Danny cruised past the Lakeview Cemetery, no real destination in mind by this point. He thought about going to the university campus, or maybe Six Mile Creek, then he considered Cayuga Lake, ultimately going nowhere in particular. Watching the trees rush by his lane, he kept trying to calm himself down; earlier he could feel the blood pounding in his ears, feel it throbbing through his fingertips, as if he was at gunpoint all over again. Now he could breathe.
Pulling to the side of the road, near a farmers’ market, he could see the creek in the distance. He got out of his car, made his way a few yards from the car, and plopped down on the grass. He wasn’t sure what else he could do. There he was, sitting on the side of the road, somehow tangled up with an alien weapon and likely being followed by the deranged lady he inadvertently took it from.
He looked out over the pale water that strolled calmly along, far from his reach, skirted by roads and trees dying in an upcoming winter. The air would get much colder before the trees ever turned green again.
As hard as he tried, Danny couldn’t do it. The reality of it all continued to press in on him. He shook his head before falling back onto the grass, looking into the cloud-smeared sky. He wanted an escape, something to take him away from this. When he woke up yesterday, things were complicated but at least they weren’t like this.
He thought of home, of Fayette, of his mom and brother. Only then did it occur to him.
He dialed up his mom and listened to the phone ring; she would probably be at work by this point, teaching a class or something, but he could at least leave a voicemail. With every ring he wondered what he would say to her. What could he say?
“Hey, Mom, I just got yanked into some ancient alien rigmarole. I’ll probably not be moving home for a bit.” Solid, he thought to himself, listening to his mother’s voice tell him she was unavailable and to leave a message.
“Hey, Mom; it’s Danny,” he started before stopping for a moment. “I, uh… Well, I just wanted to let you know that I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to move home this week. I might need a little more time. I sort of… ran into a snag, something I have to take care of. I’ll keep you in the loop, though. Talk to you later. Love you.” He hung up the phone and let it and his hand fall to the grass before letting out a loud groan.
“Excuse me,” came a voice from above Danny’s head.
Rolling over, face blazing in embarrassment, Danny looked up at a man standing a few feet from his head. His hair was dark with specks of gray giving away his age, dressed in a black and gray suit, leaning on an old looking cane.
“Uh,” Danny could only say. “No, please, excuse me.”
“Have I interrupted something?” the man asked, sidestepping Danny to get a view of the creek, trusting his weight to his cane.
“Not at all,” Danny insisted, getting back to his feet, taking his phone with him. “I was just…”
Not wanting to be rude, but not wanting to give up his spot, Danny thought he’d make conversation; maybe the man would leave if he tried talking to him.
“Did you come to see the creek?”
“Partly, yes,” the man replied. “I enjoy the view this time of year. I find most people like to see the creek, and the lake for that matter, in the spring and summer. I enjoy winter myself. What about you? Have you come for the view?”
Danny wondered how to answer that question. “I was looking for a place to think. This seemed like as good a place as any.”
“I apologize,” the man said, turning around on his cane. “I’ve interrupted you.”
“No, it’s fine, really,” Danny said, waving his hands in front of himself. “You’re all good.”
“Well, thank you, then.” Looking back out over the creek, the man curled a subtle smile. “My name is Damon, by the way. Damon Hale.”
“A pleasure to meet you.”
Though it felt strange at first, the two of them looked out over the smatters of brown and yellow trying to obscure the water, neither of them saying a word to the other. Almost a minute seemed to come and go before the old man cocked his head back to look at Danny again.
“What made you need to find a retreat like this? That is, if you don’t my asking.”
“I, well… Things have been pretty crazy lately. I just wanted to clear my head.”
“An interesting thing, how life so often lurches out of our control.”
“You’re telling me...”
“Though, I suppose, if it’s out of our control, the best thing one can do is to hold on. After all, I’ve found when something’s out of my control, it’s life’s way of telling me there’s nothing else coming to save me. If you keep trying to push it away, it’s almost like an existential suicide.”
Danny wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “I guess.” Looking down at the brown and yellow grass, he couldn’t help but agree, even though he didn’t want to. “But sometimes it feels like it’d be better to just push it away than embrace it, you know?”
Damon let out a sudden laugh, baritone and boisterous. “Pardon me,” he said, his laughter fading. “You just have no idea how much I empathize with you.”
Catching a faint smile of his own, Danny studied the man, wondering what someone like him was doing wandering the side of a road like this, even for the scenery.
“You empathize with me, huh?”
“Well, I can at least sympathize.” Damon turned to face Danny squarely. “I don’t know if I can empathize per se. Sympathy comes from charity; empathy entails common experience. I surely can’t say I’ve experienced what you have.”
“You don’t even know, man,” Danny grumbled to himself, keeping his voice low.
“I imagine it’s quite stressful,” Damon said, reaching into his coat. “Though, of course, anyone would be stressed in a situation such as yours.” He pulled out a phone of his own, thumbing the screen a few times. “But, as I said, sometimes life is a bit tricky.”
Without warning he gave the phone an underhanded toss to Danny, catching him off guard. Danny fumbled with the phone a little before bracing it against his chest, looking down at the screen. A video was already playing, though he wasn’t quite sure of what he was watching. Then he felt his guts sink to the ground.
In the video he could make out a gray fountain, two men approaching it from an old wooden porch. Danny looked back up to Damon who looked the same as he had a moment ago.
“Fast forward, will you?” Damon requested pleasantly, as if the conversation hadn’t just taken a turn. “It gets much better.”
Danny jumped the video ahead by a few minutes, just in time to see Arras rising from the fountain, pulling a svelte, armored body with her. Danny recognized the armor immediately from the rift; he wasn’t sure how, but he knew the image well. The camera panned in, getting a better view of Eli and Arras, and the body laying between them: suited from head to toe, not a sign of human flesh, covered in black body armor, accented in white, layered over on the legs, forearms, and head with dark crimson slats of metal, wrapped in thin lines of neon blue. Danny looked into the armor’s eyes—his eyes—into the glowing sapphires that illuminated a relatively blank face.
Skipping forward again, he watched himself and Eli stand before Arras as she pointed Eli’s old revolver at them. Their mouths moved, though Danny never expected their voices to come through, too; he listened again to the conversation they had had in that fountain the day before.
“Help us understand what’s going on,” he could hear himself say through the phone’s speaker, “and let us help you figure out how to proceed. Regardless of what any of us may think of it, we’re in this together.”
Not sure what to say, Danny looked up at Damon, smirking nervously. “Man, do I really sound like that?” He handed Damon the phone.
“Not quite,” he assured Danny. “The microphones aren’t perfect, but they work well enough.” He looked down at the phone, watching the rest of the video, Danny, Arras, and Eli driving off down the road from the camera’s view. “Your friend, Eli, he’s very well-spoken. You… Well, not to be rude, but…”
“Who are you?” Danny asked, almost demanded.
“I already told you, my name is Damon Hale.”
“God, you’re just like her,” Danny muttered.
“You mean Arras Enqelin?”
“Really impressive, but you’d know that from the video.” Then Danny paused; it was something so small, yet it stuck out to him immediately.
Damon smiled back at Danny, noticing the look on his face. “That’s right.”
“How’d you know her full name? Did you bug my place?”
“I’d like to think I’m above such shenanigans,” Damon said, taking a step toward Danny, to which Danny responded with a step back. “Neither you nor Arras needed to tell me. I already knew.”
“How did you know, then?”
Damon took in a deep breath through his nose before exhaling through his mouth. “Believe it or not, Danny, I’m not your enemy. In fact, I’m your friend.”
“How’s that work?”
“Because we have a mutual friend.”
“Who? You mean Arras?”
Damon pulled up a picture on his phone and showed it to Danny: it looked like a digital copy of a very old photograph, grainy, black and white; in the image was a man in a very old suit, heavy facial hair, holding a cane like Damon’s, sitting in front of something Danny had never seen before. Behind this man in black and white was what looked like an aircraft, like a helicopter without propellers or a tail. Some sort of vehicle.
Danny looked up at Damon, not sure what to make of the image.
“That’s my great-great-grandfather Kenneth Hakes—this photo was taken toward the end of the nineteenth century. And that in the background is a spaceship, left to Kenneth’s ancestor Asael Mack more than a hundred years earlier by a man named Aurin Enqelin.”
The last name caught Danny’s attention the most; another Enqelin. “Someone related to Arras?”
“Her father.” Damon pocketed the phone once again. “My family has maintained possession of not only that ship but the house you found yesterday. Both that craft and Arras’ resting place were entrusted to my family long before today.” He took a step forward once more to Danny, only a few inches from him now. “As I said, I’m not your enemy. In fact, I’m your friend.”
“What do you want?” Danny asked, looking up into Damon’s face. He could see Damon’s almost facetious simper from before replaced with what felt like a sincere smile, a calming one.
“I need to speak with Arras Enqelin.”
“My role is to arm her and send her on her way in the ship I showed you just now.”
“Yeah, well, hate to break it to you, but there’s been a change of plans.”
“You mean because you have the suit now?”
“That’s right; the plan’s hit a bit of a snag. We don’t know what’s going on any more than you probably do, so—honestly—thanks, but no thanks.”
Danny turned on his heel and started on his way back to his car, Damon hobbling after him as quickly as he could manage.
“My family handed the Enqelins’ story down for generations, Danny. You don’t think I’m up to speed?”
“No one is,” Danny stated, not looking back. “It’s great that you’ve supposedly got some spaceship and a wonderful mission to accomplish—it must make you feel real special. But this whole thing’s already devolved into the shitstorm of the century, and I seriously doubt you know anything about it.”
“I know she was supposed to wake up long before yesterday,” Damon shot back, still following Danny. “I know that you were led to that house by someone you’ve yet to identify. I know that if Arras is awake then her mission is still on. I know you have that suit and that you can’t get rid of it.” He stood above Danny, watching him get into the car. “And I know that contacting you directly is the best way to get an audience with Arras.”
Danny rested his hands on the steering wheel, looking down at his feet, then up to Damon. “What d’you know that I don’t?”
“I know that you and Arras Enqelin need my help,” Damon said. “And I know even more surely that if you tell her I’ve made contact with you… you’ll find she’ll agree with me.” He pulled a card from his pants pocket and handed it to Danny, who scanned it for a second before tossing it into the seat next to him.
“Ask her about Asael Mack,” Damon added before taking a step back from the car.
“Nice to meet you, Damon,” Danny said, pulling his door closed and starting the car. He pulled back onto the road, intending to put as much distance between him and this stranger as possible. Watching his mirrors closely, he passed the farmers’ market again, then the cemetery, before deviating from his previous route.
Checking his cell phone, he saw three missed calls and two texts from Eli—he had left it on silent and hadn’t checked for anything since he left the apartment. The texts were predictable, just asking where he was and if he would be back soon; he assumed the calls would’ve gone the same way.
He pulled into the busy parking lot of a supermarket, finding a vacant parking space, one out in the open in case Damon came trailing after him—he would prefer to have witnesses. Once Danny was convinced he wasn’t being spied on, he opened the web browser on his phone and did some research.
First, he looked up Asael Mack. Asael was born in the year 1732 in Berwick, Maine. He seemed to live a pretty quiet life as a metalworker and gunsmith until the American Revolution, when he joined the colonists’ rebellion against Great Britain. During the war, after settling in Albany, New York, Mack manufactured weapons for the rebellion, founding his own business in the process—a small company of manufacturers and dealers called Teleios. Mack died in 1819 in Lodi, leaving his company and the small fortune he had gathered to his son, Thaddeus—and so the story went.
Danny looked up Teleios’ history, finding that the company had survived all the way until then as one of the United States’ largest privately held arms manufacturers. Headquartered in Manhattan, Teleios supplied the United States military with numerous varieties of firearms and vehicles, as well as consulting in security and response initiatives having to do with cyber warfare. On top of working closely with the armed forces, Teleios had a small corner on producing firearms for sale to civilians.
Sure enough, at the end of the company’s history Danny found Damon Hale, born in 1969 in Boston. He found a photograph of Damon, still holding the old cane from before. There wasn’t much to his history, at least not online. He had served in the United States Army for a time before receiving an honorable discharge and going on to work with the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency for a few years. After that, he apparently retired in order to take over his family’s company.
Tossing the phone aside, Danny leaned against his headrest, trying to clear his head the way he had intended to before meeting Damon Hale. He breathed deeply, but as it was by the creek he couldn’t push his own thoughts away.
A sudden wave of anger came over him as he hammered his hands down on the steering wheel, clenching his eyes shut.
“What the hell is going on?”
Bowing his head, his shoulders sinking, he rested his arms and brow on the wheel. His mind turned to home; he hadn’t realized till now how much the idea of moving back appealed to him. It wasn’t a matter of simply wishing he wasn’t in this predicament, though he would’ve taken anything else but this. No, it was a recognition of something that had always already been there.
He thought of his mom, and his brother. He even thought of his dad, though that had been so long ago. His mind wandered from there, reminiscing over a few scant memories he had of when their family was still together. Before things fell apart. Thinking again of that backyard from years ago, Danny revisited his dream and the vision from the rift—he thought of home.
Arras’ voice echoed in his ears, along with Damon’s—her mission was still on. Danny had just gotten in the way, halting things completely.
Rededication—he tried to think of what such a thing might look like, a creation that could destroy an entire world. His world. Their world, he thought, his mind still on his family. Curling his fingers, feeling the sweat of his palms, he tried to remember the feeling of the suit from before.
Glancing back at his phone, he saw the card Damon had left him, noticing a phone number scribbled in pen on the back. He reached for his phone and dialed Eli. Only a ring or two cooed in his ear before Eli answered.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Danny leaned back. “I need to talk to Arras for a second, though.”
“She’s here; you’re on speaker.”
“Arras, you hear me?”
“I hear you,” he could hear her say. “Where are you?”
Danny fell silent, then asked a question of his own. “How certain are you that your mission is still on?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how sure are you that Rededication still exists?”
Another pause followed before her voice came again over the line. “There’s no real certainty, but it’s the only reason I can imagine someone would choose to wake me.”
“And if it’s still around,” Danny went on, “how likely is it that it could come here?”
“If Rededication is still active,” Arras said, her voice echoing from the speaker, “then it’s a possibility.”
“What did your dad and his team conclude from their ‘observations’ anyway?”
Another quiet second or two, then her answer. “That’s why he started this in the first place.”
With a sigh, Danny shut his eyes, feeling a strange sense of peace. “I see.” He smiled. “Then, Arras, I have a suggestion.”
“Not over the phone. You and Eli meet me somewhere first, okay?” Danny eyed the business card in the seat next to him. “Something’s come up, and I’ll need your help.”
“Just let us know where to meet you,” was the response, this time from Eli.
“I’ll get back to you,” Danny said. “There’s one last thing I need to take care of before I can meet you. Oh, and Eli.”
“Bring you’re grandpa’s .38 again, would you?”
Without a goodbye he hung up and picked up the card, dialing the number written on the back. Damon answered even more quickly than Eli had.
“Let’s meet up,” Danny said simply.
“Perfect,” Damon replied just as plainly. “Where would you prefer?”