"Long, short, they all end the same way." —Katabasis
Gaelin-4's war beast leads us through balmy Venusian jungle. Our rifles low, our Ghosts high in the canopy like sentry drones.
"My vehicle is old. Needs maintenance. Been running too long without cutting the engine," I say.
Gaelin sends me a sideways look. "That shipwright still around? She used to make cider in the autumn. I swear, she kept us like a pack of strays."
I sigh. "No, I mean this thing." I run my hand over my body. "Besides, you know I can't go back there." I straighten the leather wrap around my Tex-foundry rifle.
"You know I literally tune myself, right?" asks the Exo Hunter.
"Why? You're immortal."
"And you're not?"
"I know, but I'm… slower. I feel slower."
"Just not like what I used to feel like. Not… spry. Not up here either." I tap my helmet.
"Tragedy. I feel for you. Have Gilgamesh tune you then."
I chuckle. "Yeah… he'd love that."
"You two having issues again?"
I shake my head in a stiff, narrow lie. "You think we come back the same every time?"
"I do. Straight from the manufacturer ," Gaelin-4 says.
"Sometimes I get the feeling… something's different."
Gaelin stops and squints at me.
I dip my head and let my hood fall forward. "Nothing I can put my finger on, just little things. Adjustments."
"You think he's changing you?" Gaelin's voice sounds more serious than surprised.
I wait too long to answer. It's not because I don't know my answer, but because I want to feel like I still doubt it. I raise my head. Gaelin meets my eyes and looks up to the canopy.
He leans his shoulder into me and drops his voice to a whisper. "My Clip's a good one, but you need to realize Ghosts don't know anything. Nobody does. They're just like us. They get curious. They question. If you think something's coming unwound, you need to sit down and talk it out."
"Wait… did Clip change yo—"
"Please," Gaelin scoffs. "You're paranoid." He turns to keep walking and calls back, "Life changes you. Same with them. I'm the only one that stays the same."
Gaelin raises a fist and we stop. His war beast sniffs the air and turns us east. We continue walking.
"What'd you name the beast?"
"You've been reading too many of the Spider's books ."
"Some of 'em are good."
I laugh. "Aren't you the man that said anything you got tying you down can be made into a noose?"
"Yeah, some time ago."
"You've been taking a lot of jobs with him ? Those Fallen?"
"You're one to talk, Emperor's lackey . Some of those Eliksni aren't so bad."