The ghost fled from a gang of Fallen through the ruins of Bismark, North Dakota. He ducked behind standing walls and piles of rubble, flew through culverts and up fire escapes. The aliens followed him, tracking him by his movement and the glint of his blue eye.
The tiny robot was about the size of a softball, with a geometric outer shell shaped roughly like a star. The core, where his brain and soul were, was a small globe in the shell's center, and his glowing blue eye blinked from the core's front.
But half the shell was missing, the core exposed to the dangerous world. The ghost fled its pursuers, listing to one side, limping in the air. Had he been human, he would have been gasping for breath. Being a ghost, he simply flew in desperate silence.
The Fallen had deeply entrenched themselves in the old city, excavating burrows and passages beneath the ruins, using old sewer mains as tunnels. The ghost had found this out as he'd explored, ever hunting for his soul-partner, as he'd done for the last five hundred years. He'd watched the aliens and followed them around, his curiosity and gnawing loneliness driving him. There were certainly no humans for miles - nothing for the aliens to threaten but the ghost, himself.
Until they spotted him and began hunting him.
The ghost had narrowly escaped a sweeping arc blade, the electrified metal shearing off part of his shell. Now he fled, winding through the ruins, trying to reach the nearest stand of woods, where he could hide.
But no - he didn't want to hide. Anger flared in his core. He wanted to fight.
The ghost identified two pikes with his scanner. Pikes were hovering motorcycles favored by the Eliksni race, and were armed with arc cannons. The ghost had spent much time studying abandoned pikes, learning how their engines and electrical systems worked.
When he reached the pikes, he disappeared in a flash of particles, accelerating himself into pure energy, and entered the pike's systems. His soul burning as an angry spark of Light, he assumed control of the pike's steering, engine, and weapons. He charged back at the aliens pursuing him.
The aliens received a nasty shock as one of their own pikes, apparently unmanned, came flying down the street at them, firing as it came. There was no rider to pick off. No visible sign of the ghost controlling it. So they did what any self-respecting rational beings would do - they panicked and focused fire on the vehicle.
The pike still managed to kill at least fifteen Fallen before they destroyed it. The engine ruptured and exploded, sending the pike rolling sideways into a rotten brick wall. Half the wall collapsed on the pike, burying it in bricks and powdery mortar.
The Fallen examined the pike from a safe distance, as if checking to make sure that it was dead. Then, with guttural growls and gestures of their four arms, they moved off, back to hunting the lone ghost.
The street was left to the silence of the wilderness once more. A few fragments of brick settled and rolled down the pile of rubble. The pike's engine fire burned itself out, only a little smoke and heat continuing to rise from it.
The ghost had abandoned the pike and returned to physical form, only to be crushed under the falling brick. He awoke beneath the rubble, aware that he was being slowly pressed out of shape by the weight above him.
He phased into energy and flowed out of the rubble, reassembling himself just above. His whole core ached. His shell wouldn't spin right, no matter how much he opened and closed it. And part was still missing.
Slowly he flew inside the damaged building and landed on an old fireplace mantle, built of the same brick that had nearly killed him. He rested there for several hours, his blue eye irised shut, letting his self-repair mechanisms address the damage inside him.
He dreamed about finding his partner - his Chosen. In the dream, he found a patch of glorious Light, and within that Light was the soul of his best friend, dead and waiting for the ghost. He never could see their face, or tell if they were male or female - all he knew was the shape of their personality, rich with humor and generosity, deep with confidence and strength.
He'd dreamed of his Chosen for five hundred years. It kept him searching and searching, day after day. But when he awoke that night, and he still ached, he was suddenly afraid that his search might end in failure.
"You can't die," he told himself fiercely. "Your Chosen needs you. You have to find them." He floated into the air, sluggishly, then dropped back onto the mantle. His Light was weak, his repulsors damaged.
Three times, the ghost tried to fly. On the third try, he stayed airborne, but a slow, wavering flight it was. If any Fallen happened upon him at that point, they could have plucked him out of the air like a wounded pigeon.
He picked his way out of the building and resumed trying to reach the safety of the woods. It was full dark by this time, with clouds covering the stars. The ghost activated his night vision and flew slowly along, peeking around corners for enemies. His scanner didn't work very well, damaged and full of static.
He might try hijacking another pike. It would be a relief to phase into a larger machine, make it do the work instead. But he happened across none.
Several times he stopped and hid to avoid Fallen patrols. He was growing deadly tired, his crushed core paining him more and more. Just get to the woods, he thought over and over. Hide in a tree. Rest for a few days. Gather enough Light to rebuild yourself. You can't meet your Chosen all busted up.
By the time he reached the edge of the trees, he wanted to cry with exhaustion. He flew slowly up into the branches of a huge pine, settled himself in a spot where falling pine needles had made a thick nest in the fork of two limbs, and went to sleep.
He dreamed that his Chosen was nearby, the Light casting long shadows among the trees. He kept trying to turn and look for it, but he couldn't move. Why was the Light behind him? Why couldn't he move to find it? He felt his Chosen sleeping, waiting for him to awaken them, clothe them in flesh and blood once more.
The ghost awoke at dawn. His Light was still weaker, the pain still there. He lay in his pine needle nest and gazed at bits of sky through the branches.
Face it. You won't make it.
Yes, I will.
No, you won't. Your Light is failing. You're damaged beyond self-repair. Another ghost could mend you, maybe. But there's no other ghosts here. It's time you gave up.
The ghost gathered his tattered courage. No, I won't give up. My Chosen needs me. They might be close. Right behind me. Here, in the trees.
He tried multiple times before he was able to remain airborne. Flying was even slower than before. He limped along a few feet from the ground, playing his faint scan beam along the forest floor.
Light. Bones. Tattered bits of cloth. The ghost halted, scanning it again, then again. Could it be? Had he found his Chosen at last?
He circled the spot, examining it from all angles. Yes, there was Light here - such beautiful, warm, welcoming Light. And a spark - the funny, generous, courageous person he'd sought for so long. His own spark resonated with this one, sending thrills through him.
It might take every last iota of Light he possessed to raise them. But this was his purpose, the end of his centuries-long search. He couldn't find his Chosen and not resurrect them. Elation grew within him - elation and shrieking, euphoric excitement. His Chosen - his friend!
"I'll raise you, friend," he whispered, and opened his shell.
One pulse of Light to build the body - smaller than he had expected. Another pulse to clothe it in the gear he had manufactured from scavenged materials through the years. A final pulse to pull the Light, spark, and body together into a living being once more.
He closed his shell and fell to the forest floor, spent. His consciousness spiraled and dimmed, even as he fought to stay awake. Joy beat within him. His Chosen was alive - a female, he heard her gasp as she awoke and sat up. But his weak, injured core was forcing him under.
Light, he thought. Her Light is helping me. The self repairs might work ... now ...