Prologue

 

“Are you ready?”

“Yes,” she said.  “Let’s go.”

They had chosen to meet in Aurin’s private corner of the outpost’s lab, a place where they could talk out of earshot of any passersby.  Because they couldn’t risk anyone overhearing what they were going to discuss.  Aurin had chosen a second layer of security for them.

He had a place they could talk.  A place where he could perhaps help Arras see what was coming.

They sat side by side in his office as Aurin took her hand in his, and their nano-nets interfaced with one another.  As their minds synchronized and accelerated, they created a closed neurological circuit between their two minds.  With this connection, their conversation would be hidden from everyone other than themselves.

Their private setting established, Aurin took his daughter into one of his own memories, one which he had kept to himself for some time.

Immersed in her father’s mind, Arras found herself surrounded by innumerable people, all dressed in the handmade clothing of a civilization far behind her own.  Though she wore the clothes of her own people, no one paid her any mind; this event had already come and gone, she could not interrupt or alter it.

She felt her father’s hand slip into hers again.  Aurin pulled her through the crowd, still in his lab clothes, walking her through the version of this event he had constructed for himself.

“Where are we?” Arras asked, looking around at all the people they passed, some on foot like her, some pulled in carriages by horses.

Along with the rolling wheels and the countless footsteps around them, her heavy shoes fell hard against the stony street.  Everyone around her seemed so alive, alight with excitement, as they convened before the face of a boxy building on the roadside.  The cubic structure, made from eggshell colored material, seemed rather small compared to the buildings Arras had seen in Coalition territories, even on the less developed planets and stations.  However, relative to the buildings adjacent to it, this one was sizeable, authoritative even.

“Welcome to New York City, my dear,” Aurin said, keeping his eyes forward, heading straight for the building.  “This is the Federal Hall of the newly formed United States of America.  The day is the thirtieth of April, 1789.”

Their surroundings told Arras this memory was rather recent; even so, those names and dates meant more to Aurin than they did to her.  As far back as she could remember, her father had studied these people as their unseen historian, taking meticulous notes from the shadows.  While Arras only saw another nation continually heaping ragtag wreckage over its shoulder as it sprinted blindly forward, Aurin saw so much more.  To him, even if these people were blind to what was ahead, it was a meaningful blindness, deliberate even.  And as they ran ahead, he collected the scraps they left behind in their historical wake, or perhaps that which had propelled them mindfully forward.  In any case, from the moment he had first encountered them, Aurin had been enthralled by the Americans.

Aurin stopped a short distance from the building, where another iteration of himself already stood—a relatively shadowy recollection compared to the rest of the world around him, as if he himself had no meaning in this memory.  Next to him on that day stood Asael Mack, looking as thrilled as anyone else, though his excitement seemed accented by an air of satisfied prescience, as if there was some privileged information that he alone knew.

“Do you know much about their revolution?” Aurin asked Arras, looking at his old recollection of Asael before turning almost prayerfully to Federal Hall.

Thinking carefully, all she could remember were the passionate reports her father had shared with her and Ila when they were younger.  Not much else had kept up with her, let alone such details, what her commanding officers considered merely trivial.  She felt as if she had forgotten a great many things since she had entered the Rededication program.

Catching sight of her gloomy eyes, Aurin put his arm around her.

“These people and their predecessors began as colonists, coming from various lands an entire ocean away, seeking a new world of sorts,” he told her.  “They were looking for a place where they could recreate the world in an entirely new way.  However, these people in particular—these Americans—were connected to a distant parliament, a body of men who decided on their laws and regulations.  The American colonists felt as if they were faceless to their parent-empire, merely objects in motion to be manipulated at another’s whim.  And so they rebelled.”

Nodding to Asael, who had not pried his eyes from the upper level of Federal Hall, Aurin smiled gently.  “They gave so much, sacrificed so much.”  Eagerly, he pointed to where Asael had been looking, to a balcony on the upper half of the building.  “And here is part of the result.”

Following her father’s finger, Arras could see a group of men all gathered on the balcony, standing beneath a knotted banner of red, white, and blue.  Most of them in fine apparel, they had turned themselves to one man among them.  Wearing a plain, brown suit, fidgeting where he stood, with a hand shoved uncomfortably in his pocket, Arras watched as this modestly clad man was addressed by the others around him.

“His name is George Washington,” Aurin explained as Arras took in the sight.  “They’ve since won their revolution, and their new government is now mostly established.  And Washington has been selected as the first leader of their new country.”

Arras watched the ceremony proceed.  At one point, she could see Washington lean down to a large book, bestowing a gentle kiss on the volume’s auburn cover.

“Asael said it was like watching a man kiss an epitaph,” Aurin muttered, watching the scene unfold further.  “Many of these people believe in a super-intelligent being, a god.  Some believe this god created their world, then set it in motion like a finely crafted timepiece, never interfering with its movements.  Some even believe that this god died almost two millennia ago, somewhere in a distant land.  Asael taught me this—he taught me about his people, who live with an absent or dead creator.”

Falling silent, Aurin led Arras through the front doors of Federal Hall, unhindered, following on the heels of his past self, Asael, and a small number of privileged others.  Separating themselves from the ten thousand waiting on the street, Arras and Aurin entered the Senate chamber, finding Washington already giving a speech to the smaller audience.

Arras leaned against her father, enjoying the warmth of his continued embrace.  Rededication had taken her for two years now, and most of the time she was limited to communicating with her family through scant text transmissions.  And the first time she saw them face to face again, she broke down.  Weeping in front her father and mother, she let them in on the heavy truths of the Rededication program—only to find they already knew.

They held her while she cried.  It felt much the same as her father holding her then, in that old building in New York.

“Why did you want to show this to me?” Arras asked.

Washington’s words faded into the background as her father’s memories let them have their moment.  Looking up at Aurin, she could see his eager smile had melted into something gentler, more composed.

“Asael Mack is a bit of a heretic,” Aurin admitted, glancing back at the memory of his old friend, “but I believe he woke me up to what these people hungered for—and what our people could have.  When you returned to us, your mother and I asked you a question.  Do you remember what it was?”

Her eyes cast down to the floor, Arras recalled the question easily.  It hadn’t left her since she first heard it.

“ ‘What would the world look like without Rededication or the prime family’?” she repeated verbatim.

“Have you given it any thought?”

“Every day, since you asked.”

“And do you have an answer?”

“I don’t...  Honestly, I really don’t know what the world would look like without them.”

“Exactly.”

Aurin let her go, bringing his arms down to his sides.  “Asael may seem strange, even to his own, but he’s shown me how his people see the world.”  He looked into the crowd of white-wigged men listening to Washington.  “These men believe in an ultimate being who created this world, yet many of them also believe that that being doesn’t meddle in the affairs of human beings.  This god is not absolute, but absent.  For many, such an idea might seem sacrilegious, or perhaps just bleak.  Yet these men, and others like them, saw it as an invitation.”

“I don’t understand,” Arras said, looking back and forth between Aurin and the audience.  “An invitation to what?”

Chuckling, Aurin said, “We never did raise you or your sister with any sense of superstition or religion.  Let me put it another way: these people believe in a god who formed the world, and who then handed the world over to itself.  This god doesn’t touch its creation, doesn’t affect it, doesn’t shape it, or give it meaning.  And thus they live in a world of radically infinite freedom, an open space in which they can create… well, anything.”

“And so you want to recreate our own world the same way they did?” Arras asked.  “What would that even look like?”

“That’s why I brought you here, Arras, why I’m showing you all this.  You understand that we want to destroy Rededication, but I want you to understand more than anything just why we want that.”

He looked down at his daughter, still smiling with that same control as before.

“In essence, my dear, these people have cast off any notion of the Absolute, whether it be their ancestral lands, the parliament that sought to bring them into line, or even their gods.  And in casting away the Absolute, they freed themselves to be whatever they wanted to be.”

“What are you saying?”

“Your mother and I,” Aurin went on, taking Arras’ hand in his once again, “we don’t intend to create anything.  Rededication has already twisted our world into something dark and grotesque, something so few have dared to protest, something that’s affected all of us—especially you, my dear.”

Arras held his hand in both her hands, returning to that day she had broken down in front of him.  “What do you want, then?”

Unexpectedly, he put his arms around her and held her close, the very same way he had held her after her confession.

“I want to give you, and Ila, and your mother—and everyone else—real freedom.  I don’t want to make a new world, because it’s not for me to make, not on my own.  What I want is for everything around which we’ve forcibly ordered our world to be abolished, so that humanity can remake the world in whatever image it may choose.”

“I already told you I would help,” Arras breathed into his coat, holding back the same tears from before, her training leaving her, her guard dropping.  “I promise, I’ll do what I can.”

Arras leaned back and looked into his face, seeing that tender look in her father’s eye, the kind of look that came with tears of his own.  They weren’t tears over Rededication; rather, he wept for what it had done to his daughter.

“I know,” Aurin whispered.  “You’ve already seen people die, even innocent people.  Our mission won’t make that go away.  You might even see me and your mother die.  I just want you to know why…”

Smiling warmly down at her, he asked her one more question.

“Arras, do you know the story of Ridarin?”