Chapter 23

 

 “Where does that leave us?” asked one of the rebel leaders, surveying the faces of the other men around him; no one in the conference room seemed willing to address the obvious, so he guessed he might as well be the one to bring them back to reality.  “We tried peaceful methods, and we failed.  What else is there to say?”

“We haven’t failed at all,” Visk countered in a composed tone.  “As you yourselves have observed, we have indeed made progress with the proxies.”

“Hardly,” the same man scoffed.  “Out of those fifteen men and women, only six have stopped to hear what we have to say; and of those six, only two seemed to actually listen.  This is ostensible failure.”

Though the commander stared down this particular leader—some militiaman by the name of Aklus, who had climbed the ranks in some rural space colony—he wasn’t willing to let this descend into a debate.  All things considered, Visk agreed with him: the way things were now, they had indeed failed to meet their goal.  However, he disagreed with the others as to what that might mean.  While the leaders around him had indeed seen combat, people who weren’t in a New Pact military uniform spoke more often from fear than objective analysis.  That wasn’t to say that neither Visk nor his fellow soldiers were afraid—just that they knew how to work with it.

“Commander Visk, Master Aklus—if I may,” said the only other leader in the room, a woman dressed in civilian clothes.  She was a newer member of the council, named Tromas, who had come from a mining community in an asteroid belt.  “I am inclined to agree with Master Aklus in that we have indeed been unable to convince the remainder of the College.  However, I also agree with Commander Visk; though we have yet to convince the proxies, this does not we couldn’t still change the tide with more time.  Perhaps, if we rethink our approach—”

“We can change our approach all we want,” Aklus cut in.  “That won’t change the fact that none of these people will ever agree with what we have to say.  Really think about it for a second: they’ve organized their entire lives around this one idea, that Rededication will save not only them but the union.  Does anyone here actually think we can step in, demolish their entire paradigm, and replace it with our own in the time we have?”

Neither Visk nor Tromas could bring themselves to counter his point.  Though they decided to keep the number of leaders involved directly involved in this operation to a minimum—only these three, Visk included—they would be enough to represent the mind and will of the rest of the movement.  Their silence truly indicated something, which Visk resented and Tromas found repugnant, but which all three of them knew was undeniable.

“I’m not saying our original plan was wrong, or even foolish,” Aklus conceded, starting to ease up, “but I think we all came aboard this ship knowing exactly how things were going to end.  We may have tried to bring peace through dialogue, but I think we all know that we came here for just one thing.”

Tromas didn’t want to admit it, but she agreed, even if reluctantly.

“I’m afraid he’s right, Commander,” she said.  “While the alternative is vicious, it seems we have no other option.  We’ve knowingly worked ourselves into a corner…  At least we knew what was waiting for us.”

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Visk risked showing a little weakness as he sank into one of the chairs, leaning against the conference table.

Looking down the length of the table at the only exit in the room, he could remember the day he first laid eyes on them.  Arras had seemed so brash in the beginning, chewing out Endriss like it was nothing, yet Visk had met few people with her kind of control or skill.  And Danny, always shuffling around like an animal who knew he was in the crosshairs—in spite of that, however, his loyalty was extraordinary, and he was obviously more cunning than he let on.

Everything Ekren relayed to them as that day played out left Visk with no other conclusion than this: if anyone could destroy Rededication, it would be Arras and Danny.

So why did he feel so empty thinking that?  Why did what he had placed so much hope in now seem so utterly vain?  For a second, staring at that door, he thought they might step right back into that room—with news of their success.

“Commander,” Tromas said, placing her hand on his shoulder, gently guiding him from his daydream.  “Commander, are we in agreement?”

First looking at her hand, Visk then turned to the roundel spinning on the wall across the room: the New Pact fleet’s insignia, with the crest of Ila’s Voice superimposed over it—with that one delicate quote the first reformers of the Coalition swore came from the young Enqelin girl herself.

We can create a world where people are free to be what they are.  Until then…

“Until then…” Visk repeated to himself.

“Commander?” Tromas asked, having only partially heard him.

“When all of this is finished,” Visk said to them both, still staring into those words as they sailed across the wall, “do you think…  Do you think she would be proud of what we’ve done here?”

“Excuse me?” Aklus asked, also unable to make out what the commander had said.

“It’s nothing,” said Visk, rising from his seat.  “We’re in agreement.  There’s no other way left.  However, when we do this…”  He took a peek back at the wall, then fixed his eyes squarely on Tromas and Aklus.  “Let’s remember why we’re doing this in the first place.”

The three of them traded sober nods, and the meeting was dismissed.

Tromas and Aklus left first, followed by Visk, who stopped when he saw Endriss leaned against the wall.  The two of them caught sight of one another, and the master of the guard approached his commanding officer.

“With all due respect,” Endriss began, “judging by the look on your face, I’d say you and the others have decided we need to move on.”

“I’m sorry, Keitimas,” Visk confessed, the pain in his heart evident.

“I can hardly complain,” Endriss said.  “After all, it’s not like anyone will be surprised to hear the decision.”

“I know you supported these attempts at negotiation from the start…”

“My own idealism getting in the way of everyone else’s pragmatism—that’s all there is to it.”

For the first time in a while, Visk managed a smile.  “You’re a good man, and a damn fine soldier.  It’s an honor to serve with you.”

Straightening up, standing at attention, Endriss saluted with respect.

“Likewise, Commander.”

“I’ll be giving the order shortly,” Visk said as he turned the other way, starting down the corridor.  “My offer goes to you as much as anyone else.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, sir,” Endriss called after him in the tone of a junior officer.

Visk looked back at him one last time before resuming his stride.

“A good man, indeed,” he sighed to himself.

As he stepped onto the command deck, the nearest officers stopped to salute him.  Waving them back at ease, he proceeded to the comm officer’s station.

“Patch me through to the entire ship, as well as the rest of the battle group,” Visk commanded.  “Leave out the section with our guests—this announcement won’t be for them.”

“Yes, sir.”

Taking up an old radio, Visk pressed the switch and opened the channel open.  Gradually, as he listened to the static of an aging technology, the eyes of his men fell upon him, their work slowing until it reached a halt.  Taking a deep breath, he began what would be his keynote speech, beginning the operation no one wanted to undertake—but which might indeed save their world, or at least give it a chance to live on.

“This is Commander Visk to all loyal vessels and their crews—

“As each of you know, we began this mission with one goal in mind: to bring lasting peace to the New Pact.  We prepared scrupulously, lost lives in the process, mourned with loved ones, and ultimately bled and wept for a better world…”

The words built up inside him like a flood, and he struggled to express them through his own narrow language.  But the pressure built nonetheless, until the flood took over, and he allowed himself to be broken open.

“Today, we stand at the threshold of that better world.  We hold in our hands the opportunity to fashion something new, something good for the generations that will follow us.  The truth is, none of us will likely see the dawn of that new day; we’ll live and we’ll die in the midnight hour.  But our efforts and our deeds this day will be the bricks future generations will use to build their own new world.  We will give them what they cannot give themselves: a chance to be free.

“Not long ago, Felicity and its capital compound were attacked from within, and this revolution began.  Some may have thought we accomplished such a feat on our own, but they’re wrong.  We may have initiated things, but there were two more souls who gave us the opening.  That day our world, the New Pact, was introduced to myths and legends: Arras Enqelin and her comrade Danny.  We’ve not since forgotten them, nor dare I say will we ever.  As suddenly as they appeared in our world, however, they disappeared, and for many of us, our hope seemed to go with them.

“But they are alive, and as we speak they are locating one platform after another, demolishing them as they go.  The very day they left, they rode out of sight on the wave of a hypernova, taking a chunk of Rededication with them.  We’ve been the instruments of the College and New Pact ever since, locating and securing platforms like the one you see outside our vessels.  Who knows?  Perhaps, if we remain here long enough, we may just see those two again, and be privileged to watch them annihilate this installation as well.”

Though the crewed remained silent, Visk felt as if he were addressing each of them face to face.  Their collective spirit seemed to fill the entire battle group and all therein, funneling back into him.  And as the words came and went, he knew he was sharing them not with comrades or friends—but with brothers and sisters.

“Rededication will fall,” he said with utmost certainty.  “It will shatter to pieces, never to be heard from again.  But that won’t free us.  That won’t bring our new world, that won’t save our children and their children.  That will be up to us.  Arras and Danny will save us from the monsters looming in the dark, but we ourselves will have to deal with what’s left here and now.  So please take heart, stay strong, and remember that hope you felt when we first received news of the Enqelin daughter who outlived death, and her crimson knight.

“You know how this will proceed.  We’ve prepared for this.  Let’s not stop here.  Let’s keep moving.  Let’s walk the next generation all the way to the new day… where we will rest, and they will at last be free.”

With a click, the channel closed, and the silence all around took over.  Visk surveyed the command deck, finding every person present captivated.

“All officers!” called one of the men on deck, bringing himself to attention, standing tall and proudly.  “Commander on deck!”

A wave of stomping boots and shifting bodies resounded as one officer after another saluted.  They all stood still for what felt like an eternity, until at last Visk returned the salute.  Without any pomp or frill, the crew returned to their duties, needing no outward signs to convey the respect which they held for the commander who had stoked an indomitable fire.

Standing at the center of the deck, right where he needed to be, Visk felt a spirit which had not been there since they had taken the proxies.  Something indeed had changed in everyone, including himself, and he hoped it would be enough.  He had meant every word he had said, every last one, but that did not change the fact that he was about to lead his people into absolute darkness.

“Until then,” he muttered softly from the center of the deck.  “Until then…”