It seemed like a pitifully ragtag planning session, standing in the darkened shack over a cell phone screen, examining the layout of Nellis Air Force Base. However, no one present felt the slightest urge to back out now.
“We’ll keep things relatively simple,” Virgil explained, stroking his fingers over the phone’s screen, identifying certain places on the air base as he spoke. “Valiya will drop us at the outside perimeter, ascend in stealth mode, and await further instructions.”
“Get me a landing zone, and I’ll just need a few seconds to touch down,” she said with a nod.
“Daniel will take Damon and me from the drop site to the base proper,” Virgil continued. “With Aurin’s layout of the underground, we should be able to infiltrate and locate our targets.”
“Meanwhile,” Danny repeated, confirming that he understood his role, “I raise hell outside and keep everyone distracted.”
“But what about you, Damon?” Val asked. “Will your leg be all right?”
With a reassuring smile, he held up his cane. “I’m a little embarrassed to admit Asael’s cane is more of a memento than an aid. But I’ll bind my knee up properly and play through any pain.”
“That just leaves us with one issue,” Virgil stated. “Even with Daniel outside ‘raising hell,’ it’s highly unlikely they’ll send in personnel from the underground portions of the base to respond. The distraction will be enough to get us into the base and out, I’m sure, but in the interim…”
“Once you’re in,” said Aurin, manifesting himself, wearing an almost vicious grin, “you’ll have me. They never saw me coming when I took a peek at their secret little clubhouse the first time. They sure won’t know what hit them when I start messing with what I found.”
“Will a deranged quantum computer be enough to get you where you need to go?” Danny asked Virgil and Damon.
With a nonchalant shrug, Damon hummed his approval. “We’ll manage somehow.”
“Is everyone in agreement, then?” Virgil asked, looking up from the phone, waiting until he received a response from each of them.
“All we need to know is when the hostages are out,” Danny said. “Once you’re on your way back, I’ll clear the LZ for Val and see you off. You leave me behind… and I’ll make sure I take care of what they’re hiding down there.”
“At the risk of stating the obvious,” Damon said, “I believe this can’t be repeated enough.” All eyes were on him, then. “If we go through with this, and if we succeed, each of us will be branded as traitors and terrorists, enemies of this country. Virgil should be all right, assuming the US still doesn’t know SIS is involved; and Arras and Valiya should be fine, considering they were never citizens of this country, let alone this world. But you, Daniel, and your family… The moment we free them from that base, they’ll never be able to return to their normal lives.”
Bowing his head, accepting the severity of it all, Danny said, “I know. There’s no real hope of giving them back their old lives now, and I’m partially to blame for that. Hell, it may actually be all my fault. But I can’t leave them there. And we can at least give them some kind of life, something outside of whatever rundown prison they’re in now.”
“Once we’ve safely extracted the hostages,” Virgil added, his voice low, reverent even, “I can see to their relocation. It will be difficult, but my people can keep them safe and hidden from anyone who might come looking. We can offer you the same, Damon.”
“I would appreciate the assistance,” Damon said gratefully. “I was getting tired of corporate life anyway.”
“That’s all we can do now,” Danny conceded. “We’re past the point of no return. All that’s left is to pick up what pieces we can, and finish off Rededication, including the Infinitude of Truth. After this op, we’ll drop all of you somewhere in the UK where you can reconnect with your people. From there, Val, Arras, and I will leave Earth… indefinitely.”
“I hate to interrupt the heartfelt speeches,” Aurin interjected, “but we have less than two hours before they execute my daughter. Could we please go commit our acts of treason now?”
“I’m ready, if everyone else is,” Danny said.
“Me, too,” Val added.
Damon and Virgil nodded their assent.
Together, they left the shack, preparing for their trip to the launch site, and ultimately to Nellis—then to places as yet unknown.
Danny asked Virgil about MI6’s plans for disposing of the safe house as the two of them gathered weapons and other gear from an outside cache, buried a foot under the soil. As they dug, Damon pulled Val aside.
“What is it?” she asked.
Damon handed her the tablet from which he had been reading the other night.
“I want you to take this,” he said, showing her how to open the texts he had been reading before—scans of worn, beige pages, written out by hand. “These are all of Asael Mack’s journals. I’ve saved myself a copy elsewhere, which I hope to take with me to my new life after this, but I wanted you to have this copy.”
“I— I’m flattered,” Val said, taking the tablet, somewhat confused. “But why me?”
“You could call it a purely selfish reason,” Damon admitted, “but there are a few nobler ones. It’s been a great privilege and pleasure getting to know you as well as I have, Valiya, and I wanted to leave you something to remind you of the experiences you had here on Earth. Once this is finished, we’ll part ways and likely never see each other again. So let this serve as a sort of forget-me-not for our inconsequential planet.”
With burgeoning enthusiasm, as well as gratitude, Val looked fondly into the tablet. Playing with its responsive surface, she felt like she was holding a significant relic.
“Asael Mack was a little unorthodox by his contemporaries’ standards,” Damon explained, “but many of the lessons I’ve learned in my life I’ve found in those journals. I hope they might be of some use to you and your people as you create your new world out of Rededication’s remains.”
Holding back some tears, Val felt warm, holding the thin device close, rehearsing to herself her four months on Earth. She had been depressed for so long, and she still struggled against those feelings, but she wouldn’t trade her experiences on this out-of-the-way planet for anything. The time she had spent with Damon, Danny, and Arras—the three people who, despite whatever other difficulties they may have had, still fought to give Val and her people the opportunity to do exactly as Damon had said. They had given her the opportunity to rebuild her world with Rededication’s broken body.
“Thank you, Damon,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. “I’ll keep it safe, and I’ll treasure it forever. Your ancestor’s wisdom won’t go to waste among my people. Thank you for everything.”
A little taken off guard by the sudden embrace, Damon wrapped his arms around Val.
“Consider it a gift,” he said, beginning to smile somewhat slyly. “I did say there was a somewhat selfish reason to this as well—what I wouldn’t give to have Asael Mack be one of the few figureheads to represent Earth to your civilization.”
Laughing at his dry humor, Val stroked a tear from her eye.
“Why don’t we go with the more heartfelt reasons, okay?”
Damon smiled down at her, reaffirming without words his sincerity.
“I’m the one who should be thanking you, by the way, for everything you’ve taught me,” he told her. “Not only about your people, but their own wisdom as well. It, too, will hopefully not be wasted on my people… or, at least the people I’ll be around when MI6 relocates me.”
“I hope you enjoy your new home, Damon.”
“You as well, Valiya.”
“Hey, you two!” Aurin yelled from the hood of the car, standing high and proud over Danny and Virgil. “Move it or lose it. We’ve got things to blow up.”
Val and Damon rejoined the others, piling into the Altima, with Virgil at the wheel. Pulling away from the old shack, each of them felt as if they were leaving behind an old home for good. Though that safe house had only been their shelter for a few days, it seemed to represent so much more—their old lives, as well as the lives of Arras, Eli, Laura, and Milo. Driving out into wilderness, into uninhabited countryside, the fact that they were setting out for parts unknown became all the more real for each of them with every passing mile.
Within the hour, their ship touched down on an open hillside, with no one around for miles. Everyone boarded the vessel, opening up the containers of equipment under the panels of the rear-cabin’s deck. Damon and Virgil dressed themselves in old Coalition tactical gear, feeling surprisingly comfortable in the uniforms. Val slipped into a tac vest of her own, preparing her weapon, before strapping into the pilot’s seat. Danny, suited up to the neck, took his seat next to her as Damon and Virgil hesitantly strapped themselves in for their first ride in anything like a spacecraft.
Val brought the ship quickly up to escape velocity, skipping the vessel across the upper atmosphere like a pebble on a lake. A trip that normally would have taken several hours took them only a few minutes, reentering the atmosphere somewhere over the desert on the northeast outskirts of Las Vegas Valley.
With the ship’s stealth mode active, they flew in undetected, landing only two miles outside of Nellis. Danny, Damon, and Virgil disembarked, and Val took the ship back into the air, up to the exosphere to await their call.
Extending his own isotropic cloak around Virgil and Damon, Danny felt positively electrified. While he had needed to keep Arras close the last time he had done this, Virgil and Damon now had far more leeway in how far they could step from Ridarin before leaving the cloak’s cover. For whatever reason, Danny felt no restraint, nothing to hold him back. Though he still couldn’t see or hear Suo, he felt as if they were totally in sync with one another.
Moving quickly, keeping conscious of their time limit, Danny led Virgil and Damon the rest of the way into Nellis, where they planned to have their last hurrah on Earth.