Together, the three of them managed to carry Ekren back to the hangar, laying him out on the deck in their ship’s cabin. Valiya found a med-kit in one of the overhead compartments, using some gauzy material and tape to cover Ekren’s wound to prevent any excess blood loss his net might not catch. Though the wound was still dangerous, they had managed to keep Ekren stable; she wondered if they might actually be able to get him some help.
“Just a little longer,” Valiya said to him as he propped himself up against one of the seats. “How’s the pain?”
“Gone,” Ekren said simply. There was still some sweat on his face, and he looked like he was straining, but anyone could tell he was much better. “I guess those two kids really think we have a shot at escaping?”
“And destroying the installation,” she added. “At least, they seem to know what they’re doing.”
Ekren and Valiya looked out through the open hatch at Danny and Arras, just outside the ship, speaking back and forth about the plan. Everyone had decided to keep things vague, at least after leaving the command deck; it was a miracle that Arras had been able to keep Surcease at bay while they worked out most of the details, and they weren’t going to risk letting the AI in now.
“You two gonna be alright on your own?” Danny asked them, looking back into the ship’s cabin.
“Oh, yes,” Ekren said, sounding almost flippant, waving his hand. “Go, please, you two were cramping our style anyway.”
Danny smirked. “Don’t get too comfy; we’ll be back before you know it.”
“If we fail,” Arras said to them, “you may be able to blast your way out of here. Even if they can track you, you’ll still have some time to gain some distance.”
“Worst-case scenario,” Valiya sighed, a little uneasy at the thought. To say nothing of how difficult it had been to get on board the station, she didn’t want to consider how much harder it might be to get out. “Just come back soon.”
Arras and Danny walked away from the ship, the hatch closing behind them, securing Valiya and Ekren. Together, they made their way back into the labyrinth of halls veining the station, heading for the closest lift.
“Danny,” Arras said as they entered the lift, “I hope you know what we’re risking here. We’ll only get one chance at this. If we mess it up, we could lose everything.”
“Believe me,” said Danny, “I know what we’re putting on the table. It’s not just my home—it’s my family. Mom, Milo, Eli... I’ve got everything to lose, and I know it, so you better believe I’m not gonna screw this up.”
She couldn’t help but smile, though she looked away to hide it as the lift continued through the station. “Just don’t get cocky.”
“You got it, Han.”
They fell silent again until the lift reached its destination, the doors opening.
“I still owe you an answer, by the way,” Danny said, staying put. “You asked me earlier, and I never gave you an answer.”
Arras didn’t say a thing, though she knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Why,” Danny said to himself. “You know, when Surcease spilled the beans before—about you and your past—I thought it might mean I’d be given my answer; maybe I could just steal whatever answer Valiya and Ekren would give you. I didn’t imagine they’d freak out too much, to be honest, not when they’ve seen you go so far to get here. But I realized this was different—they hadn’t walked through your memories like I had. They didn’t see what I saw. They didn’t feel what you felt. My trip through your mind was something else entirely.”
“You’ve stayed true to your word,” Arras said in a hush, still not looking at him. “So far, at least. I guess I don’t get it.”
“You know,” said Danny, “neither do I.”
Surprised, she looked back at him, finding him smiling broadly.
“I know that’s such a copout,” he said, shaking his head, “but it’s the truth. There’s so much I still don’t understand about myself, let alone you, but I know I can keep my promise. As for why, I can’t explain it, not fully.”
He stepped out of the lift and faced her from the corridor.
“I’ve known you for only a few weeks,” he said, “and I know I probably annoy the hell out of you. Honestly, you’re not always a peach yourself. But, if this is the last time we ever get to speak, then I want to at least try to answer your question—even if I can’t give you a good answer, I can at least offer what I have.”
“Why, then?” she asked, not sure what to make of him now. This wasn’t something she had seen in Danny before—this was new, though it seemed almost familiar as well.
“Because I care about you,” he said simply. “While we were on Zero Point, I experienced a little of what you’ve gone through since waking up—that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. For whatever reason, I didn’t want you to have to feel that way. I don’t hold your past against you because I don’t want you to suffer. I stay by your side because I don’t want you to be alone. I’m helping you complete this mission, at least in part, because I don’t want your efforts to go to waste. I don’t know what that all really means, Arras, but I do know I care about you. And so I’ll keep my promise, if you’re okay with me sticking around.”
His words left her speechless, shell-shocked. She could only stare back, trying to respond, though the words wouldn’t come.
“For what it’s worth,” Danny said, turning on his heel with a smile still on his face, “I hope this isn’t the last time I see you.”
Before he could take another step, he felt Arras grab him by the wrist; he looked back at her.
“Come back in one piece,” she said hastily, as if knocked completely out of her element. “I mean, I promised your mom I’d bring you back in one piece. Don’t make me a liar, okay?”
Danny only smiled before slipping her grip and making his way down the hall. “I’ll keep that in mind, Arras. See you later.”
The doors to the lift closed, separating the two of them. She pressed her command into the panel then leaned back on one of the walls, still not sure what to tell even herself.
Still, she managed a smile. “Yeah—see you later.”
Danny stood before the barricaded doors to Surcease’s containment room. Like the last visit, he didn’t have to try to open them; the bars slid aside and the bulkhead removed itself, giving him full access.
He found Surcease standing upright, severed from his own Gordian knot, staring Danny in the eye.
“Have you come to hurt me?” Surcease asked, his voice almost quivering with amusement.
Ridarin swarmed over Danny’s body as the doors slid shut behind him. “You have no idea.”