Chapter 24


 Once she was sure the coast was clear, Arras stepped into the College’s meeting room.  Closing the doors behind her, she hoped she could get this done quickly.

 She stroked part of the table, activating the menus.  With her hand squarely on the surface, she started to hack her way through whatever files might still be in the local hard drive.  Streams of unorganized data came and went as she searched; despite her skillful navigation, however, she couldn’t find what she had come for.  Remote access to external storage points had also been completely barred, even with her bypasses to the table’s security.  There wasn’t even a history or anything to lead her to the file.

 Peeling her hand from the table, she sighed.

 “Either I’m getting sloppy,” she said turning on her heel, “or you’re well trained.”

 “The latter, I assure you.  Though, I must admit, this is a surprisingly simple move on your part.”

 He stared back at her from the wall, his arms folded, looking satisfied. 

 Studying him for just a second more, Arras recognized him from the day before; he had stood next to Danny during their meeting with the College.

 “You’re one of the bodyguards, right?”

 “Correct,” he said.  “You can call me Ekren—a pleasure to finally speak with you.”

 “I don’t have time to mess with you,” Arras said, making for the door.

 “You certainly seemed to have time to search for those encrypted coordinates,” Ekren called after her, stopping her in her tracks.  “Not that it wasn’t obvious or expected.  Unfortunately, however, despite what Visum said yesterday, they aren’t advertising that data to just anyone.”

 He eyed her from his place on the wall, smiling.  “Don’t look so tense.  Certainly, you were found out, but there’s no cause for despair.  I can see it in you, though, that train of thought that a million soldiers in your situation have entertained before—do I need to kill him, or can I lie my way out of this one?”

 “What do you want?”

 “To deliver you a warning.”  Ekren stepped away from the wall and started for the door.  “The People’s College is full of vipers waiting to bite.  They’ll be reaching their decision soon, and once they do—it won’t end well for you or your boyfriend.  They’re not to be trusted.”

 “I thought as much.  You haven’t told me anything I didn’t already know.”  She looked back at the table.  “If they’re debating our fate, then why is this room empty?”

 Ekren didn’t look back.  “Perhaps they’ve already reached a decision.”

 The door swung shut behind him, leaving Arras truly alone this time.  Ekren was able to put a good distance between himself and the meeting room before the sound of heavy footsteps began to echo from down another corridor, growing louder, moving swiftly.  Stepping behind a corner, he watched as a group of soldiers sprinted down the hall to the meeting room.  His concern turned to frustration when he saw who was accompanying the squad.

 Arras took a step back as the men burst through the doors, taking aim at her, holding her where she was.  Before she could respond, they were joined by three proxies, with Visum in the lead.

 “Most untoward,” Visum said with a scowl.  “I’m sorry for this, Arras, but you’ve given us no other choice.  You’re under arrest.”

 As the soldiers made their approach, Arras didn’t try to resist.

Visum came a little closer once she was secured.  “I wish things were otherwise.”

 “Everyone’s got their reasons,” Arras muttered.  “I get it: you’re all scared.”

 “Not just scared,” said Visum, his scowl melting into what must have felt like supplication to him.  “We’re dying.  Rededication is our last hope for survival.  And I believe you know where to find it.”

 “Think so, huh?”

 “Why else would you be looking for scrambled data that not even our finest cryptologists could unravel?  It would appear you have more than you’re letting on.”  He stood up straight, still looking uncomfortable.  “As I said, Arras, I’m sorry—but we must do whatever is required of us in order to survive.”

 By the time the soldiers were hauling Arras from the room, Ekren was already out of the building.

 “Bad news,” Ekren whispered into a transmitter as he made his way down the main stairwell, keeping a distance from any passersby.  “It looks like the College is moving ahead of schedule.  We’ll need to adjust our plan.”

 “What about you?” a voice asked through the receiver.

 “I still need to find the boy.  I’ll contact you once I have.”  With that, Ekren severed the connection.  As he strode through the courtyard, he gritted his teeth.

 “Why did you have to force their hand like this, Arras?”