“I‘m a weapon. I’m not the ammunition.”
What good is one without the other? What good is a rifle without a round, a fist without a purpose, a spear without wisdom to guide it? Anything can be a club, I guess, but I’m not a brute, I’m a warrior. I’m not the rifle, I’m the arm and the head and the eyes and the brain that makes it matter. I’m hardly even a Titan, really. That could be as temporary as this life or the last. What I am is a weapon for my Ghost. It is the Light that makes me matter.
Still, when I sit in the sunshine beaming past the broken shell of the Traveler onto this plaza towering above the city — our last city — it makes me think of how there’s so much light … so how can we really be so close to death? It’s sad to think how close we’ve come to nothingness, to utter depletion. Our lives, our knowledge, our ambitions have broken into shards and segments so that sometimes it seems we have so few futures to choose from: war cults, exodus, the hope that our next kings shall be benevolent and wise.
I was built for battle, but this is no battle. This is warfare, endless and inelegant. With so much hatred spilling out of the shadows between the stars, pouring through the Solar system, how can we hope to win? A win implies an end to the fighting. We can’t stop fighting. Survival is an endless contest. We’re not fighting to win, but to sustain. To go on living, which means more fighting. So we can go on living.
Whatever forgotten war my body was built for, it’s here now, in this war, because of the Traveler. I couldn’t tell you how I died before, how I ended up being a pattern of Light and matter recognizable by the Traveler and its Ghosts.
But if I’m going to be here, I should be here.
How I accomplish that — being here — is by fighting for others, on behalf of others. Fighting is not, in my mind, worth fighting for. We have to be worthy of sustaining, worth fighting for, if we’re going to fight. The only glory in war, I think, is to protect those who make a civilization worth sustaining … though I can’t remember if I think that myself or if I remember learning that in some past age of the world. Our enemies, in and from the Darkness, don’t have to be beaten — that’s not why I fight. We have to survive and thrive. That’s why I carry this rifle. That’s why I turn Light into belt-fed bullets. Otherwise, why?
I think about this today, because of a fellow Titan, called Majeure.
Majeure picked me out of a plaza teeming with young warriors and rookie Titans. He was taller even than I was, with wide shoulders and a broad stance; accustomed to taking up space. His pale human face was smeared with sweaty grit, meaning his angular, red battle-armor didn’t have top-of-the-line temperature regulators. His razor-cut hair shone with sweat, too. A strip of fabric hung from his belt, stained with handprints and oil.
He pointed at my scuffed and simple armor, saying “You’ll have to do better than that, you want to survive.”
“I’m working on it,” I said. I was. I was battling across the surface of Earth’s moon in search of Glimmer and coded engrams whose patterns spelled out armor worthy of the modern fight.
He just nodded again. He’d heard it before. “The Moon?”
“Yessir. I —”
“We’ll find you something worth wearing, fighting in. Come with us.” He turned and waved for me to follow. I did. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Anaxam-9,” I said.
“Okay, but you’re Niner, now.”
“I’m not sure that —”
“Knew an Anaxam before,” Majeure said. “Different number. Or … he might have been Anaxagoras. Anyway, different number. But you’re a Niner, so we’re calling you Niner.”
“Does that mean something?”
Majeure chuckled. “Sure,” he said over his shoulder, squinting one eye in the sunshine. “It means you.”
That was how I first ventured beneath the Moon, into the tunnels of the bone-armored Hive. That was where I studied the teamwork of Majeure and his Hunter cohort, called Kasper. That was when I learned something new about teamwork.
There, in a warren of bone-strewn passages dug through lunar stone, in the sick green light of Hive lanterns, I watched Kasper hang back with her scout rifle, picking off Hive acolytes as they slunk into firing positions around Majeure. While Majeure rifle-whipped gaunt thralls into ash and chitin up close, Kasper threw rifle rounds into acolyte helmets. One Hive soldier after another tumbled into empty armor and ember wisps. I laid down covering fire with bursts from my rifle while Majeure and Kasper coordinated through concise chatter.
“Thralls are down,” Majeure reported.
“Acolytes behind cover on your six,” Kasper replied.
I started ahead, moving to take them out.
“Don’t,” Kasper said, off the mic, her voice a tinny whisper through her helmet. “Let them come at us.”
Through cavern after cavern we battled waves of the Hive, leaving footprints in ashes behind us. Engrams glowed in the fog, tumbling into puddles of black waters condensing off Hive machinery. I gathered their patterns, scooped up Light to convert into ammo, and I felt, at last, the way my Ghost said I would one day feel: like a Titan.
Maybe we went too deep. Maybe Majeure and Kasper knew what they were up to. Even now, I don’t know if we made a wrong turn or if Majeure’s Ghost opened a Hive hatch because they were on some kind of mission they didn’t tell me about. After that, after just a few ticking seconds, our hunting party into the caves became a battle to escape those caves.
Kasper took up a firing position at the top of an arch that looked like some kind of Hive pulpit, its green lamps almost blinding through white smoke. Blind thralls came swarming out of swirling shadows in deep cracks. Her knife shone as it cracked through their dry skins but there were so many of them. Her Ghost lit up and swelled into an orb of energy where the thralls tore her apart.
“Guardian down,” my Ghost reported.
Then her grenade exploded into bursts of bright shrapnel that ashed the thralls. Her parting gift: enough time for Majeure to fall back to the hatch by me. “Go,” he said.
“We can revive her,” I argued.
“I can.” The halls of the moon shook, trails of dust falling around us. “You can go. Ogre’s coming.”
I turned to face the far passage, lit up by Kasper’s Ghost, and hoisted my rifle. “I’ll cover you.”
Majeure laughed. “This thing’ll chew you right up. Just go. I don’t have time to protect us both at once.”
I turned to look at him, at his red-and-white helmet, faceless in the smoke and gloom. “I’m not afraid,” I said. And I wasn’t. I’m surprised now, but I wasn’t afraid.
Majeure shrugged. “Go see the Cryptarch. Armor up. The Hive will still be here. But I won’t carry you.”
I stepped back just three steps through the open hatch as Majeure leapt up atop something like an iron tusk, heading for Kasper’s Ghost. I leveled my rifle, ready to take a few pot shots at whatever monster was coming — and then the hatch slammed shut. The audio link cut out.
I glanced at the bright red angles denoting a mass of Hive on the other side of the hatch … or a single monstrous beast. The hatch shook as if a storm wanted to get through it.
Bracing my rifle on my shoulder, I summoned my Ghost. It blinked at me. I wanted to ask it to open the hatch, no matter how long it would take. That was when I heard the muffled grinding of machine-gun fire from inside. That was when I heard the creature roar and the deep rattle of some weapon blasting the chamber walls. And it was all getting further away from the hatch.
That, then, when the sounds of battle drifted away and I was alone deep inside the Moon — that was when I was afraid.
Alien moths battered against a Hive lantern nearby. Arm-length hooks, hung from the ceiling, cast bent shadows across the walls. I don’t know how long I stood there, waiting with my Ghost for some new idea.
“Hive are coming up behind us, now,” my Ghost said. The radar showed it was true. “To orbit?”
I checked my ammo reserves and thought about the winding passages between me and the starlight. “To orbit.”
I haven’t heard Majeure’s or Kasper’s voices since then.
Days later, I saw Majeure and Kasper and some experienced Warlock striding through the sunlight on the Tower, each dressed in grand armor and the colors of the Future War Cult. As they went past me, the only sign I got that Majeure even recognized me was a sideways glance and a slow nod. Then he nodded at another young Titan in the plaza. And another.
Someone behind me whispered to someone else that Majeure’s fireteam was headed to battle training with other Guardians, to test their mettle against the weaponry of warriors who could be their allies against the Darkness. I’ve never put much faith in arena training. It sounded to me like spending all their ammo in practice, when all that Light could go to holding back the Hive. Our enemies seldom fight quite like we do. The best practice for battling the Darkness is battling the Darkness.
So I stand up, I close the clamshell of my helmet, I switch it on, and I transmat myself into the confines of my grumbling, thrumming starship, bound for the Moon, to get Light and Glimmer out of the hateful Hive. I’ll pour that Glimmer into armor and ammo. I’ll hone the weapon that I am. And one day, maybe I’ll show Majeure a thing or two about teamwork.
Until then, call me Niner.