Chapter 32: Time in a Bottle
The derelict’s nose segmented into sections and slid back, revealing a portal more than large enough to allow small ships to enter. Inside was mostly open space. Scaffolding supported the outer hull and hundreds of docking clamps, gantries and other connectors to secure passenger ships for their ride through impossibility. However, not a single one was occupied. The emptiness seemed to echo with the voices of those long dead.
Arrenn gunned the engines and aimed the shuttle to the derelict’s centre, a huge glass orb that housed engineering as well as a few adjacent pods. He seemed completely unfazed by the sight.
“I wonder what happened here…,” whispered Vatyr under his breath. Perhaps the captain of the ship decided to make his own escape. Perhaps the ship’s engines began their catastrophic pattern and the crew managed to evacuate all the refugees in time. Perhaps the ship was full of people who met their end in the light of all possible futures.
Hard seal. Too much radiation coming from engineering to safely transmat in or out, so Arrenn quickly docked the shuttle as close to the core as possible. Telemica had the modified frontier unit packed up and strapped to her back. They darted through the gantry walkways, Arrenn taking point with a fusion rifle on standby spin. There were no corners to turn, doors to open or rooms to clear on the way, so Fireteam Warden’s dash took them right into engineering…
…and a wall of Vex energy rifle fire.
The glass orb of a room had three levels. The middle level was a ring, cluttered with towering server pillars and control consoles. Stairs led from the centre ring at the cardinal points to suspended platforms above and below. The lower platform was once clearly arranged to be a large office and meeting area, probably for the command staff, while the upper platform held the spacetime manipulation device that was key to the ship’s operation.
Telemica popped up a curved wall of void light to block the Vex salvo, large enough to give them some quick tactical options. The titan shifted right and took cover low behind a nearby server stack to protect the frontier unit, while the hunter and warlock engaged the enemy. Vatyr blinked high and settled into a perch between two support beams, while Arrenn ducked left and posted up behind what may have been a navigation console.
“Not to add yet another complication to the mix, but those are not your usual Vex. They’re Sol Imminent.” Relayed Glitch.
“So they’re not just Vex, but they’re Vex from the future?” asked Vatyr.
“It makes sense, considering the nature of this ship.”
Arrenn’s fusion rifle sprayed mercilessly into the advancing Vex units while Vatyr’s scout rifle popped their chest-mounted mind cores rapidly. Telemica would have been first into the fight, but the mission came first. While her cargo was built to take a beating, she didn’t want to put it in the crosshairs of a hobgolbin’s line rifle. Peeking out and looking up a staircase, she spotted the target. Encased in a Vex conflux and perched on a pillar surrounded by controls, the core spun slowly and in random directions, suspended in its clear casing. Its shape was reminiscent of three large-belled hourglasses fused together on the X-, Y- and Z-axis. Small orbs of rainbow light wandered between the bulbs and seemed to become excited when observed.
The Vex transfer portal was set up in the middle of the lower platform, the pleasant furniture having been destroyed to make room for it and the command controls repurposed to control the portal. Vex began to crawl out like metal zombies from a glowing grave, first replacing the destroyed units, and then to bolster their numbers. A small group of hobgoblins were using their stasis fields to defend the portal from attacks, making it impossible for the guardians to stop the endless flow of enemies. Things were escalating quickly and time was running out. Arrenn launched a spread of void bombs, eliminating two minotaurs that had tried to flank, clearing a path for the titan to reach the stairs and get to the core. Telemica grabbed the frontier unit’s straps tight and roadie-ran to the upper platform.
The titan slid into the core’s control pillar, bringing her pulse rifle up quickly to confirm that she was alone on the platform. She set the rifle down at her side and unclipped the straps holding the frontier unit to her back. Activating the unit was as simple as opening the two latches on the front of its rugged case and opening the lid. Automatically, the unit’s interfaces and antennas unfolded as the computer booted up.
///GUARDIAN NETWORK: NOT FOUND///
“Tell me something I don’t know…,” muttered Telemica, slightly irritated as she checked the countdown to the next overload. Arrenn had explained that once the wired-up chronospanner had interfaced with the conflux, the frontier unit was programmed to tap into the Vex network and begin scanning for signs of Solas. She quickly grabbed the alien disc and held it up to the conflux. It hummed, whistled and glowed a bit before latching on hard like a magnet.
///VEX NEXUS NETWORK: ACCESSING///
///SEARCH PROTOCOL “SOLAS”: RUNNING///
Vatyr didn’t have an opportunity to stick his head out from behind cover and take aim. The hobgoblins were doing too good a job at pinning him down. Luckily, this was not the first time he had to snipe blind. Glitch formed and blinked off to another vantage point not covered by the Vex and remotely accessed Vatyr’s armour. They’d practiced this in the past, even tried it once while they hunted Fallen. They were still figuring out what they were going to call it once the technique was ready for primetime. String Fighting. Puppet Master. Vatyr was pretty sure regardless of its name that people would think he was crazy for letting his ghost use his body to fight. Then again, the relationship between guardian and ghost was anything but simple.
Vatyr held on to the secure feeling he got when gripping his sniper rifle and waited for it. There. It was as if the rhythms of his suit’s systems skipped a heartbeat. He was in the passenger seat now. His grip on the rifle shifted into just his right hand, which shot out from around the corner and fired off a round quicker than Vatyr could think. “One down.” Glitch said to him over comms. In another lightning fast movement, the rifle was tossed to the left hand and another shot loosed. “Two. Hang on…”
Glitch switched over to team comms as the lower platform was engulfed in smoke and flashing lights. “Hydra is inbound. They’re probably pissed we’re messing with their toys.”
The sound of a hydra, flanked by four minotaurs porting in was enough to chill even experienced guardians. Nobody was quite sure what the sound was or why they made it, but it was as if the Vex roared.
///SEARCH PROTOCOL “SOLAS”: SIGNATURE FOUND///
///SUMMONING PROTOCOL: INITIATED///
Arrenn unloaded a fusion clip into the new arrivals, vapourizing two of the minotaurs before they could bring their torch hammers to bare. The other two came up and returned fire, forcing the warlock to fall back. He could have obliterated the minotaurs and perhaps even the hydra with a single nova bomb, but if the transfer portal was damaged, this entire mission would have been for nothing.
While the minotaurs and remaining hobgoblins pressed forward, the hydra fell back and traveled up towards the top platform. Vatyr took control back of his armour and began laying down fire, allowing Glitch to return. “Telemica, you have an incoming hydra. Arrenn and I are stuck dealing with his buddies, so the glory of a solo hydra kill is all yours,” he said in grim humour. Taking on a hydra solo and in such a tight space was insane, not to mention she’d still have to protect the frontier unit, but there was nothing he could do.
The hydra slowly rose up to the upper platform while Telemica readied herself. Squire urged the frontier unit to work faster, but the transfer portal showed no signs of activation. The titan brought out a heavy machine gun and began unloading it as soon as the hydra’s eye came over the platform’s edge. The loud and chugging repetition of the weapon’s call rang hard against the walls as the slugs slammed hard into the Vex monster, causing both titan and hydra to stagger and brace. She emptied the clip, threw up the strongest barrier she could, and began unloading with her pulse rifle. The hydra roared its mechanical roar, and the titan roared back in defiance.
Vatyr and Arrenn both tossed grenades at the advancing Vex group, eliminating the last two hobgoblins. The minotaurs were fast enough to blink forward and lunge at the guardians. Arrenn took the hit directly and was sent smashing through a server stack, while Vatyr barely avoided the blow by rolling to the side and broke into a sprint around the curve of the platform, dodging from cover to cover. As the minotaur turned and gave chase, new flashes of light in the corner of Vatyr’s eye drew his attention to the transfer portal.
///SUMMONING PROTOCOL: IN PROGRESS///
///TRANSFER PORTAL: ACTIVE///
The breach clicked empty on her weapon as Telemica’s ward shattered like sugar glass under the hydra’s pressure. Instinctively, she lunged at the Vex, ready to tear it apart with her arc-wreathed hands. A pulse of energy not only stopped her in mid-flight, but also sent her back to the platform with such force that she went through it, falling through the middle- centre platform and landing right next to the flaring transfer portal.
“Telemica! Arrenn! Sound off!” Vatyr called out. Nothing. He’d lost sight of the warlock and his pursuing minotaur as the other minotaur teleported rapidly to close the distance on him. The hunter pivoted, thinking what this minotaur needed was a few solar light bullets in the face. Instead, the Vex giant teleported right on top of him, knocking him hard with the side of its arm and sending him flying to the lower platform.
Telemica was just coming around as Vatyr’s ragdoll body plopped right next to her in a lifeless heap. “Guardian down! Vatyr’s severely injured! I’m not sure I can get him back on his feet!” said Glitch over comms. The titan was still dazed. Her ears rang and her vision was blurred. She recognized the feeling of her injuries before looking at Squire’s reports on her HUD. Queasy and blurred vision means severe concussion. Copper taste means internal bleeding. Four, five, six broken ribs and both legs are shattered.
“Anyone get the number of that moon that hit me?” she said with a shake in her voice. She propped herself up with a hand under her body and shifted towards the transfer portal, which was now going crazy. The energy lattice within the portal that seemed to encase a blindingly white liquid was reverberating and jumping as if someone had placed it on a huge speaker. From within that chaos, Telemica could make out something else sticking up from inside the pool of light. Something solid.
An Exo’s hand.
Without thought of aggravating her own injuries or the enemies surrounding her, Telemica lurched her body forward enough to grip the hand firmly with her left hand. It gripped back. She used her right to anchor herself to the portal’s rim. “I have him! Traveler’s light, I have him! I need help!” she screamed. No response. Vatyr had yet to move and she had no idea what had become of Arrenn. The Exo’s hand began pulling back, threatening to submerge and disappear. Was the Vex network resisting? She howled in pain as she pulled back with every bit of strength she could muster, feeling another rib crack under the pressure. Her armour was working overtime just to keep her alive, and she knew at this point Squire must have been protesting her continued exertions, but she could barely hear anything over the ringing.
Vatyr came to slowly, staring up at the hole left by Telemica in the upper platform. Seeing the hydra and the hourglass core begin to spin up for its next overload cycle, he was not quite sure what terrified him more.
“Vatyr! I have him! I have Solas! Help me pull him out!” Howled Telemica, barely reaching through to her hunter companion through his own daze.
The arm yanked hard, pulling deeper into the portal. Refusing to let go, Telemica cried out as her body began to fall in, the sound of a sister in need releasing some instinctual reserve of energy within the hunter. Suddenly, Vatyr was diving for the titan and seeing her arm submerge into the portal and evaporate into nothingness.
The moment Vatyr made solid contact with Telemica, the whole world around them exploded into everything and nothing. His last thought was that he must have screwed up the overload calculations, and now they were all being erased from the world.