Chapter 4

 

Music wafted through the room, the far-reaching voices of several singers, all lost in the tunes and languages of pre-history.  They shared a conversation with one another, acting out a nearly forgotten myth, a story which used to shape the lives of the ancients, but which now served as nothing more than Nulem’s servile comforter.

Lying on his side in bed, he held a robe of blue and black close to his body.  Bringing the collar to his face, he breathed in the lingering scent; her clothes still carried some remnants of her presence.

He could remember vividly the mornings he would wake up at her side, her bare body half-hidden beneath the covers.  She was always the second to wake after having spent the night, as if so at home with him.  Running his fingers down the silky robes, he thought of her still—the first night they had spent together, and the day when they had chosen to become a family.  They had even chosen the name for their new family; he had wanted nothing more than to share a name with her, a name they had chosen together.

Right then, he could feel peace—a peace easily taken.

Just as vividly, he remembered the crimson blurs he had seen overhead that day in the silo, watching the guards fall like stars as a god seemed to establish its dominion.  Then the fall, landing over that terrible woman, taking her—and even taking his lover with him.  And yet that must not have been enough for such a vicious god.

Squeezing handfuls of the clothes in his arms, he remembered Valiya, how she had looked that evening, that spirit in her eyes.  Deception, entangling her with that evil woman and her war-machine.

“Arras Enqelin,” Nule mouthed to himself, “Ekren Apya, Danny…”

As she ran with them from the silo, he held out his hand to her, reaching for her—yet she never seemed to look back.  In a merciless instant, she was gone.

“Arras Enqelin, Ekren Apya, Danny…”

The announcement of an incoming call pulled Nule from his fantasy, bringing him back to that bed.  Returning to reality, he realized he was reaching out to the empty side of their bed.

“Valiya…”

Answering the call through his net, one of his assistants spoke immediately.

“Master Proxy, I’m sorry to disturb you, but the College is convening now.  They’ve located another platform.”

That was all he needed to say.  Nule ended the call and forced himself to sit up.  Looking back down at the robe, draped over the bed as she would have been, he pulled himself from a sea of memories and dreams.

Escorted by a regiment of heavily armed guards, he made his way to the main capital building.  No one in the College had been safe since the last major strike on the Felicity compound, and with a number of guerrilla strikes having occurred in the city beyond the facility, no proxy had been allowed to travel alone—not without enough “security” to fight a small war.

Nule found Visum waiting for him outside the theater chambers, his own guards keeping a tight perimeter.

“You’re late, Nulem.  Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Nule replied halfheartedly, not bothering to look at Visum.  “I’m just running a little behind.”

“Well, come along, then.  They’ve located the next platform, but it doesn’t look promising…”

“A repeat performance, then?”

“We’ll soon find out.”

They entered the theater, where there were waves of seats, half of which were occupied by bodies of black and blue or green—the main College and the lower echelons.  Over the open floor at the front of the theater, a detailed three-dimensional scene was already underway: soldiers in crouched stances, their weapons raised, made their way through what appeared to be a dark, cluttered hangar bay.

Visum led Nule to one of the rows in the back, taking a seat and immediately syncing with the rest of the College to view the operation firsthand through one of the soldiers.  Nule, however, remained where he was.  As the rest of the room left their bodies for somewhere else, entire star systems away, far outside charted New Pact space, he decided to watch the scene with his own natural eyes.  Relishing the moment a little, he enjoyed the fact that in a room of a few dozen others, he could still be entirely alone.

A few rows ahead, sitting upright despite having essentially left his body, Nule recognized the latest addition to the College, the one they had elected to replace Valiya.  His name was Kashmar Thiossus, or something like that; Nule didn’t care much, especially since the College had been spread so thin lately.  Most of the people observing this scene were not even physically present but had linked through their nets and quantum comm.  Many of the proxies had gone into hiding after they realized what Arras Enqelin and her cohorts were capable of—anything from violent mutinies to detonating an entire star, with no regard for the consequences.  And when it was suggested that the terrorists may have survived the hypernova, no one of high authority felt safe.  However, there was some silver lining: after the attack on Felicity, the College had come to unanimous agreement concerning Rededication and its necessity.

Turning his attention back to the operation, he watched the soldiers walk as if in place as their surroundings slid by.  Despite his desire to be away from the other proxies, his heart was still one with theirs: he hoped this would be the one, the platform that would turn their world’s catastrophe around.  This was the third platform they had located, however, and this one seemed no different than the previous two.

“Arras Enqelin, Ekren Apya, Danny…”

Their names were more like an incantation at this point.  Initially he had chanted them out of rage alone, a desire to never forget his real enemies.  Yet now, after the repeated failures, even after successfully decoding one set of coordinates after another, these names spurred him forward.  In an ironic way, they gave him hope—or, at least a sense of urgency.  The battle group to witness the destruction of the first discovered platform had indeed confirmed that the platform was active, and if Arras and her accomplices could activate a platform, so could they.

The survey team entered the containment room for the suit and the platform’s resident AI.  With the College seemingly on the edge of their seats, the soldiers surrounded the suit as a duo of technicians tried to sync with the terminals.  Several tense seconds ticked away before the technicians passed along the bad news—second verse same as the first.

Amidst groans and sighs, the proxies returned to their theater, commiserating with one another.

When Visum returned, he found Nule still scowling into the three-dimensional scene.

“Try as we might,” Visum said, “we seem to be missing something.  I’m not worried, though.  I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Nulem didn’t respond; he only watched as the soldiers secured the room and the technicians began preparations for a permanent military presence aboard the installation.

“Though we can’t revivify any of the platforms yet,” Visum continued, “we mustn’t give up our hunt.  And, with some effort, we may one day even cross paths with…”

He trailed off, watching Nule from the corner of his eye, the young man’s scowl melting into a look of sadness.

“Maybe so,” Nule sighed, more to himself than Visum.  “But when we do, will she still be the Valiya we used to know?”