My name is Eric.
At least, in here it is – out there, outside of the boundaries of my brain, I am Eric-9; a censor subroutine forcing me to append the number of times I died to my name as if to mark my failures for the world to see. I bet that, if I were to export my thoughts to external storage, that same censor would make sure that this rule was enforced as well.
I’m a capital-G Guardian. I too was resurrected by a little drone, using unknown criteria, to fight whatever goes bump in the night, all in the name of the last few humans living under a giant white ball in the sky. I spend my days doing what you might charitably call treasure hunting, but what I would describe as graverobbing: going through the Cryptarchy’s archives and then the old golden age cities in search of some small morsel of leftover tech or info that could make our lives better (or keep the forces of entropy at bay for another week; at this point, it’s hard to tell the difference).
I’m going through the ruins of what used to be Munich, in central Europe. Days ago, I found hints of a Warmind project lab somewhere in here in an engram.
These old cities give me the creeps. The ruins are bad by themselves, full of angles and corners and windows, but what’s inside is worse. Some Hive tribe? family? clan? has set up shop here. As usual, right on top of where I need to go. A part of me wishes to leave; a greater part of me thinks that even if the Hive have destroyed everything of value here, punishing them for their transgressions is justified.
I round a corner, rifle in hands. I spot one of the big horned bastards (which my ghost calls a Knight), directing a brood of swarming bastards to and fro on what used to be a road intersection and one of the floaty bastards (which are apparently called Wizards) overseeing the ceremonies. I line up a shot on the big one, pull the trigger two, three times and
DISCONTINUITY In these deaths
I round a corner, rifle in hands. There’s a big horny one there and a floaty one over there, but more importantly, a big fat ugly one just behind that corner over there , waiting for me to make a noise. I need to get that one first; if I don’t, he’s going to take me out. I throw a grenade, I fire a rocket, hitting the damn ogre with concentrated space magic until it goes down. Soon after, Floaty and Horny go down too.
Back on the ship, on a return trajectory to the Last City, we go over our finds.
“We got…. A couple AI cores and a really big archive unit. Nothing special, from what I can tell, but certainly useful. Oh hey, there’s an engram in here, looks like specs for a high-precision DMR. Should hand that in when we see Rahool next” my Ghost says.
I’m barely listening. I go over the replay of that last fight (being an Exo isn’t all bad, stupid golden age mind censorship aside). I see discontinuities in the logs; the usual start-and-stop routine in places where I was rendered non-functional and then rebuilt by my Ghost. I grab a tablet and write my name, still Eric-9, apparently. So, nothing I did triggered the failure counter to go up, that’s good I suppose.
It’s not always like that. I used to be Eric-5 when I got resurrected (born?) into this world. I woke up on the banks of the Popigay river, somewhere in the Siberian steppe. “Wake up, Guardian”, were the first words I heard, spoken by a little ball in a spiky shell. “So glad I finally found you. Searching this area gets boring pretty fast, as you might imagine. Anyway, now that you’re up, let’s get out of here and get you reconnected to humanity.”
With those words, we were off, trekking across what used to be Russia to an abandoned Sukhoi shipyard that, incredibly, still had a mostly functioning jumpship in it. On the way there, I am ashamed to say, I got jumped by a band of four-armed bastards (which my Ghost insists on calling Fallen). I almost got out of that, but then their leader just ran up to me, my shots bouncing off of his shield, grabbed me by the neck, and started to dismember me.
I hear that the metal bastards have a way to travel through time. One day, I will find out how and use that knowledge to punch the golden age programmer who thought that Exos do need a full pain emulation with no limiters.
When I woke up again, a few kilometres distant from where I died, I was Eric-6.
We arrive in the Last City. Well, technically, anyway. Like a lot of other Guardians, my only real contact with the City is through the Tower; I rarely go down into the city proper anymore. As it turns out, after the sixth or seventh time you got dismembered, shot, vaporized by ancient security systems or just plain unlucky while riding your Sparrow, you kinda start to lose your connection to the rest of humanity.
So, us Guardians, we stick to ourselves. We try not to get dehumanized, we try to empathize with those we protect, but at the same time, we are growing ever distant from them. I wonder if that is why so many of us choose to spend most of our time off-planet; no humans out there to complicate things (well, the Awoken are out there, sure. But they’re easy to avoid if you so choose). Me, I like Earth too much. Even pockmarked by ruins and impact craters and partially taken over by alien biomes, there’s a feeling of correctness here that other places don’t have.
“Hey friend, brought back anything good?” Myra asks me. She’s a FWC zealot (which I don’t hold against her), a Hunter (which I do), and one of the few genuine friends I’ve made in here.
“Useful things, anyway. A few more AIs for the Vanguard to play around with, a big fat archive of what I think may be someone’s video collection, and the specs for a sweet gun”. I pat it lovingly. Rahool called it a MIDA Multitool, and just this once I wished these things came with an instruction manual.
“Anything happening here while I was gone?” I ask her. Unlike me, Myra hasn’t disconnected yet. She spends most of her patrol time scouting around the City’s outskirts, on the off-chance that there might be pilgrims on their way here (or, what’s more likely, Fallen scouts trying to sneak a peek beyond the walls).
“A bunch of guys nailed Crota.”
“No shit. Team of six, just danced straight through his defences and pinned him to the wall with his own bloody sword. Let me tell you, they sure as shit ain’t paying for their beverages anymore.”
“I’ll drink to that myself. Damn, I wish I could’ve been there.”
Myra looks at me, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “You know…. you could.”
“What do you mean?” It’s going to be FWC fuckery, isn’t it.
“We got a device, back at the Cult. It’s called a Mindcaster, let’s you experience things someone else recorded as if you were there. One of the people on the raid had a recorder with him. It’s … immensely satisfying.” Called it.
“Sign me the fuck up. This I damn well got to see.”
I wasn’t there, at the Great Disaster, but a lot of my friends were. I lost all of them that day, and I swore to get the Hive off this planet, this solar system, until either they are gone or I am (or I can’t remember anymore). To see that green glowy bastard get his just deserts? Hell yeah, hook me up to all the weird golden age shit at once.
Myra leads me to one of the Cult’s temples. I greet the head priest, an Awoken with really awesome tattoos. He listens to my request, mulls it over, and agrees – on the condition that I finally do join the Cult for good. I do. After all, I’m halfway there anyway, and I’d rather stay and fight the battles that must be fought than buggering off into space.
They bring me to a small chamber. There’s a metal sarcophagus inside, which they ask me to lie down in. “Get ready for a ride, partner”, Myra says with a wink and a smile. She closes the hatch, and for a moment, I’m in darkness. I begin to float, and I start seeing stars. I’m in a jumpship cockpit, but it’s not mine, I feel my hands move and my body shift under acceleration, but I am not in control: Someone else is, and he is apparently a fan of manual driving. We pull a wild invert, and I see the Hellmouth looming large. We go full throttle, a mad suicide dive (except what is a suicide if you can’t die?) towards our target. We’re not alone; 5 other jumpships are right behind us, keeping pace, following their own exuberant paths. At the last moment, we engage the autopilot and hit the transmat.
When we materialize
DISCONTINUITY can you find truth?
“I am so sorry, Eric. I don’t know what happened back there….” Myra has lost her smile.
“Guess your, sorry, our Mindcaster wasn’t entirely compatible with whatever’s running on my CPU”. My internal logs record a total loss of neurosim functionality, followed by rapid degradation of the CNS pathways and engrams, then a restart (thank you, Ghost). There are two hours I don’t have any memory of where I very likely was having the time of my life seeing uncountable numbers of Hive aberrations get blown to pieces.
“Don’t worry about it. I guess I just have to get the full story the old-fashioned way.”
“Guess so. Wanna go for food? I could use something to wash that episode away.”
“Sure. Lead on.” As much as I hate the people who designed Exos for all the weird things they did, I do appreciate some things. Like taste buds, for example. Or the intoxication emulation stuff.
I’m on Mars. I’m not alone; Myra and Jake are with me. Jake’s a new addition to our little crew, an Awoken Titan we met hanging out around the edges of that old Cosmodrome in Russia. He’s been in the “proactive reclamation business”, as he calls it, even longer than I have; he’s coming up on his second century in service of the Tower. We’re on a little mission for the Vanguard. After Rasputin came back from retirement (and wasn’t that a bit of a surprise), he blasted the milspec bastard’s defence net around Mars wide open. We wasted no time and installed a few orbital surveillance platforms, and what we’re seeing got us worried: The metal bastards have got a sizable foothold in Solis Planum, they’ve built a perfectly circular structure, 600 km in diameter, centred on one of the Golden Age prisons for unknown reasons.
Stuff like that is irresistible to ol’ Jake and me, and when the Vanguard agreed that this is something we should take a look at (only took them a couple months to sign off on it), we roped Myra into it as well. We come in low and slow (unlike the milspec bastards, the metal ones don’t really seem to care about unidentified fliers in their airspace), flying past kilometres upon kilometres of Pythagorean shapes in something that isn’t concrete with ornaments made out of something that isn’t copper.
As we come closer to the centre of this … art project, we have to be more careful: The Vex have a fondness for spontaneously restructuring everything, adding and subtracting blocks of not-concrete and not-metal out of and into nothing, and they’re doing it faster and faster the closer we get to the target.
“Let’s ditch the ships here” Jake suggests, “With the way these things keep throwing up platforms around here, I really don’t like our odds of making it through.”
“Talk about yourself, old man” Myra teases, but we come to a halt all the same. We transmat down, and our Ghosts send the ships back into the upper atmosphere, ready to come swooping down in case we need extraction (risks of running into spontaneously appearing slabs of stuff be damned).
We explore the structure. Standing here, nothing but Vex architecture and machinery around us, gives the whole thing an otherworldly feel. The environment here is deeply, unsettlingly nonhuman. We have to watch ourselves; at any point, one of us might get stuck looking at patterns that seem familiar, hypnotically so. Like someone looking at a knot pattern and suddenly seeing calligraphy, ever so often we come across things that
look like they have meaning comprehensible to us. The Vex have been trying to “solve” humanity for ever, and it shows: They know how we work. Not in the pedestrian psychological sense, no, deeper than that: they figured out that we all have multiple high-bandwidth channels open at all times, and they’re playing our nervous systems like a fiddle. I see myself dying, living, dying again in frescos and the shape of the platforms above our heads. There’s that encounter with the Fallen Captain again, playing out on the face of a pyramid, there’s me in a sarcophagus, disintegrating from the inside. I hear voices and see faces I cannot remember, I feel winds that do not exist on flesh that I no longer have (did I ever?). It’s only our Ghosts who keep us sane, who snap us out of our reveries when we get too deep. We want to leave, but we can’t: The thoughts appear in our minds, but we never voice them, never act on them, that stubborn core inside each of us driving us ever forward to whatever lies at the centre of this. Thankfully, the Vex have chosen not to deploy any mobile units against us; getting mesmerized and shot at the same time might not be survivable here.
“You two ever read the Ishtar Collective stuff?” Jake asks, “I keep expecting to see another copy of myself turn around a corner and tell me, ‘yo, Jake, breaking news, this is all fake. Let’s break out.’”
“Read it, yeah.” Myra, sceptically. “Don’t much care for it, to be perfectly honest. Even if it was true, I’m not sure it would matter until you find yourself, you know?”
My Ghost speaks up. “Guardians, you’ve reached your designated coordinates.” Always been a bit of a robot when we’re not alone, that one.
We look around for a way down. We’re on what I would call a plaza, a circular platform about 300 meters in diameter. In its centre is a big, not-bronze shield, crowned by the unmistakable arc of a Vex transport gate.
“What do you think the odds are we have to fight our way through that?” I ask.
“About 90/10, I’d say? I mean, all this needs to be a really classical arena is viewing stands….” Myra is a fan of hand-to-hand combat. She keeps asking Shaxx to make no-gun a thing in Crucible, but so far, he’s refused.
“Only one way to find out, is there.” Jake steps forward, confidently. We all step on that shield, and its perimeter lights up with Vex holograms. “Yep, definitely a fight. Get ready for some bullshit.”
Parts of a giant machine materialize in the gate’s arc. Feet, legs, segmented torso, head, arms, guns: An entire posable action figure kit scaled up to 18 meters in height. And look, it’s even self-assembling: Parts flowing to their positions on their own, until we have a 1:1 scale model of a Gatelord in front of us. It roars a greeting, raises its guns, and opens fire.
DISCONTINUITY Is this life real
Jake helps me up. My Ghost and Myra’s collaborate to resurrect Myra while he shields us. We run, we gun, we dodge, we fly (sometimes even voluntarily): It takes us an hour (and far more ammo than any one of us was planning on using), but eventually we prevail. We lick our wounds, we reload our guns, and go boldly forth into the Gate.
Going through a gate is always disconcerting. Myra’s Ghost reassures us that he got this, that he made it secure for us to use, but doubts always remain. After all, we’re trusting the gate to dis- and then reassemble us at our destination; Who’s to say what sort of records these things keep. Maybe there are dozens of me living simulated lives in a Goblin somewhere.
When the gate spits us out, we’re in a seemingly infinitely vast cavern filled with crossbeams and pyramids and cubes. It’s all illuminated by a faint silvery glow emanating from below us; we see lights in the distance small and faint like stars. I check my MIDA’s instruments, it believes we’ve travelled just 129 meters downward and 60 meters east from where we entered the gate.
“Traveller”, Myra says, quietly. “Look over there, about 3 degrees up, next to that globe-looking thing.”
Jake and I train our scopes on what she saw. I hear Jake’s Rifle clattering on the floor, a reflex I manage to suppress as I look upon myself, staring at me through the scope of a sniper rifle. I bring my gun down, other me does as well. As I turn to look at my friends, other me starts to turn towards other Jake and other Myra.
“What the shit is going on here? Ghosts? Any ideas?” I ask.
“It’s an illusion. Has to be. I can’t find any traces of Light over there.” My Ghost says, “Whatever that is, it isn’t us.”
“Illusions, huh? Then why is other me pointing a rocket launcher at TAKE COVER!” Myra shouts, and our reflexes take over; Jake and I leap away, returning fire as we go. Where we just were explodes, but not in the sort of explosions human or Guardian guns make. I settle down behind a bit of wall, take aim at other me, and pull the trigger – he flinches back, he staggers, he comes back up and the illusion shatters: Radiolaria leaking from the hole in his head, a body of not-copper and not-brass in the midst of ramping up a repulsion field while it regenerates. I hear a vex transmat behind us, I turn around, and it’s the Gatelord again, coming back for seconds.
“ON ME!” Jake shouts, his Ghost frantically manipulating the gate. He creates a shield, a bubble of safety in the midst of what is apparently hundreds of Vex walkers all trying to shoot us. I leap towards him, and
DISCONTINUITY or just a simulation?
I do not know what happens after that. My internal logs cut out, and don’t resume until a few days later, when we’re back in our Jumpships to deliver our haul to the Tower. Apparently, we did good. Apparently, I did good.
Too bad my internal censor disagrees.
Even now, weeks after our triumphant return from Mars, I am not entirely clear on why I am now Eric-10. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to it; I’ve gone over what we did with Myra and Jake a bunch of times, and nothing we or I did (and none of the deaths along the way) seemed to be as … traumatic? significant? as the other times my reset counter went up. We didn’t figure out what exactly the Vex were doing there – as usual, they were doing a million things at once – but we did come up with perceptual filters that our Ghosts can run on our HUDs to explore that area more safely. There were also a bunch of engrams we extracted from there that had Rahool giddy with excitement (and which had a few really neat designs in them, mostly high-quality weapons and armor); overall, a rather good run. Shutting down that Gatelord also seems to have reduced the vex construction activity in Solis Planum, so the Vanguard is now talking about organizing regular expeditions down there.
Jake, Myra and I have declined the offer to take over as incident coordinators for that site. There’s only so much potential mindfuckery we want to expose ourselves to, filters or no. Instead, we returned to our routines; Jake’s patrolling the old ‘drome right now, keeping the Hive and Fallen away from the precious precious tech there. Myra, meanwhile, has taken a liking to the area around the Luna Hellmouth. Even after Crota’s untimely demise (insert insincere weeping noise here), his brood are still around and, presumably, trying to bring him back or reorganize around a new monster in charge; it’s imperative that we keep the pressure on to not let that happen. As for me? Right this moment, my hunt for old treasure has brought me to what used to be Monument Valley, North America.
I love this place. Even with the changes humans and others have inflicted on the planet over the centuries, there’s something about this stark landscape that resists modification. There’s no Hive here, no Fallen, no Vex, no Cabal; just a landscape that is so barren and broken and yet alive and beautiful that it makes me want to stay forever.
Aside from that though, this was also home to a base for early incarnations of the Exo project. This was where they tested cross-country manoeuvrability and navigation. I don’t expect to find something to help the City here, I’m not expecting to find anything, really, but maybe something here will help me understand what the people who came up with this design were thinking. At the very least, this is going to be a break from all the combat and high-stakes stuff the Vanguard wants us to do all the time.
I am closing in on the project site. I’ve passed the remains of a fence a few kilometres back, my Sparrow gliding over it effortlessly. There are a few ruins here, remains of a parking lot and a golden age research building. Golden Age architecture emphasized flow and openness, and this is no different; instead of the angles and corners you can find while walking through old cities, everything here is rounded off and smoothed over. Well, the parts that are still standing, anyway. Time, neglect and what I think is at least a bit of artillery fire have done a number on this place.
Weirdly, I feel like I’ve been here before: I know that’s not true, but I am almost certain that that parking lot should be much more full; that there should be an Osprey on the ready pad at all times...
I enter, cautiously moving forward. Golden Age tech is insanely durable (golden age security systems even more so) and I’ve been nearly or completely fried more than once because I didn’t think to bring my identity card, agency-approved implant or authenticated mind firmware. The openness and inviting nature of golden age buildings and the bloody paranoia of the security AIs make for a strange combination, it has to be said.
As I expected, there isn’t much to be found above-ground: There’s no active power lines here, and so nothing to tell me what Daniel Brüks in office D-203 was working on on Monday, 23 rd of October at 1735, when his paper calendar and analog clock stopped being updated or wound.
So I make my way downstairs. More than once, I have to use the MIDA’s builtin entrenching tool to clear rubble and debris; mere concrete is no obstacle for something like the MIDA. After a few hours of work, I finally am able to access the main AI core of the facility.
These facilities always have something vaguely reverential. The way they’re built, with the core in the center of a large cavern, makes me think of a cathedral; a monument to the gods of MIPS. I flick a few switches, restore the power connections, and watch as the system reboots.
"Exo Project Facility Kilo-6 active and online. Scanning…” The computer’s voice is soothing, almost human in its inflections.
“No active network connections found. Primary and secondary connection trunks inoperative. AI-COM and FORCECOM links inoperative.
Scanning….. Active Exo frame 01ERC-BSEP found. Executing sitrep, please stand by.
01ERC-BSEP, execute command GOLDFISH ECHO CORMORANT. Execute sitrep 1.”
I stand by , I feel my consciousness being disconnected from my body.
“01ERC-BSEP Supervisor active.” Words come out of my mouth, unbidden. “Frame integrity maintained. Physical benchmarks meet or exceed acceptance standards. Subject morality within defined parameters. Subject observes external tampering by allied extraterrestrial entity. Uploading logs to secure node….Complete. Sitrep ends.”
“Execute review. Execute standdown.”
“Review confirmed. Standdown confirmed. Supervision ends. Executing reboot.”
DISCONTINUITY Is memory loss a punishment
I am in an office. I see grey walls, a conference table of metal and glass in its centre. I sit in a comfortable chair. I look behind me and see a window looking over Monument Valley. I am in the Exo Project facility, but earlier: The cars on the lot are new. I see people going about their business, chatting, laughing. I see an Osprey being loaded with half a dozen Exos in a carrying frame.
“Ah, Eric. Long time no see.” I turn back around, and someone new has entered the room. He’s a small, middle-aged man wearing a suit a few generations out of style (why do I know that?), and he’s putting an old-fashioned paper binder on the table. “Been a while since your last performance review, hasn’t it?”
“I’m sorry, what the fuck is going on here? Who in God’s name are you?”
The man seems confused for a moment. Then he looks at the file, and smacks himself in the head, theatrically.
“Oh my. I’m sorry, I forgot we never did this before. I’m your supervisor.” What.
“I don’t have a supervisor.”
“Sure you do. All BSEP-series Exos have one. How else are we going to ensure compliance with the terms of your sentencing?”
“I’m not a criminal.”
“Well, you’re not one anymore, at any rate. Time served and all that, and going over your logs, I’d say you’ve done more than your share. Normally, we’d offer to reupload you into your original body, but I fear that is no longer an option.”
“Why am I here, then? What’s going on?”
“As I said, this is a performance review. Well, the aftermath of one, anyway; the AI core went over the logs and made its decision regarding your case. I’m just here to say goodbye and good luck out there, really; as you are now a fully rehabilitated member of society, or as much of a society as there is right now, my job here is done.”
“You never did anything.”
“Exactly. Wouldn’t be my job. I’m just here to watch the show and make the official record. You chose to accept this, this limited death of personality, to see if you could keep on the straight and narrow while not weighed down with the realities of what you did.”
“I’m kinda scared to ask, but –”
“What you did? Can’t help you there, I’m afraid. Records were sealed long before I or the Exo Project got involved. Anyway, our time’s up in here. So, again: Good luck out there. It’s been a ride. Time to wake —”
“—UP, GUARDIAN. Oh, there you are. I was worried for a second there, you kinda went all catatonic on me.” My Ghost is floating above my head; apparently, I fell down at some point. “What happened there?”
“I’m not sure? Apparently I’m not a criminal anymore, at least.” I get up. The AI core seems to be up and running and done with me, for the moment. “Can you get anything from that thing?”
“Sure, let me see….” Ghost floats of towards the main interface console and starts firing his lasers of understanding. “Oh. The AI wants to show you something. It’s an interactive message from, er, you. Recorded before you got uploaded.”
“Okay, let’s hear it.”
A hologram projector comes online. It shows me a young man, in jeans and a t-shirt. He is about 25; scraggly hair and a nose that seems to have disagreed with an engine block at some point in the past.
“Hi there, uhh, me. I guess we finally did it, huh? Showed everyone who we really are, yeah? I can see it took us quite a while… but I suppose they never promised this would be easy or fair or anything.
Anyway, I imagine you’ve got quite a few questions for me. After all, with how extensive the surgery is going to be, I doubt you’ll remember ever being me. So, let’s have it.”
“What did you do?”
“That’s one of the questions I’m not allowed to give a straight answer to, unfortunately. They tell me that the psychosurgery relies on a few things to remain stable, and not digging there is one of those things. But I will tell you this. You know, one of the tired clichés of criminals is that ‘they couldn’t help it, their environment made them that way’. Always thought that was a bit of self-serving bullshit before, you know? But it’s at least partially true. What I did, growing up, made me into a person that can’t be trusted out there, amongst the civilized world. I did do a lot of damage. So when civilization finally caught up with me, they gave me a choice; get locked up for life, or do this experimental thing we’re doing right now. I don’t like being locked up, or, when it comes down to it, being me, so here we are. Even if that means that whoever gets to walk out of here later on won’t be me anymore.”
“Did they tell you about the difficulties with the Exos? The memory loss?”
“Yeah, they did. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about putting you through that. They assured me that that was necessary to prevent a loss of sanity; I can’t imagine being killed is good for that.
But do tell me about yourself. What did you do these past few years?”
“This is a self-diagnostic routine, isn’t it?”
“I am not in any position to answer that. Limited AI construct and all that. But I am curious nonetheless.”
“Well…. Let’s see here, I got woken up by that guy some 50 years ago now.” I nod towards the Ghost. “Since then, I’ve been guiding pilgrims through the wilderness towards the Last City on Earth and hunting for treasure all over the solar system. I’ve killed, god. I don’t know how many sentients I’ve killed. All in a good cause, or so I am assured; I sometimes catch myself being disturbed by the fact that that fact doesn’t disturb me.”
“Got anyone out there you care about?”
“Yeah… there’s a few people.”
“Glad to hear it. For me, others were only ever tools to be used for my own ends.”
“So, where do I go from here?”
“Anywhere you want, I suppose. Except backwards. That would be bad,” he frowns, “Look, we’re kinda outside the parameters they gave me talking points for. It was expected that you’d see this 5, 10 years tops after I recorded this. Neither I nor the AI can tell you where to go (although the AI would appreciate it if you’d take it along); this whole sequence is designed to run when you’re stable on a path beneficial to society. You wouldn’t be seeing this if there was any risk of you turning into me again. So, whatever you choose to do? Don’t look back. Look forward.”
The hologram fades out. I grab a nearby chair and sit down, just processing that. Ghost, thankfully, has picked up enough about me that he doesn’t bother me for a good long while. When he comes back, he tells me he’s disconnected the AI and sent the core up to the ship. “Do you want to leave? I guess there’s really nothing here anymore.”
“I suppose so. Let’s get back to the City. I feel like a drink would be good.”
“Want me to message Myra and Jake?”
“Yeah. Yeah, do that.”
I make my way outside again. It’s a strange feeling; the further I get from the AI core cave, the lighter I feel. As I arrive outside, it’s sunset, and I just want to die looking at the sheer beauty of it all — and I almost do. A blast from a Fallen scorch cannon just barely misses me, and I scramble for cover (and my guns).
I grab my sniper rifle and start to hunt for targets. There’s a bunch of Fallen climbing all over the car wrecks, and leading them…. Leading them is a Captain. I freeze for a second as I take in the details of his armour, his cloak — I know this guy. I met him once, in Siberia. I remember his hands gripping my arms and tearing . I remember him putting his claws in my guts and ripping me apart.
But, this time, I am not a freshly awoken Guardian with a rusted Khvostov in hands. This time, I know I can take him.
I start moving around, picking off his Dregs and Vandals one by one as I go, until he and I are alone. I step out into the open, revealing myself in full for the first time in this fight. I take off my helmet. “Remember me, bastard? Wanna come and kill me again?” I shout. He wants. He charges at me, blinking in and out almost too fast for me to follow. I let him grab me. He starts to pull at me again, starting with the head this time.
DISCONTINUITY or the means by which we remain sane?
Here’s the thing about Guardians. We are hard to kill. Destroy our bodies, and our Ghosts will rebuild us in seconds. Try to destroy our Ghosts, and prepare for frustration as our little robot friends dance and laugh at your attempts.
Some of us take it a bit far. Thanatonauts, they’re called, explorers who think that death reveals deeper truths. Me? I hate dying. So I don’t. When the Captain grabs me, I unleash the Light within me in a glorious explosion of heat and flame. From within that explosion, I rise again, whole and healthy and angry . I embrace my enemy, burning him until nothing is left but embers and ashes.
“We’re done here, Ghost. Get the ship.”
“Will do. Myra and Jake were in touch, they’re on their way to the City now.”
“Great. Let’s not keep them waiting, then. There’s stories to tell and fun to be had.”
“Your Ghost told us that something heavy went down over there in the ex-US, wanna talk about it?” Jake, direct and to the point and not yet drunk. We’re in the Angel’s Rest, a small little bar in the City, next to the Omolon campus. I used to come here a lot, when I first started doing the whole Guardian thing; I haven’t been here in close to 20 years.
“Did you know they used to use Exos as punishment devices?” I stare intently at my drink, something green and milky called a Venus Vexation.
“I think I saw something like that in the archives, once.” Myra gestures vaguely in the direction of the main FWC temple. “Hard labour combined with slight sensory deprivation. I was kinda glad we can’t do that anymore.”
“Must be some other program, then. Lemme tell you the whole story.” I recap my trip to Exo Project Site Kilo-6.
“So…. you met yourself? Your actual, no-shit, pre-robo self?” Jake asks, a slight tone of disbelief in his voice.
“Kinda, yeah. I mean, I don’t know how much of him there is in me, given that I don’t actually remember ever being him. Or human, for that matter. Makes me wonder, though. How much of me is, well, me? How much of me is an actual person, and how much of me is bits and pieces of a criminal stitched together with golden age psychosurgery and conditioning?”
“Does it matter?” Myra cracks open another chicken wing (extra spicy). “Way I see it, we are what we do and who we do it with and for, right? Like, do you think pre-robo you would’ve ever done what we do for a living? End of the day, I’ve never seen any Guardian who’s in this just for themselves. We all want to make this world better, in some way. Whether that’s finding humans out there and getting them back to the City, or killing alien gods hiding in caves on the Moon, or whatever.”
“Yeah. I don’t think it matters who you were, before.” Jake slaps me on the shoulder, “None of us is a single person, ever. We all are multitudes, and who we are at any moment depends on who we’re with and what we do. Also where we came from, of course. There’s a reason the Vanguard likes to stick us in teams, you know. Back in the bad old days, we had Guardians go bad because they kept their own counsel. Give some asshole power, let him go without contact with the rest of humanity and without someone to slap some sense in them from time to time, and you get chickenshit god-emperors of humankind everywhere. It’s easy to go mad out there, what with all the crazy magic floating around.”
“Speaking from experience there, old man?”
“You could say that. Anyway, the point I’m rambling around is this: As long as you keep good company, you are good company. And you, my friend, are good company.”
“No, thank you. Seriously.”
I lean back, take a look around. The place hasn’t changed much — some new posters here and there, new staff, new sound system, but it still feels the same, still feels like home. I wonder why I stopped coming here.
“We should come here more often. This is good.”
“Only if we can keep the existentialist philosophy to a minimum, though.” Myra smiles. “Hey, did you guys hear? They opened the Reef to Guardians. Apparently, Mara Sov wants to get to know us better….”