Chapter 7

 

 Danny stood at the center of his bedroom, taking in the scene.  The bed and dresser were already bare, the closet gutted of anything necessary, packed with his other belongings into cardboard boxes by the front door.  He moved here almost a year ago; Eli had helped him find the place.  Affordable enough, but most importantly there was only one bedroom.  Danny had gotten sick of roommates long before he became a true introvert, before dropping out.

 He heard a knock, looking over his shoulder to see Eli.

 “Hope you don’t mind, the door was unlocked.”

 “No worries.”  Danny picked up one of the boxes sitting on his bed, taking it from his room to the other boxes by the door.

 “Is Arras with Damon, then?”

 “Yeah,” Danny sighed.  “They’re out getting Arras some clothes.  Damon insisted that she needed something other than a jumpsuit or my clothes to wear.”

“He’s helping her pick something out?”

“Honestly, I think he just might be a bit of a perv.”

 “And you’re left with the move,” Eli chuckled.

 Danny set the box down with a thud and a huff before sitting back carefully on the pile of his packed possessions.  He had stuffed all his belongings into four mid-size boxes, mostly clothes and bedding.  Despite the treatment Damon was giving him, Danny still wasn’t sure what was waiting for him in Manhattan.

“I forgot I even owned half this crap until I had to pack it.”

 “Moves are never easy,” Eli said, leaning over to see the already taped up boxes.  Looking away, he decided to just ask.

 “So they’re going to help you reverse what happened to the suit?”

 “They’re gonna try.”  Danny shook his head.  “I don’t even know how I did it.”

 “You seemed just fine at the start, but then…  Arras told Damon she was connected to your suit’s diagnostics at the time; she thinks you shut the suit down yourself.”

 “Yeah, well, it definitely wasn’t a conscious decision,” Danny muttered.

“What happened, Danny?”

“I saw my dad,” he said plainly.

Eli didn’t say anything, though he must have looked almost as taken aback as Danny had been in the woods.

“I saw him standing right there, and I just…”

“You’ll figure this out, Danny.”  All Eli could think to do was smile.  “I know it’s pretty lame to just say everything will be all right in the end—really, I’m not saying that.  But I do believe in you.”

Danny mustered a smile of his own.  “Thanks, Eli.”

“Will you be driving yourself, then?”

 “Damon’s apparently coming for us.  He says to leave the car here.  I don’t know where I can leave it, but…”

 With a shrug, Eli said, “You could leave it with me, if you like.”

 Danny looked back at him for a moment, processing what he had heard.  “I thought…  I thought Damon offered you a position, too.”

 “He did.”

 “And you declined?”

 Eli nodded.  The two of them stood there in silence for a while.

 “I don’t understand,” Danny said.  “Why’d you decline?  Are you staying here?”

 “I am.”

 “Let’s go talk to him again,” Danny insisted, getting up from his boxes.  “Maybe Damon will still hire you on—”

 “Danny,” Eli said, holding up a tender hand, “I told him I wasn’t coming.”

 Danny slumped back against the boxes, still trying to make sense of this.  Something about it didn’t feel real.

 “I know this isn’t great timing on my part,” Eli admitted, scratching at the back of his head, “especially considering the circumstances.”

 “Why aren’t you coming with us?”

 “Yesterday, Danny, when we were in the woods, when you and Arras did that test to try to reactivate the suit—the whole time I was on the verge of an anxiety attack.”

 “So was I!”

 “Yes, but…”  He looked away.  “I left there knowing that I would be of no use to you.”  Eli went quiet again before adding, “I have nothing to offer you or Arras at this point.  She has the skills and the knowledge; you have the suit.  As for me, I’m a physicist.  You won’t need a physicist where you’re going, not one like me anyway.”

 “Eli…”

 “You’re strong, Danny.  Strong enough to make this work.  Stronger than I could ever be.  You don’t need me.”

 With a sudden grin Eli stepped forward and pushed Danny by the shoulder.  “Come on now, it’s not like I’m saying goodbye.”

 “Still.”  Danny slumped a bit, suddenly feeling much heavier.

 “Even before you decided to move back to Fayette, I got comfortable with the idea that you would be gone.  I don’t mean that in a bad way or anything.  I’m just saying that this isn’t that different.”  His grin turned to a warm smile.  “This is your path to walk, not mine.  I came with you to the Macks’ house because I thought I could help.  I imagine there will come a point when Damon will need to take a step back, too.”

 “You sure you don’t want to come along?” Danny asked, cracking a smile for a second before it disappeared.

 “Guys like Damon and me, we’ve got work in the morning,” Eli said nonchalantly.  “You and Arras, though...  The only thing I can help you do now is carry those boxes downstairs.”

 Eli held out his hand to Danny.  “It’s been a lot of fun, Danny, it really has been.”

 Danny took his hand and the two embraced.

“Thanks for everything, Eli.”

 “Come on, then,” Eli said, pulling away and taking two boxes into his arms.  “Let’s take care of this and get you off to your new job, you corporate shill.”

 Danny felt his smile return.  “Whatever you say, you bleeding nerd.”

 “Mine was better.”

 “Get moving!”

 With the lights out and the door locked, they carried Danny’s things down the stairs and out to the edge of the parking lot.  It was there that Danny handed over his car key to Eli for safekeeping—he told Eli he’d be back for it eventually.

Though neither said it, they both knew: this would be the grand finale to their “one last hurrah.”

 Eli had already left by the time Damon and Arras showed up.  Pulling up to the curb in a black Lexus RX 350—what Danny guessed was the most recent model—the hatch rose on its own, waiting for its additional cargo.  Arras came out of the car to help, giving him an opportunity to see the aftermath of her shopping spree with Damon.  Danny guessed she had insisted on something nondescript; she wore a pair of plainspoken jeans, a button-up shirt, and a dark coat.

 “Do me a favor,” Arras said as they loaded his things into the trunk.  “Don’t let him take me out like that again.”

 “Whatever you say.”

 Closing the hatch, Arras looked back at the curb.

 “So,” she said, “Eli decided not to come after all.”

 “He told you he was on the fence?”

 “No,” Arras answered, heading back to the front passenger-side door.  “I just assumed this was how things would work out.”

 Danny decided to ignore her for the time being, not in the mood to start an argument.  Once he was buckled into one of the backseats, Damon drove the Lexus from the parking lot and back onto the road.

 “I take it we’re not taking the company jet,” Danny said to Damon, trying to break the silence anyway he could as they turned onto I-80.

 “Believe it or not,” Damon said, keeping his eyes on the road, “I absolutely despise flying.”

 “A chauffeur, then?”

 Damon laughed, another one of those booming laughs of his.  “I’ve always preferred to do things myself.”

 “This gives us some time to talk,” Arras said, keeping her own eyes forward as well.  “About your training, and our schedule.”

 “Schedule?”

 “If someone intended to wake me,” she continued, “we likely have a very limited window of opportunity to make our first move.  We’ve already spent almost two weeks.”

 “The goal is to train you as quickly as possible, Danny,” explained Damon.  “The plan is by no means perfect.  However, with Arras’ suggested timetable…”

 “How much time do we have before we make our first move, then?” Danny asked, leaning in between the two front seats.

 Still keeping her eyes forward, Arras stated simply, “One week.”

 “A week?”

 “Even a week will be pushing it.”

 “Maybe, but in the woods the other day, that was the first time I’ve ever even shot a gun!”

 “Damon will arm you,” Arras said.

 “And train you, rest assured,” Damon added quickly, eyeing Danny through the rearview mirror.

 “Reactivating and acquainting you with the suit is our first priority,” Arras continued.  “If you can sync with the suit to any stable degree, the rest should follow easily enough.”

 Danny felt as if he were knocked back in his seat by this update, almost as nervous as he had been when Arras chased him down with that Remington.

 “Honestly, I don’t think a week will be enough time,” said Danny.  He didn’t want to weigh things down any more than he already had, but he couldn’t help but wonder at the same time if Arras was being unrealistic in her expectations.

 “You’ll just have to make it work,” Arras said.  She leaned away and muttered something to herself, yet Danny could still hear every word.

 “We wouldn’t have to do this if you hadn’t put us in this mess.”

 Danny felt himself sink even deeper into his seat, unable to respond.  He decided not to, to just stay quiet for the time being.  Despite it all, he knew she was right.  Even if he hadn’t seen any of this coming when he dragged Eli out to those random coordinates, he still knew he was playing with fire.  He supposed that was the whole reason he went in the first place.  Feeling so cold and detached from reality, maybe he thought fire would ground him in the real world once again.

 Now that Eli was actually gone, he started to feel heavier again, as if he was too much for even himself, let alone Arras.  But how could he change that?  Whether it was his fault, even in part, he was still sitting there irrevocably tied to that suit.  There was no turning back.  Not anymore.  Maybe for Eli, but not for him.

 Damon spent some of the next four hours of the trip telling Arras and Danny what training program he had in mind, trying to fill in the awkward silence that had vacuumed out the car.  But it was no use.  Neither Arras nor Danny spoke the entire way to Manhattan, to Teleios headquarters.  To the next step in what was now their mission—the mission Danny had already messed up.