294km off the coast of the Last City
The ship shuddered as it passed through another thunderstorm, the third one since they took off from what was left of Manhattan. The ship barely maintained a pressurized cabin, and against all odds, the heaters still functioned, something Nicole was grateful for. She had to love the old Golden age technology, it lasted forever.
Her Ghost was piloting the ship, so she leaned back in the ruined seat and sighed. It had taken her just over seven months to find something to cross the Atlantic, and she didn't even know how to fly it. Of course, that's what the Ghost was for, at the moment.
Her Ghost hadn't said much, Nichole assumed that he, like her, didn't know much else.
Nicole gripped the pilot's stick as the craft shook again. Another lightning strike to the wing. Tugging at the stick was useless, the controls were all shot and would need to be fixed when they got wherever they were headed.
"I'm going to bring us out of the clouds now." the Ghost said.
"Alright, are we close?" She asked. The ship dropped down out of the clouds. Nicole could see land below them. Everything was green and overgrown. Whatever had been there was long gone by now.
"We are approaching the air identification zone for the City." He said.
Almost on cue, the old radio crackled and a voice spoke from a hanging headset. "Attention; Ship pinging as Skylanes Sierra-One-Zero-Two-Romeo-Charlie, this is Vanguard Tower Control. You are entering restricted airspace. Identify or you will be shot down."
Nicole looked over at her Ghost hovering over the controls. "Let them know you're a new guardian coming in." He said, the small tabs stuck onto his ball rotated and twitched.
She took a breath and pulled the headset onto her head. "Tower ATC… this is One-Zero-Two-Romeo-Charlie, I am… uh… a new Guardian, my Ghost brought me here."
The other end was quiet for a moment. "...Roger that. Then have your Ghost send telemetry to confirm position."
Her Ghost twitched. "Here it goes…"
"Telemetry data received. Outpost now has visual, one moment... Your ship is too large to set down in the Tower hanger. Ghost, proceed to Tower runway Seven-West. Runway is being cleared for your approach. Welcome to the Last City, Guardian."
"You may want to hold on to something. This craft is centuries old." Her Ghost said.
Nicole looked around the cockpit, the seat belts had rotted away long ago and the seat itself wasn't in a much better state. Once again, she took hold of the flight stick. "You can just revive me again, hmm?" she said with a worried smile.
The small machine turned to look at her with the most serious expression a ball could have. "Only if we don't explode on impact."
The craft banked and slowed, its engines winding down for its final approach. It came down on the runway hard. The landing gear suspension snapped, and the stiff tires tore apart from friction. Yet the landing gear's brace held and the shuttle slid down the runway on its rims. The wing flaps lowered to their full extension and brought the craft to a gradual, but rough stop.
"Well… we didn't explode. Good work, Ghost." Nicole said.
"Thank you." The ball simply vanished into her armor.
Nicole turned and pushed open the pressure door between the cockpit and the passenger compartment. She pushed her way through rusted chairs and the glowing blue chunks that cluttered the floor. The cargo hold was apparently full of the stuff, her Ghost said it was important for making things, but he didn't have the capabilities to actually use it to the cubes' full extent.
The outer door creaked as she opened it to the outside world. Nicole looked on in awe, at the massive sphere that sat in place at the center of the vast city that spanned the horizon.
"So that's the Traveler?" she asked her Ghost.
It's voice came from the speakers in her helmet. "Yes, that is it… That is what made me, and helped bring you back."
"Damn… It's bigger than I thought." Nicole tore her gaze from the Traveler and the city and looked down the runway. A cluster of vehicles were approaching with flashing lights. It occurred to her once more that she did just land in a craft that was centuries old and could burst into flames at any given moment.
She dropped down from the door and quickly walked away from the still smoking rims. The emergency vehicles came to a stop, and the crews doused the hot parts of the ship with foam.
A woman hopped off the back of one of the trucks. She wore a set of bulky armor and a silver sash hung from her waist. "Are you the new Guardian, Hunter?"
"My name is Nicole, not Hunter. And yes, I suppose I am," she replied.
The woman chuckled. "I didn't mean your name, you're a Hunter, it's your class," she said.
"Oh, my mistake." Nicole held out her hand to shake. "Pleasure to meet you …?" She paused to let the woman introduce herself.
The woman reached out and took Nicole's hand with a firm grip. "Matilda, I'm part of City Defense. They sent me over in case you were actually non-human."
"Just you?" Nicole asked.
Matilda laughed again. "I am a Titan, ma'am. I'm all they need."
"I take it you're very skilled?" Nicole asked.
"You are really new, aren't you." The Titan said. "Your Ghost not fill you in?"
Nicole's eyes glanced up at the small icon on her visor. "No, he doesn't talk much."
"Maybe now that you've finally reached the Tower, I can change that." The Ghost piped up privately.
Nicole rolled her eyes. "He's been helpful with everything else, just not information."
"Very well then. I am a Titan, we are the Warriors of the Light. The so-called blunt force of the Traveler's will. Then there are the Warlocks, they spend a lot of time in their books, but they're a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield." She stopped and looked Nicole over. "And Hunters… Well. They spend a lot of time in the wild, fans of knives and ranged weapons… Speaking of which… How long were you out there?"
Nicole nodded her head up to her Ghost's icon so he could give an exact time. The white machine appeared over her shoulder. "It's been one thousand one hundred and twenty-four days."
"Damn, long time. Just proves point one." Matilda looked down at the pair of throwing knives on Nicole's belt. "There's two… What's your preferred weapon?"
The definite Hunter pulled the strange brown weapon off her back to show the Titan. "This, and my Sidearm."
"That's a Fallen wire rifle… Definitely ranged." Matilda chuckled. "Yep, you are most certainly a Hunter." She looked over Nicole's armor, something she had neglected to really look at before. "Wait, your gear is Fallen too? If I didn't know any better, you could be a Vandal."
Nicole laughed and turned, showing off the red caps she had from a Dreg and welded to her side. "Had to blend in somehow."
"Yeah, leave your helmet off while here, or get a new set of armor. I don't want you shot by someone who thinks you really are Fallen." The Titan said.
"Hmm, I see your point." Nicole reached up and removed her helmet, clipping the back end to a loop on her belt. When Nicole looked back up, Matilda was looking closely at her face. "What is it?"
"You're eyes glow like an Awoken, but you're a regular Human…" She shrugged. "I don't know what's up though, maybe the Warlock Vanguard would know something. Either way, you need to go up the tower to meet with the Hunter rep and then the Shipwright, probably."
"How do I get up to the Tower from here?" Nicole looked around, "Could they tow my ship somewhere out of the way? I would like to get some personal effects out after I get settled here."
"Yes, if you follow that yellow marked fence into the old terminal, the lifts inside will take you up to the Tower Commons." Matilda pointed over to a building at the base of the Tower Nicole had landed near.
Nicole nodded. "Thank you. Perhaps I'll see you again." She waved to the Titan and walked off towards the lift.
"Don't count on it, there are a lot of us!" Matilda shouted out before Nicole left earshot.
The old doors slid open, rust being ground off its gears. She walked into what looked like an abandoned airport terminal. The rows of chairs covered in blankets and dust. In certain areas, plants had grown through cracks in the flooring.
An advertisement for some sort of rifle was haphazardly slapped up on a pillar. The paper was a bit worn, but still highly legible. Suros Weapons Foundry was printed above the white plated weapon in bold black lettering, though the Rwas red. The gun itself was sleek, with a red creatures painted to the side.
A voice spoke up from the darkness. "Ah, lookin' at the DIS-47. Good gun, but I am more of a Regime guy myself."
She turned around to see a group of Guardians seated around a table playing cards. Their table was illuminated by a couple camping lanterns placed in the small space. They were fellow Hunters, from the look of their gear. The card table was hidden behind a stack of cargo crates, which explained why she did not see it coming in. One of them nodded to her, he must have been the one who spoke.
Nicole shook her head. "Honestly, haven't heard of either of them. This is my first time back to any sort of civilization."
The Hunter humphed. "Ah, spending time in the wild, that's something I haven't done in a while. Though you don't look like a baby guardian." He looked over at the others at the table, who all nodded their heads in agreement. "How long?"
"Two years, I think." She said with a shrug.
"Hmm..." He looked over her armor. "You some sort of Fallen lover?"
She looked back down at herself, and made up a lie about it. It probably would not be a good idea for them to know the real way she got it. "I scavenged it. Years in the ruins and I had to blend in somehow, but I do respect them as an enemy." Nicole waved her head back towards the elevator. "I really should go up the Tower though."
"Whatever you say, bug hugger." The Hunter chuckled and waved her off. "See you around."
She sighed, shook her head, and headed to the lift. Nicole pressed the button that was labeled as the Tower Commons and was sent up the base massive tower. The door dinged and slid open once she reached the top. The Commons itself was sort of unimpressive, but the view was breathtaking. The Great Machine, or the Traveler as her fellow Humans called it, floated out above the city way in the distance.
Her Ghost piped up from her helmet. "You should probably listen to what Matilda said. Go meet the Vanguard."
She looked down at the helmet clipped to her side. "Fine, I'll do that. But I will go see the shipwright first." Nicole looked up at the directory to see where the Shipwright was located and followed the directions into the hangar. She had to pass through some sort of weird security like checkpoint, but it was unmanned and there were guns just sitting on the wall. It was unusual, but she just chocked it off as something they do around here.
The hangar was a large open space, the small vendor and offices were on catwalks above the main hangar floor. It reminded her a bit of some of the military sites she had visited on her journey to the Tower. Though this was still in good repair and functioning. She walked up to the stall with the big Shipwright sign.
A woman was sitting up on a crate in the back. "Hey, Guardian. Haven't seen you around here before, I'm Amanda Holliday, the best Shipwright around." Her voice had a slight southern accent, it appeared that some of the people from the southern part of the North American Empire was still around.
"Uh, hello. I just arrived and-"
The Shipwright cut her off. "Is that your wreck on the runway?"
Nicole nodded. "Well...yes... yes it is."
She hopped off the crate and walked over to a screen showing a runway camera view. "Ah, an old Pterosaur Vi-Two-twenty-one. She's a beaut' when all cleaned up."
"That's actually why I came over here," Nicole said. "Can you fix it?"
"Can I fix it?" Holliday questioned. "Hunter, of course I can. As long as you've got the Glimmer."
Nicole had heard of it before, the Fallen had mentioned it a few times. She had never really cared about money, "Glimmer?"
"Glimmer, cubes of matter. Glowin' blue?" The Shipwright said. "The re-programmable matter we make just about everything out of nowadays."
"Oh! So that's what that stuff is... Check the ship's cargo hold, I hope that will be enough." The belly of the ship was filled with several crates of tightly packed cubes that glowed a brilliant blue. Her Ghost had made a comment about how it was valuable, but not how it was.
"Well, alright then Guardian," Holliday said, hopping off the container. "I'll head down and get to work then."
"Um, sounds good. Is there some way for you to contact me, or me contact you?" Nicole asked.
"I've got a com unit, and you have a Ghost." Holliday said. "Just gimme your CID and we'll be good."
Nicole did not know what a CID was, but she summoned her Ghost in her hand anyway. He spun and looked around. "I've transmitted the communicator identification number to your device."
"Alrighty then, I'll send you a message with an update on your ship when I know something." The Shipwright opened up a gate and walked through. "I'll go get to work."
Nicole walked across a balcony on one of the lower levels of the tower. It had been two weeks since she had arrived there, and she was anxious to actually visit the Last City. However, the Vanguard had restricted her access to just the Tower. Maybe they didn't like her 'Fallen' look.
Holliday had informed her that the ship would take about a month of repairs to get it back to working order, but she was not in a hurry. Nicole stopped as someone fell from the balcony above and smashed into the ground in front of her. Their Ghost appeared and revived the Exo, who immediately went over to the next railing and hopped over the side.
"Uh... what..." She ran over and saw that he was still there, holding onto the lip on the other side.
The Exo looked up at her from his view. "Oh, hello!"
"Are... you alright?" Nicole asked.
"Yeah... fine. Why?" He replied.
"Well, you're just hanging off the ledge." She glanced down over the edge.
"Yeah, its cool though." He said. "I mean, we can't die."
"Well I suppose that is cool..." Nicole nodded slightly, she had experienced that moment more than a few times on her journey. The high that went with it was a strange sensation. "Are you new?"
"I might be, why?" The Exo pulled himself up and back onto the balcony.
"Because you were just hanging off the side of the Tower," she waved her hands over towards the edge.
"Well... what about that makes you think I'm 'new'?" He asked, a playful tone present in his synthetic voice.
"Don't know, just seems that it does." Nicole said.
"Okay, well... I am. I've been here for a week."
"Ah, I got here two weeks ago" Nicole nodded.
"Oh so you just were revived too?" The Exo asked.
"No, it just took me a while to make it to the Tower."
"Oh cool. It took me a while to get here too, I was revived in a hospital in Meridian Bay on Mars... I'm pretty sure." He held out his hand and his Ghost appeared. "Jinx?"
"What is it, Guardian?" It asked, his Ghost had a feminine voice, contrary to hers.
"How did you find me?" He asked the ball.
"You were in a pile of dirt in a hospital... Floor seven, room forty-two. Meridian Bay, Mars." Jinx spouted off some coordinates that meant nothing to Nicole.
The Exo stopped looking at the Ghost and then to Nicole. "You have nice eyes." His Ghost stopped talking and turned to face the Exo as well.
"Oh... um thank you." Nicole felt herself blush a bit.
"Would you like to continue this conversation over a drink or something?" he asked.
"Mmm... sure." Nicole nodded. "Is there a good place to go?"
"There isn't much in the Tower Commons, but a few levels down there is a place with decent food," he said. The Exo led the way down a stairwell and into a small tavern built along an open span in the Tower's supports. They took a seat and a Frame brought over a couple drinks automatically. "My names Brutus, by the way."
"Ah, I'm Nicole. Good to meet you." She introduced herself as well. They tapped their glasses and took a drink. It was interesting having contact with someone, after a year of walking through the wastes. Everyone she met on the tower, short of Holliday and Matilda, seemed to avoid her. Maybe it was not anything really, perhaps Guardians just normally passed one another without saying a word.
"So what is your story? What took you so long to get here?" Brutus asked.
"Ah, well, it's a long one..." Nicole trailed off and took a sip.
"We've got time" He nodded.
"Then here it goes..."