Arras kept low, only allowing her eyes over the edge of the rooftop; through the sighting scope Damon had provided her, she watched the warehouses across the Hudson River. Tilting the scope in various directions, she took note of the abnormal amount of individuals in the area. Though these people wore uniforms designating them employees of Teleios, she couldn’t remember so many people from the other times they had visited that particular corner of the district.
“Stay on your toes,” she whispered through her net. “There’s definitely more than Teleios employees down there.”
“Got it,” was all Danny said in reply.
Walking lightly, slowly, he didn’t trust Ridarin to muffle his footsteps. The suit’s isotropic cloak diverted the light from all sides around his body, like a river washing over a stone, rendering him mostly invisible. There was little chance of his body reflecting anything off itself, but minor fluctuations in the light coasting past his body made him nervous about anyone looking at him directly. Though he believed this would be enough, he still kept low as he shuffled from one corner to the next, avoiding getting too close to anyone.
He recognized the destination immediately, the very warehouse he had visited days before, after they had returned from their last op. Climbing up the side of the building, moving straight for the roof, his hands and feet sticking to the surface like magnets, though he climbed on brick.
On top of the building and in position, he peeked through some thin windows on the roof. He scanned over the warehouse’s overly spacious interior, and quickly found a dark outline on the ground where their container once was. Now all that remained in the otherwise empty building was a handful of people patrolling the area; Danny guessed they were more of the same people from the night before.
“What do you see?” Arras asked.
“The container’s not here,” Danny replied in a hushed voice, the confirmation leaving him feeling strangely out of breath. “Looks like they beat us to it.”
Arras didn’t reply for some time. Finally, she said, “All right—come back. We’ll need to report this to the others.”
They met up on the side of the river opposite the warehouses, at the foot of an office building. Though the area was busy, Arras preferred to do her reconnaissance from such a vantage point; if someone followed her, or tried pursuing her, she could easily disappear into the crowd. Danny only found her when she approached him near the building’s main entrance.
Together, they walked about a block and a half before turning into an alleyway. While Arras watched the way behind them, Danny armored his arm and lifted a manhole cover from the asphalt. Arras climbed in first, then Danny, who replaced the heavy metal cover as he went.
“Arras,” he said, catching back up to her ceaseless stride, “if they took the ship, then…”
“I know,” she replied, her eyes forward, already calculating their next move. “For now, we need to fill in Damon and Valiya.”
They weaved their way through a dark sewer, with only a cheap flashlight illuminating the way. Soon enough, sewer became subway, and they walked casually down an abandoned tunnel, trying not to trip over the unkempt tracks. Their destination was a small, abandoned platform, a couple blocks down.
Climbing over the platform’s ledge, off of the railway, they found Damon and Val waiting patiently.
“Well?” Damon probed, standing up from a rusted bench.
Arras only shook her head.
“The container’s gone,” Danny elaborated. “And there’re guys all over the place. They definitely have the ship.”
Damon turned away with a heavy sigh as Val joined them at the platform’s yellow edge.
“Can you locate it with your net, Arras?” Val asked.
“I don’t have the kind of connection I need to do that,” Arras said. “I’m guessing they don’t know how to activate the gunship, so there’s technically nothing for me to connect to. Not even my father could pinpoint it that way, not now.”
Arras then turned back to Damon, and said, “You told me it would be safe there.”
“You’ll have to excuse me for not expecting my own government to learn that I’m wrist-deep in alien technology,” Damon replied with a furrowed brow, not looking back at Arras. “That was some of my most privileged intelligence; the only people who knew the ship was there were you, Daniel, Valiya, and myself. Do you really expect me to plan for such a breach in security?”
“I expect you to keep safe the little ‘heirloom’ my father and I left to Asael and your family,” Arras fired back sharply. “If you can’t be expected to do that, then how do you expect to succeed Asael?”
“That’s enough,” Danny suddenly interjected, knocking both of them right out of their argument. “No one can deny this is a bad situation, but dicking around like this isn’t going to help. If we can’t even muster some damn teamwork, then we might as well go turn ourselves in now.”
“If we can’t locate the ship,” Val said to Danny, her suppressed distress beginning to come out, “then we don’t have a chance of getting to the next Rededication platform.”
“I know,” Danny said, trying to sound sympathetic.
He looked back at Arras and Damon, who still refused to look at one another.
“All this means is that we need to find the ship,” he told them. “That’s all there is to it.”
With his arms folded in thought, Damon tapped his fingers to his elbows. Finally, he capitulated, and said, “You’re right.”
Turning to Arras, he bowed his head slightly.
“I apologize, Arras, really. I spoke out of turn.”
“It’s fine,” Arras muttered. “I’m on edge, too… Sorry.”
“There we go!” Danny said, placing a hand heartily on each of them, as if to yank them from any leftover grievances they might have. “Was that so hard? Now, down to the nitt-gritty. Damon, you said those guys that came for us last night were FBI, right?”
“The men themselves, yes,” Damon replied. “The agents that arrested me and Valiya, certainly; and the equipment they used was all standard issue for the FBI. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the FBI itself is after us. Judging by what Arthur told us in Ithaca, my guess is he’s not tied to any particular agency or organization, not exclusively.”
“Would we be able to at least start with the FBI?” asked Danny. “Maybe they know where the ship is. At the very least, they might have the info laying around somewhere.”
“If the information is on a computer,” Val added, “then we might be able to use one of our nano-nets to extract it.”
“Doubtful,” Arras said bluntly. “Rudimentary as it is, they were able to locate Ridarin with its activations alone; I’d hate to see what they could do if we directly interfaced with one of their databases.”
“I’m afraid Arras is correct,” Damon said. “Activating Ridarin for small operations like today or last night is one thing, but if any of you try to connect to any federal database… Well, let’s just say they may be expecting such a move.”
“Like a needle in a haystack poking you in the finger,” Danny muttered as what he thought to be a good idea crumbled.
“You’ll need an alternative, then.”
When everyone realized that none of them had said this, they turned their heads sharply to the source. Down the dark tunnel, standing between the two lanes of tracks, a man watched them intently. Dressed in business-casual attire, he stood with dignified composure; once spotted, he approached.
Feeling her heart pound to life, Arras aimed her .45 at the man. Damon had already drawn his Glock, while Danny and Val took a few steps back.
Putting up his hands, the man smiled graciously at them, stopping where he was. Now in the light, he looked only slightly younger than Damon, though the deep grooves in his face witnessed that those fewer years were no less filled with experience.
“There’s no need for alarm,” the man said kindly, speaking with a deep, western European accent.
“I haven’t heard a voice like that in some time,” Arras said, not lowering her weapon.
“Is that right?” the man asked. “I suppose that makes sense; I’ll confess, I’m hopelessly fascinated to think what accents I might hear on whatever planet you hail from.”
“Not to be rude,” Damon interrupted, taking his place beside Arras, “but we’ve had one hell of a night already. You may want to cut to the chase, or we may simply assume you’re another insurgent.”
“Forgive me, but introductions are rather difficult in my line of work,” the man replied as he lowered his hands. “I’m from the Secret Intelligence Service. You may call me Virgil.”
“Secret Intelligence Service,” Arras repeated to herself, not recognizing the term as she compared it to the intel she had gathered from various corners of the internet.
“M-I-6,” Damon spelled out with a crooked smile, lowering his weapon.
Arras watched Damon from the corner of her eye, not nearly as confident.
“Why do I only have a few movies to associate with that name?” Arras asked Damon, speaking softly.
“This man, Arras,” answered Damon, “is from the intelligence agency of the United Kingdom. Though you may not recognize the name, he’s associated with a country your father and Asael used to know rather well.”
“Great Britain,” Arras breathed, almost flinching at the name as a thousand war stories and historical footnotes returned to her like a falling sack of bricks. Staring down her sights at Virgil, she felt as if she were meeting the fully-grown child of an old acquaintance.
“Why are you here?” Arras asked plainly, lowering her gun, while still keeping it at her side.
“Common goals, I suppose,” said Virgil. He gestured to the platform they were standing on. “May I?”
When no one stopped him, he moved to the edge and climbed up.
“As I understand it,” he went on, “you’ve all met with a terrible fate. The United States has decided that your weapon is better off in their possession. You disagreed, and even managed to convince Arthur Emmerich himself, at least for a time. Now things have changed, you’re on the run, and your only chance of completing your mission has disappeared into the ether.”
“How do you know so much?” Val couldn’t help but ask. “If you’re not with the United States, then how can you know all that?”
“A fair question, but one which would require more time to answer than any of us really have,” Virgil said almost apologetically. “Why don’t we just say that Her Majesty’s government is deeply interested in this particular affair?”
“Not good enough,” Arras answered, raising her .45 again.
“Arras,” Damon whispered over her shoulder, “let’s not be hasty.”
“This man walks in and says he’s on our side, and I’m supposed to trust him?” She took aim, though she kept her finger off the trigger. “If you want to help us, then you’ll need to contribute more than that.”
“You’re not the first little girl I’ve met who was ready and willing to pull the trigger on a perfect stranger,” Virgil said simply, his tone almost grim.
A long, heavy silence passed as Virgil stared into Arras’ eyes, as if studying her. Until that moment, she and her friends had been nothing more than faces on a computer screen; it was like the difference between the picture of a puzzle on its box, and the experience of finally putting the puzzle together. Something about seeing this girl in person left Virgil somewhat enchanted.
“I’ll give you what information I can,” he at last replied. “But I must warn you, we don’t have much time.”
“What’s the British government want with us?” Arras asked.
“It’s not so much that we’re interested in any of you. How do I put this? We understand your mission—as much as we believe is necessary—and we feel each of us now stands at a crossroads. In one direction is your exit off this world and your continuing mission to prevent our doomsday at the hands of Rededication. In the other direction, however, is an opportunity for the United States to acquire a doomsday weapon of its own. We’re more interested in the former than the latter.
“Truth be told, we’ve known about this country’s ‘extracurricular activities’ for decades now—what has only been referred to as ‘85-11’ on paper. The US first discovered the Coalition’s underground outposts at the end of World War II. When we learned of this project, and that the US was uninterested in sharing their findings with the rest of the world, my government decided it would be best to monitor 85-11 closely.”
“How do you know all this?” Arras asked. “Coalition; Rededication—how do you know those names?”
“The Americans have managed to pull more than specs from those facilities’ databases,” Virgil said. “Though it may sound odd, their past discoveries never really managed to unsettle my country. Most of what they’ve uncovered has been thoroughly researched and publicized through programs such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or the Future Soldier Initiative. However, due to recent developments…”
Virgil looked right at Danny as he said this.
“What we have,” Danny risked, locking eyes with Virgil, “I’m guessing it’s head and shoulders above what the US has ever seen, even from the Coalition.”
“You’re correct,” Virgil confirmed. “Now that the four of you and your suit—‘Ridarin’—have come onto the stage, the script has changed, so to speak. As I said already, my government doesn’t like that; we would much rather allow you to continue your assault on Rededication than let the US have its way. Ergo, here I am.”
“Can you tell us what happened between when we spoke to Arthur and last night?” Damon asked. “Do you know what changed?”
“I’m afraid we’re as much in the dark as you are there,” admitted Virgil, shaking his head. “This country now knows about the threat Rededication poses to our entire planet, and yet they would rather spend their resources hunting you down. No one seems able to ascertain why that may be; there’s intelligence SIS can uncover, and there are some things that are simply classified out of existence.”
“Then what good are you?” The question surprised almost everyone on the platform, mostly because it came from Danny. “It’s great that you want to help—that is, if you’re telling the truth. But we’re neck-deep here, and we could use more than encouragement.”
“How about the location of your spaceship, then?”
This seized everyone’s attention, though Virgil’s demeanor didn’t change a bit.
“SIS may not have all the answers to your dilemma, but we do have a few tricks up our sleeve.”
“Where is it?” Arras asked, letting her gun sink a little.
“That’s why I said we’re short on time.”
Virgil reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a phone, which he slid across the ground to Damon. On the screen, a number of security feeds from an airstrip played in real time.
“That’s the John F. Kennedy International Airport,” Virgil explained as Damon picked up the phone. “As we speak, a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is waiting to take your ship.”
“Where will they be heading?” Damon asked.
“Haven’t the foggiest idea,” Virgil said with a shrug. “We could theoretically track them, but I believe it would be in everyone’s best interests if you were to simply take the cargo before that plane can leave New England airspace.”
“We steal the ship back,” Danny said.
“If we use Ridarin’s stealth system,” Damon said softly to Arras, “we could get in and take the ship before anyone even knew we were there.”
“As I said, this is time-sensitive information,” Virgil said. “If you’re going to act, I’d be delighted to help, but you need to decide now. I can’t say exactly when, but I imagine that C-5 won’t stay where it is forever, not once it has what it came for.”
Virgil turned to step down from the platform, to give them some space to deliberate in private, but he was stopped short.
“Hang on,” Danny called to him. “I have to know… You’ve got all this intel. Can you tell me if my family’s alright, and Eli?”
Studying Danny, though looking unmoved as ever, Virgil considered his response carefully.
“Eli Vale was picked up about an hour before the FBI came for the rest of you,” he finally said. “Your mother and younger brother were taken shortly before him. I imagine they planned on using them as leverage against you, Daniel, but since you’ve escaped, it seems you’ve frustrated their plans.”
“Do you know where they are?” Danny continued, ignoring Virgil’s last statement.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t. We were fortunate to find the ship before it disappeared; I’m afraid your friend and family are already gone.”
Danny seemed almost paralyzed when he heard this. Soon enough, his frame sank and he came back to reality.
“I understand,” Danny said dispassionately, distantly. “Thanks for the update.”
As Virgil eased himself down from the platform, Danny moved for a concrete stairwell, far from the others. With his hand on his face, he looked down at the ground as he approached the blocked off stairs.
Both Val and Arras watched him from the platform’s edge.
“We’ll give him a moment,” Damon said, pulling their attention from Danny. “Then we’ll draw up our plan.”
Still, Arras couldn’t help but watch Danny. He paced aimlessly before leaning against the wall, giving her a good look at his face. It was a look she hadn’t seen on him before, though it was one she easily recognized—defeat. Irremediable defeat, egged on by fear.
Seeing him like this made her chest tighten, and her mind raced.