One Exile to Another
"I wish I still had the bottle from that Warlock. I've never been drunk before—that I recall, anyway." Crow scuffed his feet, leaving wide trails amidst the dry pine needles on the forest floor.
"You can drink all the ethanol you like once we're in the Last City!" Glint chirped. "I'm sure it's readily available there." He whirred quietly, cross-referencing all mentions of alcohol in his database. "Hmm. On second thought, I advise caution."
Crow snorted. "You usually do."
The new Guardian and his Ghost watched the sun set over the rugged tree line of the EDZ. In the pine-scented stillness, Crow was suddenly anxious. He imagined the great throngs of people in the City. Hundreds of thousands of people. So many people, all armed with the secret of his forgotten past. If they learned what Crow himself didn't know, what would they—
"What else do you want to try?" Glint's tone was light, but his shell flaps were furrowed in concern. "We deserve to celebrate. We can do anything you want, as long as—"
"I know, Glint. I know. 'As long as nobody sees your face.'" Crow imitated the chipper digital voice of his Ghost, and then smiled ruefully. "I wouldn't even know where to start. Food, maybe? I'm tired of everything tasting like gun oil and Ether."
"I know just the place." A deep, languid voice floated out of the forest behind them.
Crow whirled, hand on his Sidearm, ready to draw. He relaxed as the grizzled Warlock, Osiris, stepped forward from the shade of the pine trees.
"It's called the Drunken Noodle." Osiris's normally dour tone bordered on levity. "Order the Long-Boy Special. It's delicious."
"I've seen pictures of noodles," Crow said doubtfully. "They look like worms."
Osiris smiled beneath his cowl. "We need to talk about how you're going to get into the City. Our first priority is getting you some new clothes."
Crow looked down at the sigil of the Spider emblazoned across his chest. "Probably a good idea."
"I have new gear for you aboard my ship.” Osiris beckoned the pair back into the forest. "You can change while we wait for nightfall."
As Crow followed in the Warlock's footsteps, he once again imagined the crush of the Last City. He could feel the weight of humanity pressing in around him. The mass of flesh and accusing eyes. The looming walls closing in around him...
Crow's rumination was broken as they stepped from the trees into a clearing with a beat-up jumpship parked in the center.
Osiris paused at the foot of the loading ramp and turned to face Crow. "There will come a time when your identity, your past, can no longer stay hidden."
Crow felt a tightness in his chest as he imagined the whole City, all of humanity, staring at him.
"And when that time comes," the Warlock continued, "remember this moment. One exile to another. You can trust me."
They clasped hands, and for a fleeting moment, Crow wondered if he might find acceptance after all.