sideways: [supernatural] deceased angel (►flying men will hit the ground)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: The Dead Ghost
Rating: G
Series: Bungie's Destiny (original characters)
Wordcount: 2699
Remarks: I don't even know if I agree with the premise any more, but at least it's done.

The Ghost was wedged so tightly into the crack that she had to shake her glove off to squeeze her fingers past it, the few extra millimetres letting her get a hooked grip around the rear segments. Something scraped and doubtlessly scored a mark or two into the shell as she eased it forward, but the Ghost wasn’t going to mind; it was dark and motionless, the metal tarnished to dull grey in a way that had little to do with weathering.

“Not much of a hidey-hole,” Yarrow-15 murmured, and with one last, sharp jerk brought it out into the open. She straightened, brushing a layer of dust off the clouded eye with her thumb, and then lifted it one-handed to catch the sunlight thinning through the jagged hole above them. “A skiff? At least make it hard for them to get to you.”

The dead Ghost made no move to explain itself, but neither did her living one, and that was unusual enough that the Hunter dropped her hand again, turning to glance behind her. The rusted corridor was empty, no bright spark flashing interest back at her or busily burying itself into decayed wiring. She gave her sensors a small boost, stretching past the immediate surrounds, and caught the assuring echo of a warm core just outside the derelict.

It didn’t much like finding the corpses of its kin. Didn’t usually run from it, though.

She was probably reading too much into the absence; more likely it had marked the search done with this prize and was urging a quick exit by example, a notion supported by the hollow husk the skiff presented. The bridge was missing or buried or both, and either the fleeing crew or the scavengers that followed had picked through the best of what remained. A dirt-jammed compressor, seals stripped from the doors, thermal shavings: there was nothing left worth the brag. The dead Ghost was a lucky turn, relatively speaking.

She tilted her head back, looking through the deep tear to the glint of sky above, and bent her knees. Corroded juts of metal provided one springboard after another until she reached open air, cape flaring as she skipped free of the ship’s innards and touched down on its outer surface as lightly as could be managed. Something groaned long and straining beneath her at the motion nonetheless, drowning out the thunder of the seawash rolling against the rocks yards below, and Yarrow stayed crouched a moment, wary.

It wasn’t entirely fair to accuse the dead Ghost of making it too easy for the Fallen: rather, it had made it equally hard for everyone. Whatever had brought the skiff down had not done it gently, and in that ungentle landing it had dragged half the hillside down around it until it was a broken mess of earth and sharded metal partway down an incline steep enough that any slip would turn quickly into a slide. To be unlucky was to hit water; to be unluckier was to bounce off something hard on the way down; to be unluckiest of all was to find the remainder of the hillside falling with you as a burial service.

As dramatic as the sound painted itself, though, the skiff stayed steady, and Yarrow drew herself up once she was certain the earthy anchoring wasn’t about to give way. The hill sheltered them from most landside angles, and what she could see out north-westward was as empty of enemies as it was of allies, save for the familiar silhouette of her Ghost.

She strode towards it, a faint clanging tracking her passage despite the rocking heel-to-toe motion that softened her steps; she wasn’t about to thoughtlessly tap-dance her way into history as the first Exo known to manage a drowning. The little machine didn’t need such a signal to be aware of her approach, of course, but it swung around to blink blue at her anyway, as though startled by the sound.

“You’re finished?”

“Good as. Don’t think it’s even worth tagging for scrap, as much rust and rot as there is.” She lifted her shoulder, a half-shrug to shake off the irritation of their endeavor proving this pointless. Months had passed since her induction; she understood better now that sometimes such things happened. “So much for following my nose.”

“A difficult task to begin with,” it said, faintly amused.

Her short ha gratified the jest as she drew to a halt alongside. The sun was shading the sky where it touched the horizon, casting a long stretch of orange across the water; a pretty enough image for this empty part of the world.

She raised her hand to show off their one successful trophy still clenched in her fist, the orange glow highlighting the strip of the metal across her glove’s knuckles but making no such mark on the greyed casing of the smaller construct. “At least we got something to show for the detour, eh?”

She expected a quick retort; she did not expect the flinch.

There was no mistaking it this time: her Ghost’s eye constricted sharply inwards and it seemed to fold itself tighter, drawing away from the cold twin she held – as close to a reflexive recoil as something so shaped could manage. Yarrow tilted her head, then glanced down, turning the dead Ghost over in her fingers. It was no different in shape or weight than any other they’d dug out of caverns, jumpship wreckage, or a Vandal’s clawed grasp; it rang no differently against her senses. Whatever was bugging her Ghost, it wasn’t just the sad state of an ally-by-mere-definition.

“Friend of yours?” she asked, tossing the shell up and then snatching it out of mid-air before gravity could finish carrying it back to her grasp. The Ghost didn’t scold her, but it also didn’t answer, and that made her look to it quickly, interested. “Is it really?”

It sighed static at her then, soft and reluctant, and said, “Not in the way you mean.”

“Not that many meanings.”

“I didn’t know them,” it said. “Not the way one knows another. We didn’t speak. We didn’t travel together. If we were in the same room at any point, I don’t recall it.”

“So not a friend.”

“No. Not an other.”

She ceased rolling the small shell around her palm and cocked her head at her Ghost, its orbit swung wider around her than usual, a wary jitter in its motion. “Sounds complicated.”

“I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers,” it said, and then, a tad reproachfully, “so I wish you wouldn’t pretend you cared to know them.”

“I care,” she said. “Not going to claim I’m looking for philosophical dialogue on the self, but I care that my partner’s being spooked into running off to stare at the sunset.”

“It’s not about being spooked-”

She swung the dead Ghost up towards it, a sudden impulsive push, and her Ghost spat alarm and immediately phased out.

Three silent seconds passed, and then the blurry crackle of materialisation sounded behind her.

“Yarrow.” Its tone was as flat as she’d ever heard it.

The Hunter turned to face it. “So is it this one in particular, or is this just something you’re going to do from now on?”

Its eye dipped a moment, ducking her gaze – such a human gesture for a machine made by a machine and ever in the company of a machine, but then she’d heard the same said of her. Impossible to say which one of them had started it. “For the purposes of this discussion…this one. This one in particular.”

“Alright.” She could have left it there, with the promise this wasn’t a regularity and the confidence it likely would not be a problem even if it was more than a one-off. And yet. “What’s the difference with this one?”

Its sigh was long and resigned this time, eye pulling inwards and hind segments clicking a few degrees clockwise. The pause that followed was just long enough for a thought of Yarrow’s own to occur, and she reached out to tap a finger from her gloved hand against its centre, earning an offended electric sputter as it dodged.

“If it’s corrupted-”

“No, no, I would have said as much before now,” it said, reorienting itself out of her reach. “I’m just trying to think how best to phrase this. To make it less complicated. By your standards, at least,” it added.

She cycled air at it rudely, a jibe as familiar as its own.

“Well,” it said dryly, “that doesn’t quite illustrate my next point, but – we work well together, wouldn’t you agree? In general?”

“Seeing as we’re both still standing here, sure. Good a measure as any.”

“As any,” it echoed, and it wasn’t avoiding her optics now, its own gaze fixed intensely on her. “That’s not coincidence.”

She turned the implication over in her mind, inspecting the underside for snares. “You said it wasn’t a choice, when I asked. Getting yourself one of us. Picking a Guardian. You said it was just luck of the draw depending on who found what body bits where.”

“That is not how I-“ It cast a brief glance skyward, for all that no Traveler hung above to kindly shine patience down on its belaboured servant. “Not exactly. If finding a Guardian was simply luck or coincidence then there would be no order, no balance; but if it was simply by design, there would be no variance. We were all born from the same Light, under the same shadow, and gifted with the same purpose.” It looked toward the silent shell. “We were not created as others, Yarrow.”

She tapped the dead Ghost thoughtfully against her chin, ignored the resulting twitch. “Hardly Vex, though.”

“The very nature of the Vex grants them a certain immunity to experience. We are not so immune. That, at least, you should understand.”

And she did. She understood pressing fingers against the 15 scratched into her left breast-plate and wondering if the seventh iteration of Yarrow would have lasted longer on the battlefield when the world fell to pieces, or whether fourteen might have done better in the face of clashing objectives. Understood the confused look a newly arrived human might flick between two Exos going at it in the Tower courtyard, Warlock and Titan, instinct against stratagem, dreaming the same and arguing over the difference.

“So you came off a production line but all ended up a little different,” she said.

“Superficial,” it said, wryly. “But sufficient.”

“Well I knew that already,” she said, casting her arms out. “This isn’t anything that couldn’t be guessed. You’re not Cayde’s, and Cayde’s isn’t Shaxx’s, and there’s no guaranteeing whether any of you will have a sense of humour worth sharing a story with. None of that explains why one dead Ghost has you jumping in and out like you’re fitted with a fritzing warp drive.”

It frowned at her, but more thoughtful than peevish. “I don’t suppose this was ever going to be easy for you. It comes down to, hm.” Its eye roved across an unseen selection of words. “Empathy, you might say.”

“Empathy.”

“It always hurts to find one of us faded,” it said. “Not in the way it hurts to lose an other, not in the way of grieving, but as an echo. A reflection. A shared experience.”

“A loss to a greater whole?” she hazarded.

“No. Well, yes,” it conceded. “But no. It’s not a matter of oneness, but of…sameness. And this one and I…”

She followed its gaze down to the silent shell in her hand. “Are the same?”

“I think,” it said quietly, “we may have had similar experiences.”

She’d asked once if she could hook her grid up to a Ghost’s like they seemed to between themselves, for direct access to whatever remained, and it had hesitated just long enough that she’d lost interest in the answer. She hadn’t been after anything complicated.

Her fingers twitched, but this time she stilled them, instead shifting her weight from one foot to the other to soothe the restless urge. Respect for the dead was important among some of her cadre; she was aware of the general rules, when she decided to keep to them. “Alright. A fair point. Figure it for unsettling to find your own body,” she said, but then broke off at as her Ghost pulsed a negative towards her. “What? That’s what you just said-”

“It’s not that I see myself,” it said. “It’s that I see you.”

She blinked, a learned gesture so in time with her surprise that it was almost natural.

It had drifted closer in defiance of the unusual jerkiness still present in its movements, like a dozen impulses discarded at the last moment. “Were it a matter of raising just any who fell, there would have been an army walking this world within a year, so you already know we each seek something beyond that. This Ghost didn’t find its Guardian, and that hurts. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Guardian to find, and now they remain lost to us.” The blue of its eye met hers steadily. “And that feels a far greater loss to a far greater whole.”

Loss was guaranteed. She had every expectation of cradling this familiar husk someday, bright silver faded to flat cold grey – it was the order most pairs went, after all. Their enemies had learned the trick to reburial through centuries of conflict: aim for the anchor and eventually, inevitably, the tethered gun will follow.

She had no intention of leaving that husk for another Guardian to scrape out of a derelict’s hold.

Yarrow swiped her Ghost out of the air before it could dodge her, good-naturedly ignoring its squalled protest as she squeezed, pressing down upon its crevices and joins. To wrap arms about another was to pull them close; to touch vulnerabilities, cracks in the casing, was not dissimilar. “You found me, pincushion.”

It buzzed indignity between her fingers. “Pincushion?”

“Polygon, if you want to be boring about it,” she said, loosing her grip so that it could dart back to the open air, still fussing. “Octagram. Asterisk. Does it really hurt to have it close?”

It paused in the midst of spreading its segments, like a bird fluffing its feathers to lay them back in their proper place. “No. It’s not pain. Not by any true definition.”

“But it’s still upsetting you.” When it didn’t correct her, she snapped her fingers at it. “Look at that! Empathy.”

“Well done,” it droned, and then said, a little strained, “That’s not to say I wish them left-”

“Don’t overload,” she said, and extended her other arm, palm up, the dead Ghost quiescent and nearly invisible in the deepening shadows. “Just make sure you put it on the ship and not into your little sliver of wherever. I need you focused.”

“One of us should be, I suppose,” it murmured. Something twitched against her palm, like a last echo of life before the edges of the shell blurred and faded out altogether. Her Ghost bobbed quietly down, brushing across her fingertips, and then rose with familiar grace to its more customary perch by her shoulder.

The Hunter pulled her glove free from where she’d tucked it into her belt, sliding it back over her bare hand. The sun was half-gone behind them now, making the hill seem a more ominous obstacle than it had been in the descent, looming large above them. Not insurmountable, but a fitting challenger for any inclined to see potential in the skiff.

She canted her head thoughtfully, kicking her heel twice against the metal plating. “Sameness, hm. Is this your sort of grave then?”

“The sort that requires light stepping and a certain amount of ill-advised curiosity to reach?” It glanced at her, a crinkled flicker-pulse of light in its eye pulling a wry twist of a smile in her own language. “Perhaps.”

“You can do better,” she told him, half promise and half threat, and let it trail exasperation behind her as they headed for the rise.

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sideways: [o] manmade bird perched on girl's finger (Default)
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August 2017

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