The feeling was almost second nature by then; Danny could almost ride that swell of dreams and memories, he could almost tell where it was going. He could perhaps even tell it where to go. This time around, he found himself lucid, standing on a shoreline, his feet sunken into the sand, the cool wind stroking its way through his hair.
At first he was startled to find how awake he felt. Taking a few steps into the lapping tide before him, he felt the water wash into his shoes, chilling his feet. It was as if he was really there, though these sensations were just memories made long before then.
A crack broke the air, seizing Danny’s attention. Turning back, he watched a ship much like the one that had taken him to the sun and moon break the sound barrier, joined by two more ships just like it, each of them speeding away from the island. Looking up and down the shore, he wondered if this place was abandoned—that is, until he saw the two women sitting a short distance away, the waves licking at their bare feet.
Stepping through the sand, feeling each awkward step threaten to throw him down, Danny could see a woman in a white dress sitting next to a younger girl with hair that matched her mother’s clothes.
“I understand why you feel that way,” Suo said, watching the ships fly into the distance, “but it’s a dangerous addendum.”
“More dangerous than what you and father already have planned?” Ila asked, her red eyes glancing back at her mother.
Suo sighed. “Love, we planned this out because we know there’s no other option. There’s nothing to salvage at this point.” She brushed her daughter’s cheek with her fingertips. “If you’re trying to save the world, I’m afraid it’s already too late.”
“She won’t know where to go,” Ila said, turning from her mother. “Once she returns to the Coalition, she’ll gather too much attention before she finds her way.”
“It’s our only option.”
“What if it’s not? What if someone else could go prepare her way first, get the information she needs, and then send it back?”
“That would be ideal…”
“And what if, while gathering information, that person could try to stop things without the bloodshed?”
“I mean it,” Ila insisted as only a girl her age could. “I’m not like the children on this planet—we have to grow up much faster than they ever do. I could negotiate with the Coalition. I know that we’re not the only ones who think Rededication needs to be stopped.”
Smiling, Suo wrapped her arms around her daughter, holding her close as another ship soared back to the island, coming to a stop and descending into the trees.
“Why, Ila? Why do you want this so badly?”
She could feel Ila’s tears on her shoulder, though her daughter’s voice was far more controlled than she ever expected.
“I know what it did to her,” Ila said, mourning the memories Danny could just barely perceive branching off of her. “It was terrible.” She clutched at her mother, holding back any more tears. “No matter what, if there’s even a chance that Arras doesn’t have to go back, I want to take that.”
“Love,” Suo cooed, locking eyes with her daughter.
“No matter what,” Ila said resolutely, her tears gone. “She can’t suffer like that again. It’s not her fault, and she shouldn’t have to pay for it.”
The wind picked up, washing the scene away in sand and ocean spray, leaving Danny alone on that beach—at least for a moment. Until he felt her standing behind him again. Turning around, he met eyes with the same woman in white he had just seen vanish.
“What is all this?” Danny asked her. “Why are you showing me these things?”
“Because I want you to understand,” Suo said. “There’s so much you need to know.”
“I’m trying,” he said. “But I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me.”
Then he sensed a familiar presence he hadn’t felt for some time. That same presence from the phone, the fountain, the rift. It seemed to watch them from the ocean, an obscured silhouette on the waves. Suo looked out to the same presence, to the same obscured figure standing on the water.
“Do you know who that is?” Danny asked, not looking back at Suo.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I don’t think they’re dangerous. They’re concerned.” Looking back at Danny, she smiled, hope in her eyes. “Whoever that is, they told Arras she could trust you. I believe them.”
“What am I supposed to do?” Danny asked, pulling himself from the presence riding the waves. “I don’t get this at all. Whoever that is out there, they told me that Arras needed my help, but I’m not sure what that even means.”
“Neither am I,” Suo said, shaking her head. “Though I’m certain that they didn’t want Arras to have the suit. For now, Danny, please be on your guard. I don’t know what all of this means yet, but I have a feeling we’ll know soon enough.”
“What did Ila mean, then?” Danny asked. “Just a second ago, she said that someone had made Arras suffer, and that she wouldn’t let it happen again. What did she mean?”
Suo’s smile left her as the wind picked up again. She stared back out to the figure on the water as the dream began to unravel around them, taking the presence with it.
“Just take care of her, Danny. That’s all I ask.”
“Danny,” another voice cut in, dragging him back to consciousness. “Danny, wake up already.”
Opening his eyes, he leaned forward in his chair as the door opened. Arras was already on her feet when Nulem stepped inside. It was evening by the time anyone had come for them, leaving Arras and Danny in the dark for longer than either of them liked.
Arras didn’t say a word; she waited for Nulem to deliver his message.
“I’m sorry for the delay, but the College took some considerable time,” Nulem said, bowing his head.
“Considerable time doing what?” Danny asked, rising from his seat.
“They’ve come to a decision—that is, concerning how we feel we should respond to the situation at hand.” Nulem turned to Arras, looking truly apologetic. “I’ve been sent to inform you that you will be allowed to remain here in the capitol until the College can decide what should be done next.”
Arras scowled. “In other words, we’re now under house arrest.”
“I’m afraid so,” Nulem confessed. “With all due respect to both of you, I hope you can appreciate our predicament.”
“You want to keep your only chance at locating Rededication under lock and key,” Arras said, pulling no punches. “There’s not much to appreciate there, not if you really don’t intend to destroy the platforms.”
“That debate is far from settled, I assure you. The proxies were unanimous in their decision, but our reasons were not unanimous.” Closing the door behind him, he stepped farther into the room. “It’s true that there are some who are considering the possibilities Rededication may hold, but there are others who still wish to proceed with destroying what’s left of that program.”
“And where do you fall in that?” Danny asked.
Hesitating for a beat, Nulem then said, “Like the other proxies, my thoughts on the matter are not entirely straightforward. There’s much to consider.” Turning back to the door, he made his way out of the room. “For now, you’re room and board will be provided, and you’re free to roam the compound as you please.”
Nulem left without another word, his footsteps already fading as the guard outside closed the door.
“Well,” Danny sighed, “what now? You want to split already?”
“Not yet,” Arras said, shaking her head, looking from the door back to Danny. “There’s some questions I’d like answered before we leave. More importantly, we need to get those encrypted coordinates from them.”
“You mean we should steal them?”
“I doubt we can take them entirely, but we can at least make a copy.” Taking a step closer to Danny, lowering her voice, she said, “If we combine their intel with our own, we might be able to locate the remaining installations.”
Danny grinned. “You mean we can make a cipher.”
“Whoever left us the encrypted and decrypted coordinates…” Arras shifted her weight from one foot to another, looking uneasy. “I think they might have intended this to happen.”
“So, for now,” Danny restated, “stay put, gather intel, and see if we can’t grab ourselves a souvenir before we continue our field trip.”