Chapter 35: Do Not Go Gentle
More than anything at that moment, he missed Mars. It was the place where he’d made his mark as a pioneering xenobiologist, but that was not what he missed about it at this moment. He missed waking up next to his beloved wife in their Freehold City condo. He missed the smell of her hair as the Martian breeze came through the window. He missed the smile that she smiled at him when she thought he wasn’t looking.
Now, with pure death raging all around them, he knew they’d never have that again.
Mars was completely cut off. The Traveler limped towards Earth as swarms of ships did battle around it. He didn’t have much time to watch the space battle as enemy troops on the Lunar surface had rushed their position. The few knights that had been positioned on Luna were in a heated exchange with them while the rest of the militia assisted as best they could, though it was almost like ants trying to assist gods.
He couldn’t quite fathom how they did what they did. The Traveler had blessed the knights with metahuman abilities in the mission of safeguarding humanity from threats. While the common soldiers and conscripts were armoured in one-size-fits-all hardlight armour, knights were clad in glorious vestments and armaments that illustrated their quasi-divine nature.
“It takes thousands of them to match every knight, but I get the feeling that they could expend those numbers easily. They want a stalemate, for these knights to be locked down here.” He said, clumsily spraying his rifle at stragglers.
The battle moved faster than the militia could, and soon the light of the battling knights was only a beacon on the horizon.
She was out of breath, but he never left her side. “You’re an Exo, remember? You can run faster than I can. You don’t get tired.”
“You’re the only thing on this rock I care about, and I won’t let you leave my sight.”
Her eyes. It never mattered what mood he was in, when he looked into her emerald eyes, he found peace. It was as if she was looking into his soul and saying this is you. You are luminous. I love you.
It was not a gas, though it looked and moved like one. A gas wouldn’t have penetrated their armour. It was a miasma, black as onyx and thick as crude oil. It rushed over the horizon from the direction that the knights were fighting, moving with supernatural speed, as if it were an eldritch god with endless appendages grasping hold of the entire moon. It moved through them as if they were not even there, drowning them.
He reached for her, but she was no longer there. He screamed her name, but could only hear her cough and attempt to scream in pain and horror as her lungs filled up. Exos didn’t breathe, but he felt it fill his body and reach into his mind. He dropped to the ground. Silence enveloped him as his senses were buried, and he thought his time was over.
The smoke began to part, rotating around them like the eye of a hurricane, and the outline of her began to form before him. He reached out a hand, his mind scrambling to figure out a way to protect her. Get her to Earth, perhaps. His hand was swatted away with such force that it was nearly torn off.
Where his love once stood, now loomed one of the enemy soldiers. Huge. Its black armour seemed to devour the light around it, shrouding it in a shadowy haze. It stood there, growling at him like a rabid dog. The more he looked at it, the more details he could make out. Huge stalactite teeth, no eyes but many holes of random sizes that could have been sockets, claws covered in writhing tentacles. The more he looked, the more he felt his mind fracture, as if the enemy’s visage was applying pressure to it.
Something dripped off one of its claws, something red. Blood? Another drip. Blood. Her blood. The miasma whirlwind seemed to thin out behind the creature for just an instant. Was that a body? Her body? The enemy seemed to take notice of his revelation and chuckled like an otherworldly hyena. Was it laughing at him? The smoke enveloped the prone body as the chuckle became louder. It stepped forward as the miasma continued to close, flexing its claws.
An undeniable and shattering horror gripped him. Instinctively reacting, his hand reached for the energy rifle he’d dropped and began unloading its clip into the creature. He screamed at it as his weapon unleashed its lethality like a firehose, consumed by the need for this abomination to be erased from existence. The barrel came close to melting before the clip ran dry. It staggered, but continued to laugh. He pounced on it and began to bludgeon it with the rifle’s stock, pounding it to the ground with all his strength. He screamed at it as loud as he could, commanding it to die, drowning out its cackling.
The moment it seemed that the creature was finished, the miasma rushed back in, pressing into him like the grip of a colossus. At least the enemy was dead, he thought. He was ready to die. He had nothing left to live for.
As quickly as the miasma had rushed in, it was blown away. He looked at where he’d seen her body behind it, but there was nothing. Looking down, he expected to find the laughing monster he’d pounded into the dust. He didn’t. He saw carmine red hair and lips. He saw emerald eyes. He saw dark chocolate skin. He saw her.
She was dead, killed not by this evil, but by the person she had loved. The person who loved her, manipulated by the darkness enveloping everything they had ever known. With her went all hope from him. Bodies strewn the landscape, and the lights over the horizon had stopped.
He wailed. Nobody heard him. He held her body close to his and tried begging her to come back to him. Nobody saw. He sat silently with her in the dust, and wished he had let the enemy kill him.
The pain growing in his skull almost went unnoticed. As if a thousand leeches rushed in to feed on his head. Even now, the enemy sought to make him an instrument of death, just as it had before with illusions and lies. He could feel it digging into his mind.
He looked one last time at her, trying to picture her as she once was.
The hardlight encapsulating his body allowed him to lay hands on himself without effort, so it was easy to reach up and drive his fingers into his eyes. Exos could feel pain as much as humans did, but the anguish he felt as he clawed out his eyes was smothered by the coldness her death had left him with. With slow precision, he grasped his eyes and pulled them out. He felt no hesitation as he snapped the gel-covered cables connecting them to his head with a sharp pull.
The miasma dispelled as he crushed the techno-organic orbs, but he could feel that it had left its mark on him. A seed, buried deep and unreachable. It was a blessing, he thought, that he’d die in this place, unable to hurt anyone else.
He arose slowly, lovingly placed the remains of his eyes in his beloved’s hand, and that hand on her chest. “A small penance, my love.” It took some time to bury her with only his two hands, but he did.
He would have knelt there by her grave like a living tombstone for the rest of time, swallowed by his pain and loss. The Traveler had different plans.
A column of searing light engulfed him, slamming him to the floor. Every sense he had was flooded to overload, even the one he had just removed.
Words, and yet not words, came to him. They were in her voice, but there was no sound. Like a memory and a premonition at the same time. This is not the end of your path. It sounded like she was smiling.
The light left as quickly as it had come. He stood, his head encased in a horned, eyeless helm eternally fused to his frame.
He saw. He saw everything for the first time, not as it appeared as photons bounced off objects and met photoreceptors in machines and eyes, but as they truly were. Light. Dark. Brilliant colours that had no name but carried such afflictive import. He dared not look at his fallen wife for fear that the sight would break him once again. He could still feel the seed of darkness, but it was sealed by The Traveler’s light. He hoped that would be enough.
A troop carrier landed near him. Two soldiers stepped out but were stopped dead in their tracks by the carnage around them. They half-heartedly raised their rifles at the approaching figure. A horned Exo with no eyes.
“Where is the fighting heaviest?” he asked.
“Take me there. Now.”