Chapter 21

 

 Arras stood at the end of the table nearest to the door, dressed in a change of clothes provided shortly before the meeting began.  Danny was just over her shoulder, standing next to a wordless man they both guessed was one of the many bodyguards stationed like statues around the room, surrounding the proxies of the College.  Toward the other end of the room, Visk stood just as stoically, almost disappearing into the background.

Around the table were seated fifteen men and women, each dressed in black and blue.  Nulem sat in a seat at the other end of the room, flanked on either side by the other proxies.  The meeting had been rather quiet to that point, though the boiling curiosity of each person at that table was more than apparent.

 “Arras,” Nulem said as they at last cut to the chase.  “As you might understand, we are all very excited to meet you.  The only question is, where do we begin?”

 “If I may,” said a woman with fiery redhair, sitting to Nulem’s left.  “I have a few questions for both our guests.”

 The other proxies agreed with reserved nods, allowing her to proceed.  Arras stared back across the table at the female proxy, standing straight, at attention.

 “My name is Valiya Zoa,” the woman said before proceeding, looking at both Arras and Danny.  “As you might imagine, Arras, your story has preceded you.  Something that fueled the people’s stories was how you and your family exited the stage, so to speak.”

Tapping at the tabletop, Valiya brought up a wave of reports and photos, which she flicked toward Arras’ end of the room.  Studying the information, Arras took note of the photos especially—all that remained of her mother and father’s bodies, thin, black frames melted into a laboratory wall.  Arras’ “remains” were the only ones that wouldn’t retain any definite shape; the printed organs must have spread too far.

“The investigation into your deaths on Earth,” Valiya continued as Arras scanned the reports, “concluded that the discovered remains did indeed belong to Aurin and Suo Enqelin.  The cause of death was said to be a simple lab accident, a malfunction with deadly results.  However, there were always questions about your remains, especially the state in which they were in relative to those of your parents.  Of course, those questions only intensified when your family’s plan became public knowledge.”

 “If I may interrupt,” Arras said, looking up from the reports.  “I’m afraid I don’t know the degree to which my family’s ‘plan’ was made public.”

 “Not much was ever said to civilians,” Nulem explained, “though more information started to leak as civil unrest approached its fever pitch.”

 “All the Coalition knew at the time was that Aurin and Suo Enqelin were indeed dead,” Valiya added, “and that their daughters were the only remaining executors of their plan.  Ila Enqelin was quickly accused of aiding in a terrorist plot, one which evidently centered on you.”

 “In what way?” Arras asked.

 “You might tell us just that,” said another man a few seats down.  “Proxy Visum Prato.”  Visum looked as if he had a number of years on both Nulem and Valiya, his age hinted from the specks of gray in his hair.  “All we know is that you were supposedly to return to the Coalition, assassinate the prime family, and put an end to the Rededication program.”

 “Correct,” Arras confirmed.  “Though I don’t know why this would interest any of you.”

 “It interests us because we are looking for Rededication as well,” Visum said matter-of-factly, intertwining his fingers, trying to gauge Arras’ response.

 Arras would never let her thoughts show to a crowd like this, Danny knew; he tried not to make her training a waste, pulling whatever semblance of a poker face he might have in him.

 “The program never ended, then,” Arras concluded.

 “The program ended, yes,” Visum said.  “The platforms still exist, though.”

 “During the war,” Nulem interjected, “the Coalition military, once they realized they were in a losing battle, made a rather rash move.”

 “They wiped their databases,” Arras said, looking unimpressed.  “If they felt that any critical intelligence was in jeopardy, they would have deleted the entirety of it without a second thought.”

 Nulem nodded.  “Precisely.  And along with that information went the locations of every military outpost, including the location of each Rededication platform.”

 “And you want me to help you find Rededication,” Arras said.

 None of the proxies breathed a word.  The room slipped into a strange tension, though it wasn’t between the College and Arras—it seemed to be between the proxies themselves.

 Visum looked around the table; realizing that no one else was going to speak, he decided to reenter.  Tapping at the table, the windows in the room dimmed as a hologram sprang from the tabletop.  Eight objects floated over the proxies, incoherent shapes spiraling in on themselves, fluctuating wildly.

 “This was all we could recover from the remains of the military database,” Visum explained, looking up at the eight shapes.  “The coordinates to each Rededication platform, including their circuits of security jumps—yet each of them is scrambled.  It’s nothing special, really.  We could share this with anyone on the street and they would be as stupefied as we are.”

 “What’s this have to do with me?”  Arras looked down from the objects and back at the proxies, still looking unmoved.

 “One of the accusations laid against Ila Enqelin was the trafficking of classified military intelligence,” Visum said.  “More specifically, she was charged with having somehow obtained the location of one of the Rededication platforms.  Since she was indeed your sister, and given that we found you on the very planet where she lived and died…”

 The proxies all turned to Arras as the hologram faded away and the windows let the light back in.

 “I went to Eilikh in order to find who contacted me,” Arras conceded, not dropping her guard.  “When I got there, all I found was a radioactive wasteland.  If there was ever any information relevant to Rededication, I’m guessing it was destroyed along with the planet.”

 “You received a transmission from that location,” Visum reiterated.  “What sort of transmission?”

 “I was placed in hibernation back on Earth until my sister gave me the signal to awake,” Arras said.  “However, that signal came only recently, far later than any of my family ever anticipated.  My theory is that my sister did indeed send the transmission, though the process was somehow delayed until now.”

 “You didn’t find anything to tell you who woke you from hibernation, then?” another proxy asked, not bothering to introduce herself, leaning in over the table.

 “All I found there was fallout and debris,” Arras said.

 “And what was the large explosion Ila’s Voice detected on the planet’s surface?” the same proxy asked.

 “The result of leaving highly volatile engine fuel lying around for so long,” Arras said, not missing a beat.  “We tried looking for supplies on the surface and ended up almost killing ourselves trying to take fuel for our ship.”

 “You and that young man there?” the proxy asked, looking over Arras’ shoulder.  “Danny, right?”

 “Yes, ma’am,” Danny almost stuttered, feeling the whole room suddenly turn to him.  “Like she said, the fuel ignited.”

 “On another note,” Nulem interjected, “I’m very interested to know why you didn’t show up on our registry.  I suppose you weren’t in hibernation with Arras, and I’ve never heard the name ‘Danny’ before, not even in the older languages.”

 Danny tried to not make it obvious, but he found himself looking to Arras for help.  He wasn’t sure what she would have him say, and what she would have him keep secret.  There seemed to be a specific narrative she was trying to spin for the College; he tried to stay within those bounds.

 “When Arras awoke, she needed someone to help her find her way off Earth,” Danny said.

 “So you’re from Earth?” Nulem asked.

 “Yes.”

 Several of the proxies whispered among one another, their eyes darting from one another to Danny and back.

 “Fellow proxies, please,” Visum called over the collective hissing.  “I have a few more questions myself, if you please.”  He looked at Danny and Arras.  “The story was always that Arras Enqelin would destroy Rededication.  Is that so?”

 Arras only nodded, eliciting the further whispers of some proxies.

 “And how were you going to do that?” Visum went on, ignoring his fellow members of the College.

 “My family created a way,” Arras said simply.  “That’s all I’ll say.”

 “And this means of destroying Rededication—where is it now?”

 “Elsewhere,” she said before Danny could change the look on his face.  Though she kept it hidden, her blood was pounding through her veins; Danny’s poker face wasn’t the only one she was afraid might fail, not when she knew where this line of questions was leading.  “I’ve stored it away for safekeeping.”

 “And, at this point,” Visum said, his tempo slowing, his interest piqued, “do you still plan to destroy Rededication?”

 Arras glared back at him, fists held tight, nails digging into her palms as her heart overcame her.  “What the fuck else would I do with it?”

 With that, the College descended into shouts, almost all of the fifteen suddenly debating among each other.  Visum stared back at Valiya and Nulem through the uproar, neither of them slipping into the ensuing arguments.

 One of the proxies hammered their hand on the table, demanding order and moving that the meeting go into recess for the time being.  As the proxies continued their debate, Arras and Danny were ushered out of the room by a few guards.  The doors closing behind them, both Danny and Arras couldn’t help but notice certain sets of eyes glued to them as they left.

 In the confused rush, Danny couldn’t tell exactly where they were once the guards showed them into some sort of private lounge, leaving them alone inside, guarding the door from outside.  Arras strolled without a word to one of the windows, putting a hand to her mouth, her head slightly bowed.

 “You really set them off,” Danny said.  He stopped cold in his tracks once he could hear her.  He slowly made his way to her, watching her shoulders tremble.

 “Stupid bastards,” she breathed through shudders, holding back what looked like a flood of anger.  She swatted the wall with a fist before resting against it.  “Why would that even be a question?”

 “Hey,” Danny said, reaching out a hand, “it’s nothing to freak out about.”

 As if she had only then realized he was in the room, Arras looked back at him, going quiet, her eyes wide.  He could see she had shed a tear or two.

 “This was everything we tried to stop,” she said softly, her voice shaking.  “It’s what Ila died to stop.  My parents, too.  And me.”

 “This doesn’t mean anyone died in vain,” Danny insisted, trying to be sensitive; though, seeing her like this left him in unknown territory all over again.  “It sounds like they don’t even know what they want to do with it.”

 “There’s nothing else to do with Rededication, Danny.”  She locked an eye on him, getting a hold of herself.  “It’s hell itself.  And the fact that any of them aren’t ready to sink it into oblivion…”

Arras twitched as Danny put his hand on her shoulder.

 “Then we don’t give them the chance to ask otherwise,” Danny said.  “We’ll destroy Rededication ourselves—no matter what they think.  For now, just take some time to cool down.  We’re in no hurry, not right now.”

 Breathing deeply, she pushed off the wall and made her way to a nearby armchair, letting Danny’s hand slide from her shoulder.

 “At least we know the situation,” Danny said as she sat down.  “If no one knows where the platforms are, then that’s good news, right?”  He thought about the decoded coordinates stored in his nano-net, tightening his fist, feeling just as untouchable as he had looking into the New Pact’s military emblem.

 Though, just as it had before, that feeling left him as he looked at Arras.

 “None of this makes any sense,” she muttered.  “I thought Rededication was mobilized.  If it’s not, why even lead us here?  It feels like someone’s just screwing with me.”

 Danny sat down in a chair across from her, keeping quiet, leaving her to make sense of things on her own.  He knew he wasn’t going to get through to her, not at that moment.  What could he say, even if she would listen?  After all, he knew what she was feeling, at least in part—that confusion, that almost existential angst.  There was no denying they were brought to Zero Point, though neither of them knew why, or even who had brought them this far.