Chapter 39: Gambit
The first time was always a little rattling.
By the time Vatyr and Telemica got their bearings back, Angela was already accessing one of the lab’s terminals and getting the next step in the plan set. The three ghosts rested on a pedestal that looked like a small birdbath filled with a glowing white liquid, soaking in the energy.
“Wh…What happened? Where are we?” asked Vatyr, standing up slowly.
“This is Solas’ lab. It resides in its own pocket universe and the only static portal in or out is the one I just took us through. Sorry it was so rough. Usually the gatekeeper A.I. has to verify each person requesting access, but given the situation we were in, Wisp and I had to get a little insistent.” explained Angela.
The frames that have been proceeding with their assignments without interruption for months were now assisting the young Speaker. One carried Solas’ body to the coffin-sized metallic pod in the centre of the room. It split along a previously invisible horizontal seam, the top half levitating to open the pod up. Inside there was only padding with a person-shaped indentation in it. The padding was clear and filled with a glowing aquamarine crystalline gel that shifted as it sensed Solas’ presence. The frames carefully placed his body inside and sealed it closed.
Angela took a moment to breathe. It felt like she had been holding her breath since Solas first told her of his plan, and she was beginning to feel more than just a little drained. She looked at Telemica and Vatyr, who were looking at her, awaiting answers. She placed her hand on the pod gently as light coursed through it in tiny shooting stars and collected her thoughts.
“This pod allows Solas to decompress his mind, allowing him access to faculties and processes that would normally be physically impossible. Not too long ago, he was meditating in this chamber when a – let’s call it a vision to keep it simple – coalesced. A million different bits of seemingly unconnected data came together to form an inescapable conclusion. The Vex were preparing to move on The Traveler. Eliminating The Traveler and the guardians not only in response for weakening them in The Black Garden and The Vault of Glass, but also in an effort to eliminate a viable threat to the Vex’s future.
“From that point on, there was only one way to survive the Vex plan. Solas called it ‘The Golden Path’. The Mercury assault, him falling into the conflux, Vatyr going to The Reef, all of it… his plan.”
“How did the Vex get into The City?” asked Telemica.
“The seed of Darkness that Solas carried with him was the cornerstone to the Vex plan. With it, they could suppress The Traveler’s power enough to expose The City to invasion.”
“So they plan to overrun us?”
“No. That would cripple both sides, but end in a stalemate. The Vex are only an element to the immediate threat.”
“What else is there? Fallen? Cabal?”
“No way! Rasputin is not our enemy.” interjected Vatyr.
“Rasputin was the greatest warmind of the Golden Age. He was built to safeguard, and the Collapse taught him that humanity was not the be-all and end-all of existence, and stopping The Darkness became his only real objective. He formed a new moral structure that didn’t hold humanity at its core during the Collapse. He’s been combating the real threats out there since he was reactivated, while to him we’ve become close to irrelevant, which is why he doesn’t care to collaborate with us. We’re nowhere near his level.”
“So why is he a threat to us now?”
“As we speak, whatever came out of the seed is not just suppressing The Traveler; it’s attempting to infect it. Dominate it. Devour it. Once Rasputin realizes that we’ve lost control of the situation, it’ll only be a matter of time before he decides to… deny the asset.”
“Meaning he’ll turn The City and The Traveler into nothing more than a smoldering crater,” Telemica answered.
Angela nodded grimly. “Solas knew this was inevitable. He even tried warning Rasputin, but never got a response.”
“Wait a minute. If the Hive Dreadnaught’s destruction would have wiped out most of the system, wouldn’t something as powerful as The Traveler represent a far larger threat?” Vatyr inquired while looking over complex data sets displayed on multiple screens.
“Maybe. Maybe not. We still know very little about The Traveler. It could just die. It could take our entire galactic cluster with it. It could end the universe. Rasputin has decided that the lack of data is sufficient to establish that destroying The Traveler is less of a threat to universal life than letting it fall into the wrong hands.” Angela explained.
“What about the Vex? They have to be aware of Rasputin in all this.”
“They can throw a near-infinite number of units at us by pulling from all points in space and time. Their only limits are power, but given the reasonable possibility of a win that for them could give them the universal acausal powers that they’ve been after all this time, they’d drain black holes dry to make it happen. Their goal is to own The Traveler before Rasputin makes his move.”
“Either one of those outcomes means we’re all kinds of wrecked. What do we do?”
“We stop them by any means necessary.”
“And Solas believed that we’d be uniquely equipped to do that now?”
“He called it a gambit. By sacrificing himself to the enemy, he lured them into a course of action that left them more exposed than they would have been otherwise. The Vex incursion on Mercury would have decimated our forces if it had continued. That many guardians pushed to their limits and beyond would have strained The Traveler’s reserves, leaving it exposed to a much worse incursion than this. On top of that, they would have had an opportunity to remove Rasputin from the equation without our interference. We never would have stood a chance, and Solas knew it. So, by giving them him and the seed of Darkness that resided within him, he gave them more power, but also gave us an opportunity to defend ourselves and win.”
Red light pulsed out of the pod as warning messages covered nearby screens.
“What is it now? Vex?” asked Telemica as Angela ran passed her and read the screens.
“Oh no. No, no please no…”
“Angela, what is it?”
“The seed didn’t completely leave. It’s still trying to kill him.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Only one thing can be done, though I was praying this wouldn’t be necessary. It was my hope that he’d be able to retain his eyes this time, but that won’t be possible.” Angela said with a tone that told Telemica and Vatyr that her little heart was breaking. Her hands began to fly across the console in front of her as the pod began to glow with a bright white light. “I’m flooding the pod with all the light in the lab’s core. It’ll reform The Traveler’s seal on his eyes and lock The Darkness away once again. After that, he’ll need to pass through the Deep Stone Crypt…”
Angela’s last few words were forced through a choked voice as she fought and failed to remain composed. The thought of her friend having to endure that trial ran a cold dagger into her chest. Her body shook as the anguish slowly erupted. Her hands clenched into fists so white and tight that her nails threatened to break the skin on her palms. Tears began to stream down her cheeks.
Telemica put her hand on her shoulder. “It’ll be alright, little one. I’ve known Solas capable of achieving the impossible. He’ll do it again. He’ll return to us, I promise you that.” Angela quickly twisted around and embraced Telemica around her waist, letting her pain flow freely. A good loud cry that heals the heart rang out through the lab. Telemica’s only remaining hand came to rest on her shoulder as the young Speaker let herself be young for a few minutes. “Guardians fight their way through death more than once in their existence. The Deep Stone Crypt was created by The Traveler in order for worthy Exos to forge their own souls in the crucible of combat. Solas will return to us. He’s stronger than even we know. What we need to figure out is what we do when he comes out of that pod. We need to be ready for him.” Vatyr said, looking at the glowing pod and wishing his wounded friend well.
“He, *sniff*, he had a plan for that as well. A plan for you two.” Angela said as she composed herself. “Follow me.”