“That isolation chamber was constructed entirely out of a yttrium and cobalt alloy. It took years to get the magnetic fields perfectly aligned so that the chamber was completely insulated from every form of radiation. You ladies managed to completely ruin it in less than two minutes. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.”
Dr. Shim had removed his helmet for this lecture and the Daughters could finally see his face. He appeared to be a standard human of Asian descent. His short dark hair was trimmed close to his skull. Jale suspected this was for convenience rather than any thought of style. His features were pinched in anger and his mouth was turned down in a frown as he came down the steps from the side room. He stepped over or around the burning wreckage left by the Hydra, barely seeming to notice it.
The Guardians had recovered from the fight and removed their own helmets. Jale came back to herself quickly after being knocked unconscious to find her companions had already resurrected themselves. “We’re sorry about the damage, Dr. Shim, but it was the Vex. Not us.”
“How do I know these aren’t your robots?”
Sweet Susie took a menacing step toward Shim. To her consternation, he didn’t back up or look the least bit intimidated. “Look around, you idiot. These are clearly Vex units. You’re telling me you never heard of the Vex?”
“No. I haven’t. I don’t know where you’re from or what you’re doing here. All I know is that my work has been completely destroyed. Dr. Bray isn’t going to be happy about this, and shit rolls downhill.”
“Excuse me, sir. Where are we?” Christina broke in.
“Campus 11 in Pantheon City. Clovis Bray Laboratory 1106. This is meant to be a completely secret facility.”
“Uh, sorry, but what planet?”
Dr. Shim rolled his eyes and sighed. “Are you drunk? Mars!”
The Daughters looked at each other. They’d jumped from Venus to Mars in an instant.
Jale was the first to speak up. “I didn’t know there were any functioning laboratories on Mars. Did the Vanguard help establish this place in the ruins of some old Clovis Bray facility? How did they manage to get that done right under the nose of the Cabal and the Vex?” she asked.
The complete confusion on Dr. Shim’s face was almost enough to make him likable. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is a brand new laboratory—the only thing that could be termed ruins around here are these gates that we found buried in the ground as the city’s foundations were being constructed.”
Jale reached out and steadied herself against a wall. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to ask another stupid question. What year is it?”
He told them.
He had to tell them twice more before it started to sink in. They’d traveled millions of miles from one planet to another and hundreds of years into the past. The Golden Age of Humanity was flowering all around them.
The Guardians began to babble excitedly to one another, interrupting each other and completely ignoring Dr. Shim. “The Traveler is still living! I think I can feel it! Ghost, can you feel it?”
“We can warn them! Maybe mount a defense against the Darkness!”
“We might be able to save billions of people.”
“So much to see! Golden Age Mars!”
“We can walk the streets of New York City. There are no Fallen!”
“Stop!” screamed Dr. Shim. They all looked at him, falling reluctantly silent.
“Am I to understand you three are from the future?” he asked.
The group looked at each other and then slowly nodded. “Yes, I suppose we are,” answered Sweet Susie.
“Then please, please, get the hell out of here. You need to see Dr. Miller in Sentient Survey! Time travellers, space men, aliens, ghosts, demons and whatever else has a pulse and can speak is all her job. If you can call it a job. Talking to aliens. It’s soft science, almost as bad as Psychology or Numerology or Astrology. None of that nonsense is my area of study and yet I’m the one who is going to have to get my lab rebuilt!”
Utterly bemused, the Daughters allowed themselves to be led out through the huge metal door and away from Dr. Shim’s laboratory. He absolutely refused to answer any questions about the current time and just repeated over and over: “You’ll have to talk to Dr. Miller.”
They finally emerged, after passing through several more locked doors, into what looked like a subway station. Dr. Shim led them down alongside a set of tracks. Massive cars slid by nearly silently on magnetized rails. The urge to bound away over the tracks and up a set of stairs to see the Golden Age Mars metropolis Pantheon City, known as the Buried City in their time, was almost overwhelming. It was all out there, above them, the absolute pinnacle of Human civilizational achievement. A time of peace, prosperity and scientific progress that contrasted so starkly with the haunted ruins in which the Guardians fought humanity’s enemies.
Their ghosts confirmed that the Traveler was, indeed, still functional. Jale thought, at first, that her excitement was making her heart race. As they continued their walk, her heart rate rose far beyond what could be explained by excitement. “Does anyone else feel like they’re sprinting inside a sauna? My heart is pounding.”
“Yeah,” Sweet Susie responded, “I actually feel a little faint. I’ve got some hyperawareness going on as well. It feels like I could see through walls if I just concentrated hard enough. It doesn’t feel good. It’s too much.”
Christina nodded. “I’m getting the same thing. Sweating bullets under my armor.”
“I think it’s the Traveler,” Jale’s ghost piped up. “In your time, the Traveler’s Light is much diminished. Still far more than enough to give every Guardian incredible abilities. But here, now, that Light is far more prevalent. It’s ubiquitous, in fact, and highly concentrated. You’re used to a trickle of power and you’re getting a torrent instead.”
They came at last to another locked door. Shim laid a hand on a panel to the right of the door and it opened smoothly. There were several more doors like this one to pass through before they finally fetched up in a round, brightly lit, white room that smelled of tea. A tall brown haired woman wearing a green dress greeted them, introducing herself as Dr. Adelaide Miller.
Dr. Shim excused himself without a goodbye, grumpily informing them that he was going to go start working on purchase requisitions for replacement equipment. Dr. Miller watched him go with a slight smile and then turned to the three Guardians. “Well, ladies. Perhaps we should start with your names?”
Jale found herself to be increasingly physically uncomfortable. She could feel sweat beading on her forehead. For the first time, she began to wonder if she might actually spontaneously combust due to the energy flowing through her from the Traveller.
They told Dr. Miller their names and gave her a short synopsis of where they were from. “That far in the future! This is stunning. Do you mind if I record the rest of our conversation? Regardless of what Dr. Shim says, I don’t interview aliens. I use some very sensitive equipment to listen for communications. We don’t understand the function of these constructs, but apparently they can transmit matter as well as exotic particles and electromagnetic waves. Our working hypothesis was that they were advanced antennae left on Mars by some unknown species. You three just utterly disproved that hypothesis.”
“Occasionally some set of signals does come through that bears some indication of a mathematical pattern. I’m a linguist and a mathematician, so I look for patterns consistent with communications in the signals. You three are a completely unprecedented development!”
Christina had been sitting with her head in her hands, elbows propped on her knees, for quite some time. She spoke without raising her head. “Jale, when you heard that music, what did it sound like?”
Jale hummed a few bars of the song she’d heard in the Templar’s Well. “Oh, that’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, isn’t it?” Dr. Miller asked.
“Are you hearing that song, Christina?” Jale asked, ignoring Dr. Miller.
“Yes. It’s faint, but I think it’s coming from over there somewhere,” she said, and pointed directly ahead of her to a spot behind Dr. Miller.
Surprised, Dr. Miller looked behind herself, and saw, of course, only a blank wall. “Well,” she said, turning back to the Daughters, “the construct that I’m responsible for monitoring is that way. On the other side of that wall, in fact. Though, that wall is several meters thick.”
Sweet Susie stood. “I think you should show us to that Gate, Doc.”
More locked doors, this time huge secure metal vault-type doors, had to be negotiated before they could actually lay eyes on the gate. All the time, the feeling of rising heat and an almost manic energy competed within Christina against the swell of song that filled her head.
They found the gate in a very plain chamber that had clearly been carved right out of the Martian rock. The walls and floor had been sanded smooth and cleaned but were otherwise plain stone. The Vex gate sat blackly outlined against the gray rock. It appeared completely inert.
At least, that was how the chamber appeared to Dr. Miller, Jale, and Sweet Susie. Christina had been able to see light leaking out of the seams between the wall and the last door. Now that the door was open, her vision was flooded with light. The chamber was a spotlight, and at its center, a Relic.
The Relic hung in the air three meters off the ground just in front of the Vex gate. Christina didn’t hear her companions asking if she could see anything. She had eyes only for the Relic light, ears only for the music. It drew her like a magnet draws iron filings.
Jale and Sweet Susie only watched as Christina walked forward, staring at what seemed to be an empty spot of air. Staring up at the Relic was like looking at the night sky for Christina. It fascinated her. There was nothing else. Every time she thought she was beginning to get a grip on what she was looking at, the Relic pulsed out a new wave of light and she felt that more was revealed. She leapt into the air. When Christina landed the Relic was on her arm.
At the same moment she touched the Relic, the Vex gate ignited.
The Guardians snapped their helmets on in a moment and urged Dr. Miller behind them. When nothing came out of the gate, they relaxed. “I think we’re being shown a path. We need to move on through this gate. Besides, we can’t stay here. I feel like I’m going to blow up any second,” Sweet Susie said.
Dr. Miller was bereft that they were leaving so soon after they’d arrived. “Isn’t there anything you can tell me?” she begged.
Sweet Susie and Christina passed on through the gate, leaving Jale to decide what to say. “Don’t buy any long term investments.” Sweet Susie muttered under her breath before walking into the blue glow of the gate’s transport field.
“There’s a cataclysm coming. We don’t know why, or even how it happens, exactly. Humanity is almost entirely wiped out. Then others show up to pick over our civilization’s corpse. The Traveller brings some of us back. It literally resurrects some people. My friends and I are some of those who were chosen, or found, or whatever. Humanity isn’t dead, and we’re doing our best to push back against those who would wipe us out.”
The color had completely drained from the doctor’s face. She looked like she wanted to sink to the floor. “Maybe…maybe there’s something we can do to prevent it? Forewarned is forearmed. Maybe? I also thought, you might know why Deimos is disappearing.”
Jale shook her head. “The catastrophe was so sudden, so very nearly complete. I’m sorry to give you such bleak news. But, there is hope. We fight every day to keep the Light alive. I have no idea why an entire moon of Mars would be disappearing. It’s not around in our time though. Take care, Adelaide.”
It was hard to turn away from this woman and this bright living past, untouched as yet by the ravages of the Darkness. Jale did it anyway. She walked through the gate and was nearly knocked off her feet by roaring gale.
The dust would have been choking if it weren’t for the environmental seals afforded by her helmet. As it was, Jale could feel the grit needling at the seams in her armor. She could barely see two people-shaped shadows in front of her. “Christina? Sweet?”
“We’re here, Jale,” Christina answered.
“Let’s find some cover from this storm!” Sweet Susie yelled.
The trio stumbled forward leaning into the wind. The gate had snapped off behind them as soon as Jale had exited. She could see nothing around her, only skirling dust. It reminded her of Mars during a storm. They might still be on the Red Planet, but when?
Visibility gradually improved as they moved. It was impossible to tell if it was because they were moving out of a dust cloud, or the dust was being driven away from them. It was like slowly swimming up out of murky water. Christina saw a massive shape to her right that quickly resolved into a tall building. Jale and Christina moved toward the building. They’d gone several steps before realizing that Sweet Susie wasn’t with them.
“Susie! Come on, the building!” Jale called out.
“What build…oh, there. I was looking in the wrong direction. Why didn’t you say anything?” she said as she made up the distance between them, fighting the wind.
Christina frowned. “I thought I did.”
“She did, Sweet Susie. I heard her,” Jale said.
“Never mind,” growled Sweet Susie, “let’s just get under cover and figure out where the hell we are now.”
The trudging walk to the building didn’t end their problems with the wind and dust. They managed to get into the lee, but could find no door to enter the building. Looking up, they found a smashed out window within jumping distance.
Barely within jumping distance, as it turned out. Sweet Susie had to drop down to her knees and reach a hand out to Jale and haul her up and in. “Did that seem more difficult than it should have been to anyone else?” Jale asked after thanking her friend for the hand.
Christina nodded. “Yes. My teleport barely brought me close enough to grab the ledge of this window.”
“I made the jump okay, but it was a near thing. I had just enough power to get up here. I don’t know that I could do it again, now that you mention it,” Sweet Susie replied.
Aside from exchanging troubled looks, there was nothing else they could do without more information. Their ghosts all confessed complete ignorance about where and when they were. The little machines said they could tell they were on an Earth-sized planet based on the magnetic field being generated by the planet’s core, but that they were picking up no transmissions of any kind.
“I’ll keep actively pinging the usual Vanguard nodes and scanning bandwidth for signals and let you know if I hear anything,” Jale’s ghost promised.
“Right, Mark One Eye Ball it is. Let’s get to higher ground and see what we can see,” Sweet Susie directed.
The Guardians found a stairwell that seemed reasonably intact and moved up its spiraling course through the core of the building. It was like any office building that could have been built by humanity at any time on many planets during the Golden Age. No real clues there.
At last they came to the end of the stairs and found a roof exit. The wind was just as strong, if not stronger, on the rooftop, but they were above the dust. The Daughters moved to the edge of the roof and stared. It took her several seconds to recognize the place, but when she did, Jale felt her knees go weak. She propped herself up on the raised edge of the roof. Sweet Susie swore. Christina was silent but curled her hands into fists.
Directly in front of them, several miles distant but still horrifically recognizable, was the Traveller. It had fallen to the ground and then into the ground, its massive weight sinking into the subterranean utility levels of The Last City. The reverberations of its fall had shattered the city’s center and rent cracks in the earth that buildings had fallen into and disappeared.
The group turned as one to look for the place all Guardians thought of as home: The Tower. It was broken.
The Tower had clearly not been felled by the Traveler’s final crushing descent. Though dust and plant growth had obscured some of what was left, the burn marks and clear lines of the damage remained visible. Something had sheared through the tower at precisely a forty-five degree angle. What was left after the attack had burned.
The howling wind and roiling dust filled what had once been bustling city streets. Buildings mostly leaned like conspiring ne’er-do-wells. Only an occasional structure stood straight, and those seemed like jagged teeth in a broken mouth. No light, no trees, no life could be seen. The tepid light that filtered down through the dust-laden air only served to illuminate destruction and grief.
“I just got a response to one of my pings,” Jale’s ghost said quietly.
One of the buildings moved. Raised its arms and shook off sheets of dust. Not a building. A red eye began to burn and a ululating electronic cry shook the ground beneath the Guardians’s feet.
“It’s a Vex signal.”