,” The Ghost flew into the craft’s troop bay and vanished from sight. His voice now came from her helmet again. “With all that glimmer we found, I could just make a new wing.”
Nicole shook her head, and took a cautious step back as a shimmer of light pulsed across the hull of the spacecraft. The vessel began to shake and the engine whined to some stage of life. Bits and pieces of building crumbled and bounced across the hull. “Okay, I’m really impressed.” She said
An engine activated and the vessel lifted, leveling out in the ruins. “It’s working!” The Ghost shouted. Despite the lack of a wing on the right side, the ship appeared to be functioning just fine. At Least that was what Nicole thought.
“Wait… what are those… oh… OH… oh no.” The engine burped and the entire thing shook. Her Ghost appeared out of the bay and rocketed passed her shoulder, appearing just as a blur to Nicole.
“What’s wro-” The ship dropped, falling nearly a meter back into the crash site. She did not get a chance to see it actually land before there was just a white light and a sudden bone shattering pain that engulfed her entire body. It was over in an instant.
The flames burned for hours.
Once the fires had died down enough to traverse the crater, the small Ghost ventured forth. There were bits of… well everything scattered everywhere. Hopefully he would find a large enough piece to restore his Guardian from. If not, he would just use his internal reserves, though that was supposed to be more time consuming. The craft had been fully armed when it had been shot down during the Collapse; the rigging that held the munitions to the craft had degraded over the centuries and his attempts to restore the craft only furthered the failure.
The Ghost’s eye found what it was looking for; her upper torso had been shielded by the piece of metal she had been carrying around. The light swirled forth from the machine, restoring the Guardian’s body from nothing.
Nicole took a sharp breath and looked around at the burning world around her. It had been mere seconds as far as she could tell, but everything had changed. The sun was gone, long passed beyond the curve of the Earth, and everything was ablaze. Her Ghost looked down at her, shining into her eyes with his light. She looked up at him, and blocked the light with her hand. “What the hell happened?”
He twitched slightly and turned off his light. “Well… I sort of blew you up.”
She pulled herself up off the ground and found her assault rifle still attached to her back. “What do you mean, you blew me up?”
“There were bombs… and they were volatile… and they exploded.” He chirped in an uneasy tone, “I would have warned you, but you need me to rez you.”
Nicole stuck her head and shook her helmet enough to scratch an itch on her head. “At least you can do that right…”
“Oh what-ever, you’re alive Guardian.” The Ghost swooped in and bonked her on the helmet.
Nicole laughed a bit. He was right there, she was alive and the ship was not. She climbed out of the crater and back to street level. The building and tracks she had been near were now completely gone; bits of metal rail were sticking out of a building face like arrows not too far behind her. It had been one hell of an explosion. “Well my metal plate is gone now, what do we do, just head back home empty handed?”
“Sorry, looks like we will,” he replied.
“Damn…” Nicole stretched and pushed at her chest armor which seemed to be back to its original tightness. “This stuff sucks.” She sighed and started back towards the highway. “It seems really weak too.”
“Well it was made out of the barebones materials I had on me.” He replied.
“Any of that metal that we found good for armor?” Nicole asked.
“It did not seem like it, that was all light decorative metal. It doesn’t have the strength for armor.” He orbited her head like he usually does when trying to work out a solution. “I also do not have the necessary engrams, or blueprints, for a better armor set…. though I might be able to restore and edit some of that old armor by the…ship… never mind.”
Nicole glanced back at the crater. “Yeeeaaahhh… no… Nothing survived that.”
Something dropped down from a roof not too far ahead of her and skittered across the street. Nicole caught a glimpse of what looked like a Fallen running on all six appendages, or at least four. The figure stopped in an alley shrouded in darkness. Four glowing blue eyes blinked at her.
Nicole raised her left hand, and gave a little wave at the eyes, while her right moved to the grip of her sidearm. She was a bit unsure whether or not they were friendly. “Hello?” She called out in Fallen. It was one of the first words Rykis had made sure she got right.
The Fallen emerged from the shadows, and Nicole actually recognized them. Well, recognized the armor, she hardly ever saw any without their masks. It was Jasix, the other Fallen that met with Rykis regularly. She could speak english well as far as Nicole could tell. “Guardian, Guardian, Guardian, what kind of mess have you created here?” Jasix looked towards the burning buildings behind Nicole.
Nicole coughed and pointed over at her Ghost, floating just beside her. “He did it.”
“I was just trying to restore an old ship for my Guardian here.” the Ghost said, blinking at her.
Jasix shook her head and rubbed her forehead with one of her hands. “Why, we have a very…. skilled…” She seemed to work through her words slowly, making sure she was using the right ones correctly. With what little Fallen Nicole knew, she did the same. “Skilled mechanic here at Mist. Should have gone there. She could help with your armor issue too!”
“How long have you been listening in?” Nicole was curious.
“Turned up after the explosion, Rykis was wondering where you went.” Jasix replied. “There should be transport passing soon if you want to go to Tansis tonight?”
“Transport… Tansis?” the word sounded familiar, but Nicole was just not sure.
Jasix nodded and waved for Nicole to follow. “There is a… train, I think, passing here. And Tansis is Mechanic and armorer.”
“Ah…” Nicole went to follow the Vandal, as she led her towards another set of tracks she had passed earlier in the day. “Sure, take me there.”
“Yes, yes, this way.” Jasix found a spot nearby the tracks and pulled something off her back. It was a small tripod with a flashing light. She placed it down and aimed the light up north. She then climbed up the side of a building and perched on the roof with her rifle out.
Stepping back, Nicole was not expecting Jasix’s sudden movement. “Uh, is everything okay?” She called.
Jasix scanned the area around them. “Yes, yes, though others may have been alerted by the boom.”
“Do we really need to worry about the Devils this far west?” Nicole asked.
“Likely, no. But never know; they came all the way from the other landmass to bother us, it seems like a very small jump to come a bit farther west,” Jasix replied.
“True, I hope they’re not going to respond though, I don’t have anything to really help against that.” Nicole glanced down at the rifle in her hands. It had served her well in her first and only real engagement, but it seemed to lack power.
Jasix looked down as well. “Maybe we’ll get you something better there too.”
Nicole nodded and smiled under her helmet. That would make her feel better about being out in the middle of nowhere; maybe she could go out even further on her own in the future. Over the sound of the raging fires, she could hear a deep rumbling sound coming from the metal tracks near the platform.
She glanced down the rail and into the darkness. Other than the occasional streetlight or other intact lighting system, there was nothing she could see approaching their position.
Nicole glanced up at Jasix and the Fallen held up a set of binoculars to her four glowing eyes. “Here they come.” She looked down at Nicole with a nod.
“I don’t see anything though.”
But that was when she spotted a dull red cluster of lights, further down the track. The rumble grew louder and louder; sounding deeper, but very similar to the tank from weeks ago. It was still barely discernible from the darkness when the sound suddenly changed in tone, winding down rapidly. The machine slowly glided across the rails into view.
She had seen plenty of rusted out trains while walking outside the ruins of Bellevue, but this one was not a normal train. The base of it had been one at some point in time, but the Fallen had attached the front end of one of their Spider tanks over the original engine compartment. Armored plates covered the train’s cab, and a multitude of sensors had been affixed to the rooftop. It was pulling flatbed cars, too many for her to count in the dark. There was one box car directly behind the engine.
The train came to a stop just passed the light Jasix had placed, the door to the boxcar slid open and a group of Vandals spilled out in a loose formation. They swept the area, making sure it was a safe place to stop. Jasix jumped down from her rooftop and approached one of the Vandals; they spoke quickly and quietly, Jasix gestured to Nicole and the Vandal nodded.
“Come aboard, human.” The Vandal said, waving to Nicole. “We must be on our way.”
It surprised Nicole that the Vandal spoke better english that Jasix, but she hopped aboard anyway. The boxcar had seats attached all around the walls, but only a few of them were occupied. Nicole took an open seat next to Jasix as the train lurched back into motion. It rapidly began to pick up speed and head further south.
Nicole’s Ghost appeared at her side and blinked at the surroundings. “I have to say, these Fallen have done wonders getting old human technology working again.”
“Right? I think this will save me a lot of time getting around the area in the future.”
“You should ask about how far it goes,” he said.
Jasix leaned over and poked the Ghost, turning him towards her with a single finger. “I can answer that, Little Machine. Rail runs all through Mist land, we have some that is starting to head further south, but it still being restored.”
“Hmm, interesting… Can you answer a few more questions?” He asked, sort of hovering towards Jasix. “How did you combine the spider walker and the engine?”
Nicole watched her Ghost and Jasix float away towards the forward door and out of the car, leaving her with seven other Fallen sitting on the wall. On one hand, Nicole was glad her Ghost was talking to the Fallen on his own, but on the other, he just floated away without saying anything. She frowned but remained seated.
The train rumbled south for nearly half an hour. They did not make any more stops after she had come aboard. Jasix and her Ghost had been gone the entire time; Nicole was starting to think that maybe they had left her on the train; in a joking manner of course.
Nicole suddenly felt the tug of deceleration as Jasix and her Ghost returned from the engine and she took her seat. “Enjoy your time alone?” She asked the little machine as it came to her side.
“Only now that I have you to come back to, Guardian, yes.” He replied. That made her smile a bit, and she opened her palm for her Ghost to land. He settled down and vanished into a flash of particles, going somewhere in her armor. “Looks like we are arriving, let’s see what Tansis has to offer.”
As the train came to a stop, one of the Vandals opened the sliding door and Nicole hopped out of the train car. Jasix lead the way off the platform and towards a group of buildings that were outlined by a cluster of flickering lights. A Fallen Captain stepped out from a doorway, ducking on their way out. He walked over to Nicole and Jasix, greeting them in the Fallen language. Nicole’s rough understanding of the language let her pick up some of the conversation.
“What can we help you with, Vandal Jasix?” the Captain asked.
Jasix bowed her head, “We are here to see Baroness Tansis to provide armor for the Guardian.”
“Hmm, that would be a problem right now. Tansis is asleep, she and her crew have been hard at work bringing our reserve vehicles online,” the Captain motioned for them to follow him. “I will let her know you visited in the morning. We can provide accommodations, follow.”
Nicole glanced across the runway; the formerly uninterrupted concrete apron was broken up by centuries of cracks and plant growth. Large clumps of grass dotted the area, only dimly illuminated by the flickering light poles that dotted the area. She could see the outlines of aircraft resting at odd angles; surely they were long gone in terms of operational status.
The Fallen lead her into a short structure with small windows. The old lettering over the doorway denoted the building as one of the bases barracks buildings. There were the spotted tarps that the Fallen liked to use scattered all over the building, covering holes and broken windows. This seemed to be one of the only non-hangar buildings in the area that was still relatively intact.
She walked in and could hear the chattering of unseen Fallen elsewhere in the building. There were strange rounded chairs around the first room with similarly styled platforms that she interpreted as beds nearby.
Their escort spoke and Jasix translated for Nicole. “There is an open room for you just down this hall. He says that you can pick any bed, the room is not in use right now.”
“Oh, thank you,” Nicole replied, using her limited understanding of their language.
“You speak Eliksni?” He asked, cocking his head to the side.
“Just a little,” she shook her head and returned to English for Jasix to translate. “Not enough to hold a good conversation yet.”
“Ah, I understand,” he replied and said something else that she did not know the words for.
“He says that the kitchen has a working… war… um… Ah, water pump and food in the store room. It’s upstairs.” Jasix nodded in an affirming motion.
The Vandal gave a small sudden nod and left the two of them in the hallway.
“I will be going as well, Guardian. The day is just beginning for me.” Jasix adjusted the strap of her rifle and drew a hood over the top of her head. “Tansis knows your language better than I; just let her know what you need.”
“How will I tell who she is?”
“She stands out from others here. Just ask for her. Have a good rest, and may the Great Machine bless you.” And she just jumped out of an open window, disappearing into the night.
“Well that was an interesting exit,” her Ghost piped up from her helmet speakers.
“There was a door, just down the hall.”
“Fallen, what can you do, huh?”
Nicole walked to the end of the hall and into the open room and glanced around. There were plenty of the Fallen styled beds with folded fabric sitting on them. She removed her helmet and took in the air, and found it surprising that the smell of mildew that she had become accustomed to in her tower was absent. Picking a blanket off a bed, she brought it to her face and smelled it. It was fresh, clean; there was some sweet scent there that Nicole could not place.
Her Ghost appeared in the air around her and took a look around the room. He flew through a door in the back, and she could see the light of his eye flashing about in there. “It looks like their shower room should work. You should take one while you’re here.”
Nicole nodded; she had never taken a shower or heard the word used before, yet she understood what it was. It had been a few weeks since she had been brought back, so it was probably a good idea.
She unclasped her thin armored chest plate and stripped down out of the padded bodysuit. There was not a smell, which was something she was surprised by. Though it made sense, her Ghost had rezzed her less than twelve hours ago. That probably refreshed her. Nicole would still take the shower; this was probably her only chance with working water.
The floor was cold, but clean; it looked like it had been cleaned recently. She turned a pair of knobs and there was a groaning sound from the walls. After a few moments, water sputtered from an overhead nozzle. Nicole stepped beneath the flow and let the hot water rain down upon her. It was really a great feeling, like sitting on the tank in the snow. She was calm and relaxed again.
Her Ghost flew into the shower room. “Don’t forget to use soap.”
“I think that might be some.” The Ghost flew towards a canister on a shelf.
Nicole grabbed the canister and twisted the lid off, and then took a scoop of the paste. It was gritty and slick, almost like it had tiny bits of stone. It was all she had, so she used the soap. Once she was finished, she turned off the water and glanced around the room. “So… what do I use to dry off?”
“Oh… I don’t know.” Her Ghost scanned the space. “That appears to be an issue.”
It seemed that there were no towels in the shower room or in her view back out in the bunk room. She resorted to just shaking the water off of her skin and stealing a blanket from one of the empty beds. The blanket was rough, but acted well enough as a substitute towel. “Next time, we make sure I have one before.”
“Sure thing, I’ll mark that down for later.” the Ghost blinked.
Nicole rolled her eyes and sat down into her chosen bed; it was much more comfortable than her old flat mattress in her tower, perhaps she could get one in the future. That was something to talk to Rykis about when she got back.
It felt weird to be out of her armor, nothing except for the blanket to protect her. She felt vulnerable, and of course, naked. She had slept in that armored bodysuit for the last three weeks, it was all she knew. But the comfort she felt and the warmth of an actual blanket; that far outweighed any concern she had.
Nicole slept so well, she did not hear the rustling in the room that morning.