A short story set loosely in the Destiny 2 universe. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.
The last rays of the setting sun refracted a muted orange through time-worn windows far above. The group of children huddled low beneath rows of broken shelves, petrified in silence as they listened for whoever, or whatever, had made the guttural chatter and footsteps they were sure they heard just beyond the room where they hid. The path back the way they had entered now barred by the failed freight elevator, Galen and his friends studied the exits from the room they found themselves in for another way out.
Just meters away in a clearing resting atop a mountain of rubble from the floors that had collapsed above was the football they had climbed down to retrieve. It would be a quick dash into the open to get it, but there was no indication any of the passages out of this room would be intact given what they had seen on their way down. They looked to each other, communicating as best as they could without making a sound as they listened carefully for the creature stalking them.
Noor’s gaze had been fixed on the depth of the shadowed corners in the chamber the ball had fallen into until she was certain that each dark shape and twist of metal beam had not moved. She exchanged a look with Peyton, who had been doing the same, then Phoibe who was watching the ledges above them. Davi clung close to Noor, shielded by the teen’s shadow. Galen stared intently in the direction they had last heard the sounds.
It was silent except for the continued drip of water somewhere just below them. It could have been from an old pipe or seeping ground water, but what caught Galen’s ear was how the drops seemed to echo. One by one the group dared to peek out of cover, spotting the largely undamaged utility corridor that seemed to be where the sound of water was coming from. Galen made a motion with his hand for everyone to be ready.
He tiptoed out of cover, craning his neck as he turned to study the rest of the chamber for any sign of the source of the sounds they had heard. Noor followed, stepping through the dying shaft of sunlight to where the football lay serenely. The others cautiously came out from their hiding spot. Noor let out a breath she felt like she had been holding for minutes, only to immediately retract it. A sound, quivering and wretched, a whine-like wheeze and the clicking of claws. It came from the wreck above, no more than a room away past a conduit they had climbed over to get down where they were just minutes before.
Noor picked up the ball, quickly looking to Galen and then to the utility corridor. They seemed to agree, and the group made a quiet dash for it. Someone, Galen didn’t see who, kicked a piece of crumbled concrete as they ran which echoed in the room behind them. Their predator made a sudden sound in response, followed by quick steps of its taloned feet. Suppressing their screams, they quickened their pace into the dark tunnel. Ahead the sound of water was becoming clearer.
Peyton retrieved a light stick from their sling pouch as they ran. Davi stopped, a gasp of surprise as he eyed the bright single-use torch. Peyton winked, retrieving another as they passed him the first. Phoibe huffed, impressed but not totally surprised by her friend who often showed up with a lot of things they were not allowed to have.
Together they listened as they reached a split in the tunnel. From far behind they had heard just a faint sound of the creature and then nothing but the echo of water. It was unclear if it had followed them. Unfortunately, bright as the lights were it only intensified the further reaches of dark beyond several meters and rendered even nearby shadows long and black. The reflection of the light in the water danced on every lit surface like ripples.
Of the two hallways one seemed to slope lower, the full width of the floor soon covered by water. It was also wider with traces of a painted interior finish unlike the utility hallway, perhaps opening into a larger room out of sight. It was difficult to tell from the slope how deep the water would get, but it was not a welcoming sight. The second path went up narrow stairs to a mostly closed steel door. It was unremarkable except for a faded set of painted signs that looked like others they had seen in a section of the collapsed installation behind them. One of the signs included a marking for what would have been an aid station. Surely nothing of value would still be left, Galen thought, but it was not unheard of to stumble across something from the pre-collapse age in a wreckage like this. Davi’s gaze wandered to the same door, while Peyton was already checking around the corner of the other hall. Noor read the situation and took a breath to warn them, but Davi and Galen were already walking to the stairs.
“Are you crazy? Don’t split up” Noor hissed in a whisper, flinching at the echo of her own voice. There was no sound behind them but water, which seemed to drown any other noise in the corridor. Galen responded with a shrug and pleading hand motion, drawing a scowl from the older girl. Together with Davi they pushed open the steel door, which moved only a few inches before hitting an obstruction.
A pale green glow emanated from the room, some manner of bioluminescent growth that had set in the ancient cabling exchange and a larger room beyond. It cast a soft, shadowless light. Jammed behind the door lay a split red canister that had burst into a plant-like metallic growth known to the vagabonds as spinmetal. It grew much like sage, reaching for an unseen sky from a single thick stem into numerous branching blossoms. It was very valuable with traders and prized by any who did business with the Vanguard of the Last City, provided one had the tools to cut it.
Peyton and Noor studied the hallway behind them warily. The water they had passed was still, undisturbed. Cautiously they stepped through the exchange further into the adjoining chamber. It seemed to be a central room of some sort, one wall which looked to be columns of ancient digital readouts opposite tiered rows of terminals, some still with rolling chairs undisturbed where they were left an age ago. In one sat an intact skeleton, slumped sadly as if still reading the tiny vacant display in front of it. They looked with fear and wonder at the departed, then slowly around the rest of the control room.
Dotting the edges of the room and base of support columns were thick patches of a strange fungal growth. Clouds of free-floating dust spores emanated a soft light, in places bright enough to read by. In one corner where the growth was thickest, ghostly white moths fluttered without sound around the brightest light. The reverent silence between the children was mutual, standing here felt like they had walked into a tomb.
Davi seemed to detect something unnoticed by the others, stepping carefully up the stairs that joined the rows of terminals to near a blocked hallway leading from the room. “Do you smell that?” he whispered.
Phoibe climbed up to the spot where Davi was searching, sniffing. “Smells like wildflowers,” she murmured. “Air from outside?” she guessed. Her eyes came to rest on the obscured panel she was standing on, one like others still in the ceiling above them. She looked up, spotting a wide opening into the overhead ventilation shaft. The vaulted ceilings were quite high, but Davi was already looking for a way to climb up.
Phoibe gently retrieved an overturned rolling chair, pausing to stare at the skeleton at the next terminal as if she may somehow disturb it. It was heavier than it looked, taking both her and Galen to carry it up the steps to the top of the room near a column close to the ventilation. Davi, smallest of the friends was the first up, scaling the column high enough to disturb a ceiling panel until it fell, freeing a useful handhold. Noor and Peyton continued to watch the dark entrance they had come in through for any sign of movement.
Moving from the first panel recess to the next, he reached the open ventilation with an enthusiastic cheer. The friends could hear he was encouraged by whatever he could see from up there. Phoibe was next, with Galen and Peyton holding the chair sturdy. She paused reaching the top handhold on the column, looking back down before attempting the reach to the panel recess.
“Don’t look down,” Galen reassured her, seeing she was second guessing herself.
With a lunge she reached and grabbed the support between panels, her legs swinging from behind her. Galen held his breath. She pulled herself up until she could hook a foot into the ventilation opening, and with a shift of her weight was able to catch Davi’s hand and pull herself in. The group breathed a sigh of relief.
“Can you see anything?” Noor called up, still nervously watching the entrance below.
Phoibe and Davi situated themselves in the vent to look ahead, which to the children waiting sounded like there was not a lot of room to maneuver once you climbed in. All they could make out of the two was their sharp shadows in Davi’s stick light. The thin metal of the vent shaft buckled loudly in protest. “Let me see,” Phoibe called back, voice carried from what sounded like somewhere above the next room.
Galen looked to Peyton, who was shuffling anxiously. “Ok, you next”.
Peyton made a timid glance up. The chair shifted on its wheels precariously as they slipped reaching for the highest handhold. Phoibe and Davi could be heard indistinctly from further down the shaft calling back that they could see something, followed by a rattle of the unstable vent. Peyton looked down to Galen.
“Just put your foot there and push up,” Galen guided. “Twist left,” he continued “yes, and grab there and pull yourself up.”
Peyton beamed with relief as they pulled themselves up, clearly uncomfortable with heights. The ventilation shaft groaned again, followed by a jolting sound. Everyone froze. Down the passage Phoibe’s voice carried back what sounded like a warning, followed by a series of loud crashes. With no further warning the length of vent holding Peyton came free from the mounted brackets, dumping them back onto Galen in a heap and hard knock of heads. Both cried out.
From beyond the next room the crashing sounds continued. Galen, Peyton and Noor could hear the joined screams of Phoibe and Davi falling further away amongst a cacophony of debris.