Aurin led the way, though neither Danny nor Arras knew where they were really going. One light above would snap to life as they walked through the corridor, going dark behind them as they moved out under another. Aurin didn’t speak as he walked; not even his footsteps echoed with those of his daughter and her unexpected guest.
“Father,” Arras said, keeping on Aurin’s heels, “we don’t have much time.”
“What happened to our plan, Arras?” Aurin asked tersely, keeping his eyes forward. “Not only is this young man here, but you and I—we’re way off from our original timetable.”
“I know, but if you just listen, I can explain.”
“No, no need to explain.”
Aurin stopped and turned around, still smiling from when he first laid eyes on them. Something about him left both Arras and Danny on edge. He reached a hand out to Arras, letting his fingers coast across her cheek, his immaterial body sinking into her skin slightly, leaving ripples of light across his own fingers and her face.
“You’re exactly as I remember you,” Aurin said, looking bemused, as if he weren’t really present. “Though, I don’t really know what it means to ‘forget’ things anymore. Everything just stays where it is, etched into my mind. I never realized how little storage space a natural human brain has until I came here.”
“Father,” Arras said, staring into Aurin’s eyes with all the concern only his child could have. “How long have you been awake?”
Still smiling, Aurin returned to his walk, not saying a word as he guided them to a closed door. He eyed the barrier before him for a moment before walking straight through. Arras and Danny approached the bulkhead door, turning a wheel at its center to unlock the deadbolts. Swinging the heavy slab of metal aside, they stepped onto a spacious deck, something that must have been this retired colony’s central control room; rows of consoles all careened like tepid waves toward the center of the floor where Aurin stood, watching them as they entered.
As they strolled past the consoles, Danny stopped to take a closer look. His helmet dematerialized; despite the darkness, he could still see the surface of the computers and other work stations. They were burned, punctured in the same way he guessed those turrets from before were meant to puncture him and Arras. Taking a wider look at the room, he could see glass-sheet displays shattered on the floor, walls blackened from charged particle blasts, the floor scorched and scuffed.
“Was it this way when you guys first built the satellite?” Danny asked Arras, tapping an index finger on one of the ravaged terminals.
“No, it wasn’t,” she said, making her way to Aurin. “Father, what happened here?”
“It doesn’t matter, really,” Aurin said blandly, an almost crippling ennui in his answer. “An event occurs, it echoes on into the future; though the future uses it to construct itself, it’s nevertheless unrecognizable after a while. Just a part of the whole, the All. Nothing too significant.”
Arras looked over the ruined room before turning back to her father. “Were you attacked?”
“You’re the first humans to set foot in here in almost two hundred years.”
“What happened, Father?”
“Why are you here, Arras?” Aurin looked past his daughter, to Danny. “Why is he here?”
Arras looked at Danny, then back at her father. “There was a complication.”
“I know that already,” Aurin stated, his words suddenly blunt. “But why are you here? Ridarin is still tethered to this station—there have been no complications there. I’ve even been able interact with your mother enough to alter any weapons she may encounter, and to mine local asteroids for material to make ammunition for those weapons. Why are you here?”
Arras locked eyes with her father; his stubbornness, and even his inconsistency, made her anxious. “We think you know where my wakeup call came from.”
“We think it might help us find whoever led Danny to the rift. They might be able to explain just why I woke up so late. They may even be the key to figuring out how to dismantle Rededication.”
“You say that,” Aurin grumbled, “but I wonder if you mean all that.”
“Revelations aren’t always happy, not all truth makes one smile,” Aurin said, approaching Arras casually. “Sometimes truth can pierce someone deeply, unnecessarily.”
“Not all truth is useful,” Danny muttered, quoting someone—he couldn’t remember the name.
“Precisely,” Aurin said, giving Danny an amused look before turning back to Arras. “Who says you want to know?”
“I do,” Arras insisted, not backing down. “Do you have the information or not?”
“Of course I do.”
“And where did the signal come from?”
Aurin wagged a finger at her, looking almost lost. “I’ve had to account for stellar drift in order to match up the location with my star charts. It’s only been two centuries, but some stars really move, don’t they?”
“Dad,” Arras interrupted. “I just need to know where it came from. We need to know where to go from here.” She moved forward to stand at her father’s side. “We may still need to destroy Rededication, and we can’t do that if we don’t know where to begin.”
Aurin fixed his eyes to the floor, his shoulders rising and falling; though he was only a hologram, he seemed startlingly physical. His mind was still his own, certainly, but Arras wondered just what time had done to him.
“I’ve stored that data in another room,” Aurin finally said. “I can take you there, if you like.”
Glaring back at Danny, Aurin said, “He has to stay here, though.”
“Wait, what?” Danny said, taking a step forward.
“Arras and I go alone,” Aurin said firmly. “She doesn’t need you for this.”
Danny froze up, looking to Arras for help. She only shook her head.
“It’s fine, Danny. I’ll be back soon.”
Aurin and Arras left the control room together, stepping back into the corridor. She took one last look at Danny, giving him a reassuring nod, before disappearing. As they left, the door swung shut, the wheel spun, and the deadbolts fixed themselves back into place.
“Of the two of you,” Aurin said to Arras as they took their first turn, “Ila was the only one who ever picked up strays. Why did you have to start now?”
“I didn’t exactly have a choice,” Arras said, trying to keep pace with Aurin; he was moving faster than he had before.
“Perhaps not, not in how the circumstances presented themselves. But was it really out of your control?”
“What are you trying to say?”
Arras was irritated enough by this whole situation; she didn’t like the idea of playing word games with her father—at least, with what had survived of him after so long. She wondered how long he had even been awake.
“I think you know exactly what I mean.”
“I couldn’t take the suit back from him once it was sealed.”
“Not without killing him, no.”
Clenching her fists, Arras fired back, “Who are you to question that decision?”
Aurin spun around and brought his face close to hers. “I’m the one who helped build that monstrosity we call Ridarin! I’m also your father.” He calmed himself, turning back around and picking back up his stride.
“I had no guarantee the suit would survive if I took it from him,” Arras said defensively, not looking at her father as they stepped through a porthole into another module on the station. “I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t have put an end to the mission entirely.”
“If that’s the answer you want to go with,” Aurin said simply, not looking back. “I’ll respect it. It just surprises me, that’s all. It doesn’t seem like you.”
At last Aurin seemed to reach his destination. Passing through the closed door without a second thought, Arras was left in the corridor. The slab of metal slid into the wall, granting her access. She stepped into a completely empty room, one that didn’t look like it had been used for anything since her parents had found the abandoned colony.
“What is this?” Arras asked, looking all around the room. “You said you had information.”
The door slid shut behind her, the sound of shifting metal indicating she was now locked in.
“I don’t mean to disrupt things, Arras,” Aurin said, looking back at his daughter with concern of his own. “You know this mission means as much to me as it does to you. And you know that you mean even more to me than that—you, and Ila, and your mother.”
“Father, what are you doing?”
“I’m fixing the mess you’ve been put in.” Without another word, he flickered out of sight.
Arras lunged at the space where Aurin had once stood, hoping she might be able to hack into him, to keep him where he was—she was already too late. Bolting back to the door, she slapped her palm to the panel next to the frame, trying to break into that instead. The door wouldn’t budge—there was no power going to the door controls. Yelling out a few choice words—some she learned growing up, other she had learned from Danny—Arras seized the lip of the door, trying to get a good grip to pry the door open.
While she struggled for freedom, Aurin appeared back in the control room; he was already distributed throughout the entire orbital, but now he could do as he pleased. He found Danny right where he had left him.
“Where’s Arras?” Danny asked, looking back at Aurin.
“I see,” Danny said. His helmet covered his head and he prepared himself for the worst.
Aurin laughed. “You’re a real piece of work, aren’t you? I designed that suit, boy, built it—don’t think you can turn it against me.”
In an instant, Danny slammed into the ground, pinned, paralyzed by an invisible weight. He suddenly felt like a million pounds, helpless as Aurin approached.
“Tell me,” Aurin said, standing at Danny’s head. “How does a boy like you end up wearing something like that?”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Danny grunted, feeling as if he was about to cave in on himself. “I was led there, let into the rift. We came here to try to find who dragged me into this.”
“An interesting explanation, certainly.” Aurin scowled. “I’m just not all that convinced. I think there might be something more to it than that.”
Just as sharply as he had hit the ground, Danny left the floor and rocketed toward the ceiling, crashing into a cluster of monitors before coming back down with them. Shoving the screens aside, he tried to get to his feet, but not before being thrown across the room and plastered against the wall. His body bounced furiously against the metal surface with what loose equipment was in the room, as if Aurin were trying to crush him like a bug.
Danny yelled out in pain; it didn’t feel like the suit could respond at all to his injuries. He felt like his body was shattering from the inside out as Aurin continued to manipulate the ship’s gravity well. Struggling against forces Danny couldn’t predict, he finally surrendered, letting the weight flatten him.
With a small gesture, Aurin brought Danny back to the center of the room, laying him out at his feet. Taking a knee, he leaned down to Danny’s face, watching the helmet retreat at his presence. He stared into Danny’s dazed eyes.
“You think you can just wear that suit? You think you can just use up my wife like that?” Aurin lunged and buried his fingers in Danny’s head. “Why don’t you tell me who you really are?”
Danny looked back up at him, watching his face fade from sight along with the control room, evaporating into sparkling lights and muffled noises. Closing his eyes, he let the cacophony take him the same way it had at the chapel in the rift.