Colors exploded from the Gate as it suddenly went live.
"I think they've found us."
Joon could see activity through the Gate, people moving. Then figures began to come through. They looked like troopers. Tac gear.
Dunn started heading in that direction.
"Get somewhere else, or hide in the ruins. I'll try to buy time."
"Be careful," Joon started, but Dunn was already gone.
"Come on," said Maia, pulling on his arm. Hillier was urging him as well.
"Give me a weapon," she hissed.
"You are a weapon," he replied,
They hastened towards the speeders, which Joon had had the foresight to prep. They knew this might happen, although it was still shocking. More and more soldiers were coming through the portal.
"What about Howie?" Maia cried.
The orb was having trouble keeping pace, and he'd never be able to match the speeders.
Joon didn't have an answer.
"Go," Maia cried, pointing at the ruins.
"Go!" she yelled. They heard gunfire now, and Dunn dropped.
"Fuck," cried Hillier.
"Come on," said Joon. He fired up his speeder.
Maia was crying. Howie floated towards her, then veered off towards the ruins. No one noticed as the camp dissolved into chaos. Technicians were running everywhere and there were gunshots. Joon waited for his companions to fire up their machines, and they roared off into the plains of Elysium.
The grass went on forever. Joon led the way, with the others close behind. They left the base behind and entered a sea of green. They passed a stream and eventually stopped near the shore of a large lake. The rolling hills seemed to go forever. Was the entire world a grassland? Maia was angry and in tears. He went to her and hugged her as soon as they stopped, the engines idling. They had not seen any pursuit yet.
"It's alright," Joon said. "Howie's no dummy. He'll find a place to hide."
Maia punched his chest. "It's not fair. I'm so sick of running."
"Get used to it," Hiller replied.
Maia ignored that,
"They just started shooting."
"Clearly they knew we were there."
"What do you think's happening back with...?"
"Stella's either fallen or maybe she's hanging tough..."
"What are we going to do now?" Hillier interjected.
"Well... options. We hide, with no food or water, on a strange world. Or we return."
"I vote return."
"We have to be careful, though. And we'll need a plan."
"It looks like ruins over there," said Hillier. she pointed at what looked like structures not far from the lake.
"Let's stay there, think about this, and go from there."
"I don't want to be stranded here," said Maia.
"That's the first thing you've said I agree with," replied Hillier.
Mallory was on monitor detail. The Command group was mostly scattered- she and Stella were doing things they hadn't touched in ages. It was night, but you wouldn't know it down here. The lighting was dimmed to reflect the hours, but her internal clock was hosed anyway.
She could see various areas of the complex, although many were dark. Interesting the things you'd see on monitor duty. She saw firefights, the struggle for control of the base between warring factions. Robots malfunctioning. That pod of orbs... Gaxians?... mindlessly roaming. They'd been shot at once, and responded by draining all the energy nearby. The corridors went pitch black. Stella had capitalized on this by moving some assets, and one strike team was gone.
The Faction. Mallory wondered how strong they were. They had substantial support on the Board, she knew. But allegiances shifted, political winds. No one knew how bitter the fighting had been.
And the temporal distortions. Mallory had watched herself do the same thing, repeat the same words she'd said previously. Terrifying.
Not for the first time she wondered why she'd ever come here.
They spent the night in the ruins. This was an actual structure built from greenish black stone, not carved out of natural earth like the ruins back at the base. Had the Ancients built this?
There were ramps instead of stairs, dome and mushroom shaped towers, but it was all crumbling into the grass. The night sounds here were different. Not crickets, but something similar. Great shapes winged overhead, and at one point they saw what looked like a great gaseous balloon. But alive.
Joon managed to start a fire, and they were eating protein bars the had pre- cached with the speeders. And... they had a crystal.
Hillier, of all people, had hidden it aboard. They had brought two other crystals with them from Horus, smaller ones, but those were with their belongings back at the camp. But this one... the one from Valerus' hideaway.
They hadn't lost everything.
Hillier didn't care for the protein bars. She tossed hers into the fire. Joon scowled but said nothing. Maia was quiet. Joon imagined she was wondering about Howie. Did he survive? Did he find a hiding place?
"Tomorrow we go back. First light. See what's transpiring."
Maia snuggled up as it got colder. Joon was thinking they'd have to sleep in shifts, to keep an eye on their companion as well as watch for trouble.
"I need a weapon," Hillier said.
"I can't help you if I am not armed," she retorted.
"You'll shoot us."
"Wrong. We have common purpose now. I want off this place. The enemy of my enemy..."
"I'm not stupid."
"Dammit. I could be the difference."
"I can shoot better than you."
"Let's see. Tomorrow. I'm certainly not arming you tonight."
"Who's to say you don't betray us?" Maia asked.
"That's actually a good idea," she replied, as if she were considering it.
"Let's get sleep," Joon said. "I'll take the first watch. Maia, I'll wake you later."
"Don't trust me?" Hillier looked shocked.
"You know I like you," she purred. "Do you want a little... extra company tonight?" She put her hand on his thigh.
"What happened to the Ancients?" He fed the fire.
"We know that."
"Well. We don't really know. the races we've encountered don't know. It's one of the great mysteries."
"And the Gates just keep humming... all these eons."
"Why do Valerus... well, did Valerus... and Stella think your kind are involved with the Incursions?"
"Because we are."
That surprised them.
"Honestly," she explained, "my people have encountered many things. Sometime in the distant past we... encountered life forms that some of my people worship. Like the Ancients. Perhaps even beyond them. Beyond understanding. Some of my people worship them as gods."
"I have no use for gods."
"Some need a higher power to... justify things."
"What are they?"
"I don't know. Extradimensional chaos beings. They don't operate like we do. Humanity made themselves vulnerable when they took us... you brought yourselves to their attention."
"Why us though?"
"You're not alone. Other races have also courted destruction. Very few beings rise to the point where they can use the Gates."
"Your people... worship them?"
"I said some."
"We... placate them."
"Isn't that what worship is?"
They grew quiet then, as the debris of a shattered moon passed overhead.