The hatch lurched then lifted gently, slowly, revealing the vessel’s interior. Arras was the first to step inside, her feet sounding heavy on the metal floor, her feet scuffing against the grip tape. Danny chose for the time being to stand with Damon outside the ship; though he was a little nervous around the alien craft, mostly he wanted to let Arras have a moment to herself. Even if it didn’t feel like it to her, this was the first time she had set foot in this ship in over two hundred years.
Arras looked the cabin over from stern to bow, moving like a specter, taking in the scene. The ship and its materials seemed to have aged well, nothing on the outside looked deteriorated. She ran her fingers over a terminal in the back, down a row of seats, against the wall—leaving behind a trail of uncovered surface, taking up mounds of dust with her fingertips. Through a doorway and into the cockpit, she rested her hands on one of the two seats, looking down at the controls, at the screens powdered with dust themselves. To her, it felt as if she had been here not even a month ago; it was strange to think that time had moved so differently for this ship than it had for her.
She had taken this ship, her father had taken another in order to leave this one—and his daughter—behind. Looking out the canopy, replaying the memories, she could almost see the terrain rush past as she flew her way, cloaked, to the site that would be her resting place.
“Is everything in order?” Damon asked, not wishing to spoil the mood for her.
Bowing her head, Arras pulled herself from the memory and stepped back outside, setting foot on one of the craft’s short wings.
“It looks fine enough,” Arras reported. “There are a couple of systems I’d like to check beforehand, plus some possible structural issues, but it should be sufficient.”
Danny put a hand on the dark plating of the ship—cold and dense to the touch. The craft looked just as it had in that photo Damon had showed him when they first met. He marveled that something like this could last so long, sitting quietly in a secluded warehouse for no one to see, let alone put to use.
“Will this thing really take us where we need to go?” Danny asked, pondering the prospect of space travel.
“Its main propulsion looks intact. As long as its faster-than-light drive is still operational, we’ll be fine,” Arras said, looking back into the cabin. “We won’t need much more than that.”
Danny took a step back to take the entire ship into view. It wasn’t much bigger in person than it was in the photograph, still about the size of a transport helicopter, but to think that it could move through space at such a velocity was incredible—almost unbelievable.
“So this thing can travel faster than light?”
“It can create an event that will allow us to ‘circumvent’ large distances; limited as this FTL drive is, yes, our trip will seem instantaneous,” Arras answered, ducking back into the ship. “But we’re not leaving the solar system just yet; we’ll be stopping by the orbital platform first.”
“To see your dad?” Danny asked, leaning in through the hatch to continue exploring.
“Your cell phone,” Damon cut in, stepping up to stand with Danny on the wing, using his cane for support. “One of my tech staff managed to track where the messages were coming from, but it didn’t lead us anywhere productive. Once we were able to look past the phone numbers they were hiding behind, we found the signal in fact originated from somewhere near Thaddeus Mack’s home outside Ithaca.”
Danny looked back at Damon, looking disappointed. “So we’ve hit a dead end, then.”
Damon gave Danny his cell phone, saying, “Not quite.”
“What do you mean?”
“He means,” Arras called from the cockpit, “given that the person who contacted you was able to wake me, then they’re not likely from Earth.”
“You think they might be from your planet?” Danny asked.
“Most likely,” Arras muttered. “Only Coalition-level technology could pull off something like that. The point is that any wakeup call sent to me would first have to pass through the orbital platform. In order to keep my location hidden, my father himself would have to forward the signal to me. My theory is that he might know where the signal came from.”
“Right,” Danny said to himself.
With a smirk, Damon asked, “Feeling up to a little fun in the sun, Danny?”
Danny smirked back. “If I can keep the suit on…” Eyeing his hand, he watched the armor ripple over his arm and disappear. “It’s still a little weird, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.”
“Well, a bit of friendly advice,” Damon said, leaning in. “Don’t expect it to protect you from the sun—at least, not at the distance you’ll be at.”
“Got it,” Danny said, letting out a weak, uneasy laugh.
Stepping out of the cabin, Arras jumped the short height from the wing to the concrete ground. “Once I’ve checked everything, we’ll leave immediately.”
“Please don’t forget,” Damon said, watching her as she tried to leave, stopping her short. “Our little agreement. Diagnostics will have to wait a little longer.”
Arras turned back around, revealing an obvious difference in enthusiasm between the two of them. “I haven’t forgotten. I hope you haven’t forgotten that we agreed on only a few hours—not all day.”
“Certainly,” Damon said, pressing the end of his cane onto the ground before stepping off the wing. He turned back to Danny. “Are you ready to go, then?”
Danny felt a warmth he hadn’t felt in a while. “Ready.”
A vehicle was already waiting for them at the curb in front of the building. Instead of the Lexus, Danny, Arras, and Damon hopped into a black SUV. Nothing about the car seemed to say anything about its passengers; it was plainspoken, the windows weren’t blacked out. Nothing flashy. It would be perfect.
They drove for more than five hours, with Arras in the front again and Damon at the wheel. From the backseat, Danny watched Manhattan disappear behind the Hudson River. They passed through one urban area after another, occasionally cruising down open roads, past seemingly untouched greenery. After four hours in, they arrived in Ithaca, slowly weaving their way through the city, then off into rural land to the north.
Out the window, Danny watched houses pass by before they were replaced by walls of trees. He thought of that day just a couple weeks ago when he and Eli had taken much the same drive. Glancing around the headrest at Arras, finding her watching the scenery as well, Danny wondered if she recognized the area. The Macks’ house wasn’t too far from where they were.
Though, they wouldn’t be stopping there. There was something else Danny wanted to take care of before leaving Earth.
Despite its age, Fayette was never that large of a town—at least, not in comparison to Ithaca or Manhattan. Danny could remember each of the buildings they passed, even the newer ones that had been built since he moved. He remembered the vineyards, too; as they drove past, he could see each one preparing for their crop in the spring. Even with the vast areas of natural land in Ithaca, Danny still found himself missing the raw atmosphere of Fayette, watching the fields in motion, their workers performing their intricate tasks throughout the year—cleaning the berms, pruning the vines, harvesting the bunches. There was a lot they could do with machines, but to watch people do anything among the rows of grapes was something else entirely.
Leaving behind the vineyards, having gone through the center of town, the SUV pulled into a neighborhood. Damon made a few turns, paying attention to the GPS and Danny’s directions before coasting to a stop. Next to them was a path composed of patchy grass and bare ground. Dirt and gravel driveways branched out from the natural sidewalk, each separated from the other by more distance than Damon was used to.
A few yards ahead, Danny could see his own car parked even closer to the house than they were.
“Only a few hours,” Arras reminded them, not making eye contact. “It took us long enough to get here, and it’ll take us just as long to get back before I can finish prepping the ship.”
Danny was already hopping out of the car as she spoke, leaping to the street and making his way to the house. Damon only smiled back at her.
“He understands we’re on a schedule,” Arras said, more to herself than Damon.
“I’m sure he does,” Damon said, opening his own door. “However, you must also understand, this may indeed be his last chance to see them. Our priorities notwithstanding, let’s not rob him of this last wish.”
Together, Arras and Damon caught up with Danny as he pushed open the gate of a white fence, stepping into the yard. The front door opened before he could reach it; a woman ran out to meet him, holding him close.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, holding him tighter.
“Good to see you too, Mom,” Danny said back, wrapping his arms around her. “Sorry it’s been so long.”
Next, a young man stepped out of the house, watching Danny and his mother from the porch.
“Milo,” Danny said, having a hard time suppressing a grin. His brother gave a small smile back.
“Welcome back, Danny.”
Arras watched the scene unfold, feeling something instantly begin to shift within her. Seeing Danny with his family, she couldn’t help but feel an inexplicable guilt. She had tried to keep a distance from Danny’s family, though Damon insisted she come.
Damon took a step forward once Danny’s mother had let go of her son, introducing himself.
“Ms. Eick,” Damon said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“You can call me Laura,” she said simply, receiving a handshake from Damon.
“Laura,” Damon repeated with a polite nod. “And may I introduce you to Arianna—” he rested a hand on Arras’ shoulder, pulling her out of her melancholy. “She is one of Danny’s co-workers, and a good friend to both of us. We’re both grateful you’ve allowed us to join Daniel for this visit.”
“It’s… nice to meet you both,” Laura said, not quite sure how to respond to Damon. “Please, come in.”
They all made their way into the house. Inside, the worn stairs and floors suggested the Eicks may not have been the first ones to live there, though it seemed well taken care of. A few photos hung from the wall, some sat on a vanity or short shelf. The group made their way to the front room, where they found someone already waiting for them.
“I guess I beat you here,” Eli said, getting up from the couch. “Glad to see you made it.”
“We had a bit more distance to cover,” Danny said, giving Eli a firm pat on the back. It had only been a week, but Danny felt like he hadn’t seen him in ages.
“I’m afraid we’re a little short on time, Laura,” Damon warned, looking back apologetically. “Danny will be leaving tomorrow and there’s still so much to be done before then.”
“I understand,” Laura said with a nod. “While we do have some time, there are some things I wanted to discuss with you in private, Mr. Hale.”
“If I’m to call you Laura,” Damon replied, still not dropping his almost trademark decorum, “I must insist you call me Damon.”
The group splintered from there, deciding to meet up again shortly. Damon and Laura stepped into the kitchen while Danny and Eli headed upstairs, leaving Arras and Milo in the front room.
Arras took a look around the front room, taking a moment to stare at the TV. Though she was at last feeling familiar with twenty-first century America, she still couldn’t help but marvel at times at the differences between the world she had fallen asleep in and the world she had woken up to.
“You watch a lot of TV?” Milo asked, somewhat awkwardly.
She looked back at him, knocked out of yet another trance. Milo must have been about eighteen or so, at least a few years younger than Danny, though he looked nothing like his older brother. The look on his face almost made her feel as if she were not welcome.
“Not really, no,” Arras replied, going back to surveying the room. “Do you mind if I look around a bit?”
“Uh, sure, I guess,” Milo said. “I can show you around.”
Together they toured the house, though it was nothing too exhaustive. When they reached the back door, Arras looked out the window at the yard outside, studying the fence line and what looked like a garden around the edge of the lawn.
“Danny mentioned that he enjoyed playing outside as a child,” Arras said, attempting to make conversation.
“We used to run around a lot,” Milo said, “but he was probably talking about the old house. We moved here a few years ago.” He looked at Arras nervously before turning away. “Did he tell you a lot about us?”
“He told me a little,” Arras said, stepping from the window, starting back the way they had come. She stopped to look at a framed photo, a photo of Danny and Milo as children with Laura. Next to that, she found a smaller picture, one of Laura and her sons, this time joined by another man—they were all smiling.
“That’s our dad,” Milo said quietly from her side.
“I thought so,” said Arras, thinking back to that night atop Teleios and the stories she and Danny had shared with each other.
Milo fidgeted a bit in place, feeling a little awkward around Arras. “Did Danny tell you about him, too?”
“He told me enough.” Pausing for only a moment, she looked back up at Milo. “If you don’t mind me asking, where’s your father now?”
“Gone—he died a few years ago,” Milo said, taking the photo and looking at it himself. He seemed to sink, studying the photo with a mix of intimacy and reverence. “Actually, to tell you the truth—he killed himself.”
Arras felt that shift inside once again. She thought about apologizing for bringing up the topic at all, but decided against it.
“Sorry,” Milo said instead, catching Arras off guard yet again. “Really, I don’t mean to be a downer. Come on, I’ll show you the upstairs.”
“Sure,” Arras said, feeling her unease fade as she followed him up to the second story.
In his room upstairs, behind closed doors, Danny armored up his arm to the shoulder, showing Eli the progress he had made in the past week.
“That’s fantastic,” Eli said, beaming as he took a closer look at the armor. “Can you suit up on command, then?”
In response, Danny let the suit layer itself over his entire body before stripping back down to his regular clothes.
“You would not believe the week I’ve been having,” Danny said, smirking at the thought. “But we’re almost ready now, so I’d say it was worth it.”
“What’s next, then?”
“Arras has plans to visit this satellite, uh…” Losing track of his words, Danny furrowed his brow, wondering how to explain things. Even though he felt no need to hide anything from Eli, not since he had come so far into this whole situation, he was still unsure how to put anything into words at this point.
“It’s only been a week, but it feels like everything’s changed,” Danny sighed. “I don’t want to leave you in the dark. There’s just a lot to talk about.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Eli said, waving a hand at Danny. “I’m the deserter, after all.”
“Come on, no one’s thinking that.”
“Sure, sure. Just tell me whatever you feel comfortable telling me.”
From there, Danny abandoned any attempts at order or logic and simply started dropping one fact after another, trying to weave them into something coherent along the way. He told Eli about the suit and Arras’ mother; they both went through the conversation soberly. Then they discussed Aurin.
“So the suit’s connected to this orbital,” Eli said to himself, keeping up remarkably well. “Does that mean you can communicate with Aurin Enqelin?”
“I haven’t heard anything from him,” Danny said with a shrug. “Given all these security measures Arras keeps bringing up, it wouldn’t surprise me if I wasn’t supposed to. Maybe that’s the one thing that’s gone right so far.”
“So Arras thinks Aurin might know a little more about who woke her?”
“At the very least, he might be able to give us a place to start.”
“Does she know where Rededication is, then?”
“It sounds like there might be multiple locations,” Danny answered. “Though, I’m still a bit fuzzy on the details. She really does keep to herself, you know.”
“I’m sure,” Eli said with a nod. “I imagine she’s rather unsure of who she can trust at this point.”
“Yeah, well, I think she’s finally starting to realize I’m not out to destroy her life’s work or whatever.”
“A step in the right direction, I’d say.”
They both turned to the door, hearing the sounds of footsteps at the top of the stairs. As the footsteps faded, Eli turned back to Danny.
“If it’s not too much to say,” Eli began, “I’m a little surprised to hear the reason behind the suit locking down. I didn’t realize you still felt that way.”
“Neither did I,” Danny admitted, sitting down on the edge of his bed, watching the door. “With everything that’s been going on, though, I guess it makes sense—even if only a little.”
“Have you told your mom about your reasons for dropping out yet?”
Danny shook his head, simpering back at Eli. “You’re really getting on me about that.”
“I don’t mean to nag,” Eli said, putting up his hands. “I just think it might help you to talk to her.”
“What’s there to talk about?” Danny looked down at the ground, losing himself in thought. “My whole academic and professional career was all one big attempt to dodge the truth; I figured it out and cracked—it’s pretty cut and dry. I don’t want to bother her with that. She never got the luxury of shutting down, and I’d rather not risk sending her into a downward spiral.”
“You all seemed to react in your own ways,” Eli mused. “She’s strong, though. Anyone can see that.”
“I’ll figure something out,” Danny said, getting to his feet. “For now, let’s go make sure my little brother’s not making a move on the girl from outer space.”