She tried to steel herself against the pain searing from the base of her skull to her temples to no avail, then suddenly it was gone.
"Okaeri." The voice had a strange lilt. Her eyelids felt heavy as she forced them open and then had to squint into the light.
"What?" Her vision was starting to clear, but it was still hard to focus. Her first question was already leading to so many more, not least of which was why her own voice sounded unfamiliar.
"I'm sorry, I'm not actually sure what it means, I pulled it from our neural link, it's pre-golden age I think, it felt appropriate."
"Will you please get that damn light out of my eyes," she said, raising her hand to shield her face.
"Oh, sorry," the voice withdrew and the light dimmed somewhat, "I got a little excited, today is a big day for me." She lowered her hand and tried to focus. A small star-shaped machine hovered in front of her. It's light moved and blinked like an eye, it seemed to be watching her.
"Probably not what you were expecting I suppose, but I'll try not to take it personally." The machine pulsed, almost organically, as it spoke. "I'm sure you have plenty of questions to ask and I'll do my best to answer them all, but right now this place isn't safe, we need to move."
For the first time, she pulled her gaze from the machine and was startled by the huge wall of wreckage towering over her. She lay in a crater, presumably formed by the wreck. The whole scene took place in a courtyard of sorts, with buildings on all sides. Instinctively she withdrew from the wreck as if it might fall on her, but it was covered in grass and moss as if it had stood for centuries.
Once out of the crater she rolled to her knees and began to stand for the first time. Her legs and arms felt weak and a little shaky, but even so, she felt more in control once on her feet.
"Where the hell am I?"
"Please!" the machine interrupted. "We really have to go, I'm detecting movement to the west, we have about a minute before we're discovered." Her hand reached unconsciously behind her back for something that wasn't there, she froze for a moment and her eyes glazed, as if trying to connect with a memory just outside her reach.
"Guardian!" His voice snapped her back to the present and a surge of adrenaline pressed her into action. She ran across the clearing, weaving between fragments of the wrecked ship toward an entrance in the building to the north.
She took the steps three at a time and entered what appeared to be a lobby. Stairs curved up on either side of her and a large sliding metal door lay directly ahead. It was fractionally open, maybe just enough for her to squeeze through. She looked behind her, the machine was nowhere to be seen.
"Don't worry, I'm still here." His voice rang clear as if inside her helmet. "I'm not sure there's an obvious way out of here, maybe we should-" She broke into a run again and headed straight for the door.
"OK then, you lead, good idea."
She peered inside, it was a corridor, but she couldn't see where it led. Turning sideways, she expelled the air from her lungs. Her body would fit, but her helmet would not. She unclipped it quickly, let it fall to the floor and squeezed through. A skeleton sat propped against the wall opposite, beneath some indistinct writing. She wiped away the dust.
"You might be right about that 'no way out' thing," she said. The corridor went left and turned right. She followed it to a larger corridor, with steps leading down.
"Do you think we can break one of those windows?" she asked.
"Not without some serious firepower and a whole lot of noise," he replied. Another doorway at the end took them right and eventually the hiss of falling rain drew them to an open doorway to the outside.
"See," he said, "I knew it was this way." She stepped into the shadows on her right as they neared the doorway and slipped forward slowly until she had a view of the area ahead.
"I'm not detecting any life ahead, but there does appear to be some kind of power source, it may be a way out, but we don't have too long, the Fallen won't be far behind."
"The Fallen?" she asked, without breaking her focus.
"Let's just say, they're the bad guys."
"Then we're the good guys?"
"Of course, what did you think?" he chastised her for the implication.
She moved forward to cover behind a stout pillar and then another. The area was much the same as they'd left behind, a sign ahead said "Information Services: MAIN PLAZA." She walked out into the rain and stopped.
"Where are you?"
"Oops, sorry." He materialised in front of her. "There, that's better."
"Are we safe here?"
He paused "Safe..r."
"Start talking," she demanded.
"Well, it's a bit complicated, but basically you umm, have been asleep for a very, very long time and I just woke you up."
"Mostly." His anxiety was palpable.
"For how long?"
"I'm not going to lie," he paused again, "it's been a while."
"And you are..?"
This time she paused.
"And who am I?"
"You're my Guardian," he said.
Her voice grew softer, but strained.
"But who am I, actually?"
"Well, I don't really know," he admitted. Her head rolled back and she let out a moan.
"Ghost, I don't remember anything," she pleaded. "I don't remember my name, I don't remember this place or what I was doing here."
"I'm sorry," he said "but we know you came here, probably for a good reason. There must be some clue back at the crash, but for now, we have to leave, because-" An explosive crash from the corridor blew past them in a rush of air and dust. Ghost dematerialized without another word.
She pressed herself against the pillar, opposite from the corridor and tried to keep her breathing under control. The sound of footsteps approaching echoed all around her, some small, at least one large. She should have run for cover, but it was too late now, she would have to fight somehow.
A screeching creature approached on her left, it passed her and stopped a few paces away. Another just like it, ran past and stopped a few paces ahead of the first. They were slight, but fearsome looking, with tall spikes of hair or fur, jutting from the crown of their helmets. They were scanning the area ahead and muttering in a guttural tongue. She was holding her breath, unconsciously pressing her back harder into the cold, wet tile of the pillar.
A barked command came from the mouth of the entrance. As the two creatures turned to face their superior, they spotted her, but she was already moving.
She sprang forward and threw her arm around the nearest creature's throat, spinning its body to face the corridor. She grabbed its hand and forced its finger onto the trigger of its pistol. A flurry of strange energy burst from the muzzle and streamed toward the second creature.
The rounds moved so slowly that even at this range, the creature was able to dodge most of them, but it was injured and dropped to its knees. She felt a forceful impact as other rounds tore into the flesh of her shield, its body went limp and became heavy.
She released her choke hold and let it fall, wrestling the pistol from its grasp. She fired a salvo toward the entrance on her way to the opposite pillar and dived for cover. As she landed, she finished off the kneeling creature with a second, painfully slow burst.
Another somewhat larger creature rounded the pillar and startled her with a screech. She froze for a moment at the sight of it. It had four arms and fierce horns jutting forward from either side of its head. She had no time to stand. She shoved the pistol into its gut and pulled the trigger. The creature screamed and doubled over, dropping its rifle just beyond her reach. She quickly sprang to her haunches and reached for the weapon.
"Look out!" Ghost called as a spray of heavy buckshot flew past.
An incoherent curse bellowed from the corridor as the creature taunted her. She looked down at the pistol in her hand
"Piece of crap." She shook her head, her black ponytail dancing across her shoulders. Tossing the pistol around the pillar, she lunged and scooped up the rifle. Two quick steps later, she vaulted off a large metal crate. As she flew, she turned to face the creature, aimed the rifle and squeezed the trigger.
Instead of shooting, the rifle began to charge, she winced inwardly but held her aim. As she fell, the creature's shot hit her in the chest, knocking the air from her lungs, then her rifle fired. As the bolt loosed, it disappeared over the crate and her back hit the floor.
With no breath left to lose, she was utterly winded and reeled, dropping the rifle and gasping for air. The creature was howling in pain, but somehow still had the strength to shove the huge crate aside and staggered toward her.
"The Captain!" Ghost screamed. She pitched forward to brace herself and as she did, a sip of air slipped into her chest. The respite gave her presence enough to ball her fist and she leapt at the captain with all of her might. As her fist flew past her cheek, she felt it glowing fiery hot and as it landed it exploded.
For a moment the searing pain was back, then it ended as suddenly as it came.
"You did it!" exclaimed Ghost. "I knew I made a good choice."
"What happened?" She checked herself for signs of injury, but she was as good as new.
"You slept again," he said quickly. "Not to worry, let's get out of here before more Fallen arrive."
"Wait, what about my clues, what about this place?" she said.
"Another time, we'll come back, I promise."
"Ghost, I'm not leaving with nothing." He didn't respond. "Where's the power source?"
"At the end, by the big white door." She walked over to the door.
"Ishtar Collective? What's that?"
"Golden age archivists. They built the greatest archive of knowledge from the finest minds..wait, we need to tell the Vanguard about this. That power source might mean the archive is here, the Cryptarchs could have access to so much we don't understand today."
"But how do we get in," she mused.
"Wait, let's do this right," he said. "Hold out your left hand. Now visualise me floating just above your palm." She stared fiercely at her upturned hand. "Go ahead," Ghost said.
"Just relax," he said.
"Will you shut up," she retorted, just then Ghost appeared.
"I knew you could do it," he said floating over to a computer panel to their right. He sent a beam of light to the panel and seemed to be interacting with it. The door began to open with a hiss.
"Level 2 security clearance my transponder, child's play. Might as well have left it open." She walked across the threshold into the chamber. A second more substantial door lay inside and an access panel with a palm print reader to its right.
"Ah, now that's more like it, looks like a real challenge this time." As he spoke she walked over to the reader, the sensor glass was badly cracked, but she placed her hand on it nonetheless. It activated.
…..Welco.e Li...enant T...n...
Open va... .oor
"Ghost, it knows me," she said. "Can you read that? I can't make it out"
A huge boom from above broke the moment.
"A Fallen ketch." Said Ghost. "Guardian, we can't let them gain access to the Archive. Sign out, quickly." Her hand moved to the reset button but hesitated.
"Guardian, we'll come back, I promise, but this is bigger than us. If the Fallen get in here, it could be the end of us all."
Her finger hovered a moment longer, then pushed reset and the sensor went dark. She wiped the glass clean with her sleeve.
"OK Ghost, let's get the hell out of here."