southernisms: (Aldnoah.Zero)
[personal profile] southernisms
THE RAMPARTS
FORMER NORTH AMERICAN EMPIRE, EARTH


The light breeze stirred throughout the complex, a movement of air that led a soft parade through the cancer-blighted concrete and oxidized metal. A slight touch of wind moved past, leaving the whisper of sound behind, and as he awoke, Slaine Troyard could only recall two things: that he had a name, and that he was alive.

Where he'd come to wasn't exactly normal, nor was forgetting where he was, either. The remains of faded paint lay on a wall before him: --ARY BARR CKS, F OOR 6D. The script gave no indicator of where he was, or for that matter what he was doing here. And though he wracked his mind mightily to come up with some – any – kind of result, he found his mind was as bare as the cracked walls before him; possibly moreso, given that the walls at least had the stains of rust and age on them.

"Excuse me, Guardian?" Slaine heard the voice: clear, bright, with hints of both subservience and authority. A memory rose from the blank slate that was his mind, but before he could grasp it, it faded back into the foggy shroud within his Cartesian theatre. Regardless, it was another person here, and that meant both help and a chance to find out who he was and the reason for his presence.

Blearily opening blue eyes flecked with green, he tried to train his attention in the direction of the other speaker. But the question came to him: Guardian? Was that a rank? Was that his rank? And if so, what did he guard? Or who?

"Up here, if you please." Slaine shifted his eyes upward to spy not a human being, but a construct of a light grey metal that didn't easily come to mind. Angular and geometric, at the centre of it was a green eye composed of an angled, rounded square. Briefly glistening with blue energy, the object seemed to hum – not with the cyclic, steady drone of machinery, but with the uneven, musical tones of a person all too pleased with himself.

"Good!" the object chirped in what sounded like an audio smile. "I was worried I'd never find you!"

Slaine could feel his expression shift into a puzzled frown; so the voice had been addressing him, after all. Was it a transmitter of some kind, with the speaker elsewhere? Confused, he ran his hand over his face...or would have, had it not come into abrupt contact with the visor of a helmet instead. As if that hadn't enough to shock him fully awake, he was further stunned to find his hands covered in thick gloves. Not gloves, he corrected himself as he held his hands up, studying them and flexing his fingers experimentally, carefully eyeing the make of these handsheathes. Gauntlets – the gear of ground forces, not pilots, he realised, though how he knew exactly that was beyond his immediate ken.

Made of rigid grey graphene plating over flexible black quilt that was likely a carbon fibre weave, they were hardly the sort of thing he could have just fallen asleep in. Nor, for that matter, would he have fallen asleep on cold, hard metal dressed in armour and what appeared to be a heavy coat that nearly reached his ankles, in the centre of the skeletal ruin of what could have only been a very large machine, and around that rusting ruins of what seemed to be hull plating that contrasted with the shattered concrete of the building itself.

"You've been dead a long time, so you're going to see a lot of things that aren't going to make sense."

With a soft groan, he hefted himself up, looking around. The wreckage and overgrowth of scrub brush around him appeared to confirm the diminutive machine's story; it also served to point out that the detritus had been here a very long time, if the nearby bleached bones of a small animal were anything to go by. But how was it possible for someone who had supposedly been dead for years to be revived? For some reason, the idea that he'd been dead didn't so much disturb him so much as confuse him, in all likelihood because his mental fog persisted. This has to be a dream, he thought. It's too strange to be real.

"Nothing makes sense," he murmured as he got unsteadily to his feet, the sound a firm crunch as heavy boots landed on the ground. "So, how am I alive?"

"That would be my doing. I'm a Ghost," the device attempted to explain, though that only told him that this machine was in fact some form of artificial intelligence. What exactly a ‘ghost' was, however, remained a mystery. Something in his mind for a second recalled an advanced AI program being run, but just as quickly as the metaphorical light in his mind had come alive, it smoked out amongst the shadows of his amnesia. "Now, I'm your Ghost, and I'll explain more later but first we need to get out of here. The Fallen could be here any minute and we really don't want to be here if there's a captain running around. So I need to find you a weapon and some way to the City. Come on."

It was more than a little bizarre to be ordered around by a machine, but Slaine realised he had little other choice that to acquiesce if he hoped to find out just what was going on. And just what did this ‘ghost' mean by ‘the city'? Was it a reference to an actual urban area, or a codeword for the nearest military facility? Or even something else, entirely? Without a clear frame of reference, he couldn't ponder on other possibilities.

Still disoriented from his apparent resurrection, his first few steps were unsteady as he followed the peculiar machine. Fortunately, after a few strides the haze seemed to wear off and he quickened his pace. A strangled, animal-like roar in the distance told him it had been none too soon. Though some part of him urged him forward, the logical part of his mind protested that it hardly mattered. Better not to take that chance, his instincts insisted.

"Fallen!" the Ghost exclaimed in a voice that sounded a little too worried. "We need to move! There, in that building over there!"

His head snapped towards the direction it appeared to indicate, already breaking into a run for the nearest concrete building somehow still standing, overgrown with rope-like ivy and the dried remains of mushrooms and lichen, trying not to trip over them. Scattered flora were in his way, the result of a natural growth pattern over centuries in a place where such vegetation was anathema to the local order. "What is this place? Some kind of military installation?"

Ghost swivelled to the right and then to the left, the gesture suggesting that it was examining their surroundings, its mechanical eye casting a dim glow on nearby surfaces. "Not that I want to alarm you, but this appears to have been a prison; a disciplinary barracks, specifically – a military prison."

The observation caused Slaine to stumble as he attempted to navigate the rubble. "A what? Why would..." He trailed off as he reconsidered, scrambling over a large chunk of concrete and rebar; a quick glance to his right showed the massive hole in the wall of where this destroyed portion had been part of the bulwark. "I suppose it would make sense if I'd been one of the guards here, if you think I can use a weapon." The blond-haired young man wasn't so sure of that himself. "If we can find a weapon, that is."

The odd machine bobbed in front of him as he picked his way over broken concrete as if shrugging, his tone unsettlingly cavalier. "Well, even if you were a prisoner, it doesn't matter. As long as you can wield the Light – and you can because I revived you – it doesn't matter what you were. After the Collapse, humanity needs all the Guardians it can get. And I need to get you a gun, or this will be the shortest career that I know of."

"That's not very reassuring," Slaine protested even as he searched, shoving the fresh questions to the back of his mind. Humanity needed him? For what? Did it have something to do with the state of his surroundings? Furthermore, if he was here, at a military prison, had he been a guard? Or an inmate? Or, given where he came to, just someone with the bad luck to have died in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Unfortunately, the low light inside made his task difficult. He had been led into what had probably once been a common area of some kind, and though each one of the narrow windows had been shattered, they admitted little in the way of sunlight. Slaine wondered if there even anything which still functioned somewhere among the ruins. As if reading his thoughts, the Ghost commented, "I'll do something about that light. Fallen thrive in the dark, but we won't."

"Why's that?" Slaine inquired.

"From what intelligence we have, they can naturally see in infrared." The ghost disappeared suddenly in a small shower of light motes for only a few moments before a few fluorescent lights flickered on, the illumination marginally better. "That should do it," the Ghost's voice echoed with a satisfied tone from somewhere in its dissipated state. "Now, about that weapon..."

The towheaded Guardian didn't bother for his companion to keep looking around, as the answer lay before him. Sitting on a bunch of crates that had somehow managed to last the ravages of time, was a rifle and several magazines next to it. As he picked it up, somehow he knew that it was a Howa Type 64 carbine, derisively nicknamed the Atare by its users, as the word – meaning ‘to hit the target' – was engraved next to the fire selector switch for reasons never made clear. As he hefted it, he noticed that the gun's strap, usually made of leather or vinyl, had been a victim to time and all that remained with the harness clips at either end of the gun. As for the Howa itself, the gun's scope was cracked but serviceable, and while most of the magazines looked like they could still be used, one of them had a round jammed in the wrong way. If there had been free time, he would have reloaded it, but for now, he just slipped it in one of his pockets for safekeeping.

Getting a feel for the weapon, he didn't seem to give much concern that his hands moved on their own, as if through extensive muscle memory. He loaded, cocked and aimed the weapon back down the entryway and where he'd been, before moving into cover on the right side of the portal, facing the courtyard with his back to the wall.

"Ohhhkay," the Ghost drawled. "That'll work. I hope you know how to use that thing."

He sincerely hoped he sounded more confident than he felt, though strangely, his hands were steady on his weapon. Still, could he really do this? "So do I."

As he peered out from behind his cover, he caught his first glimpse of the hostile aliens engaged in some form of chattering communication which had given their position away. He wasn't sure if the two pairs of beady, glowing, pupil-less eyes and the single crimson plume rising at the tops of each head were simply features of their helmets, but their overall appearance – as well as their chattering language – reminded him somehow of insects.

"Dregs," his Ghost whispered.

Whatever they were, they had incredibly sharp senses; apparently the machine's ‘helpful' identification gave away his own position. But even as they opened fire with some form of energy pistol, one shot to each head was more than enough to bring them down. With each shot escaped an unidentifiable white gaseous substance, though he wasn't sure what he had expected from insectoid beings.

Regardless of his personal feelings on the matter, Slaine was now involved in this mysterious war.




Notes: I will try to avoid describing Ghost's voice, since I know some players prefer Dinkle-bot to Nolan-droid and vice versa. Whichever voice readers prefer is the one to imagine speaking his lines. Slaine gets the Nolan-droid, Inaho gets the Dinkle-bot, and Asseylum will get a female-voiced one. (For some reason, I keep hearing Jennifer Hale's voice)

Also, when it goes live to AO3, here's the chapter title reference.

Up next: Inaho!
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February 2017

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