Some secrets are buried for the good of all. Others are meant to be rediscovered when the need is dire and the time is right.
— Erich Quizibian, c. 5067 PD
16 Decem, 5249 PD
“He’s with us,” Rachel said, crossing her arms. “That’s something, right?”
Frederick nodded slightly. “It certainly is. We’ll have to leverage it for all it’s worth, though, and at this point I’m not sure how much that will be.” The former Commonwealth inspector frowned and shook his head. “It’s all in worse shape than I imagined.”
“How’s that?” Grant asked, turning away from the windows and toward his old friend. “How is it worse?”
Frederick exhaled, rubbing his forehead. “I somehow wanted to believe that things would get better, that the Inspector General’s office and the Commonwealth government would see sense and start to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves—that the regulations that bind the congloms would somehow be better enforced.
“I was wrong. I suppose I always knew I was wrong, but I held out hope. Now it’s completely in my face and it’s disheartening.” His lips thinned. “While he—and Sephora—are on our side, how can we know that they’ll find support back at the heart of the Commonwealth?”
“We can’t,” Rachel said. “We’re on our own. We’ve always been on our own.”
“Truth,” Frederick said softy. “I suppose I never wanted to believe it.” His gaze slid toward Grant. “You’re right,” he said after a moment. “It’s time to start reassembling the database. It may already be too late.”
Grant frowned, leaning back in his chair. “How many of the components have already made it here?”
“Six of the nine,” Adam said, joining the conversation without looking up from the reports spread across the kitchen table in front of him. “Two are on base, one’s hidden at one of our other bases, and three are hidden elsewhere on private property.”
“That leaves three unaccounted for,” Grant said. “Which ones?”
“Blue, Infrared, and Green.” Adam glanced up for a moment. “I have Red and Ultraviolet on base here. Purple’s on the other coast.” His eyes drifted back to his reports. “And looking at the strength reports, I’m not sure I’ve got anyone I can spare right now to send after the other three.”
“Where did we hide those ones?” Frederick asked, brow arching.
“Infrared’s still on Mimir.” Adam exhaled a sigh. “We couldn’t get it out. Aidan’s the only one who knows where Blue is. Green is on Catullus III in a vault.”
“Why the hell did we leave one on Catullus III?” Grant asked, blinking. Rachel snorted.
“Because we gave it to Adam to hide. He took it with him when he was doing some final negotiations for weapons systems with Icarus Munitions.” She leaned against the back of her husband’s chair, running her palm across his shoulders. “What’s our disposition with Icarus these days?”
“Dara Verrit is on the board these days. I think we’re all right.” Adam’s brow wrinkled slightly as he looked up again. “But we won’t know until someone goes there and tries to use our deposit key to get what we left in their bank out again.”
“And we don’t have anyone to spare, you said,” Frederick said.
“We don’t.” Adam looked back down at the reports. “We’re already short bodies to defend this planet. We’re trying to find a way to delicately ask for volunteers without sounding desperate and without things sounding dire.”
“But they are dire,” Rachel said softly.
“Of course they are.” Adam leaned back in his chair, massaging his brow. “But that’s the one thing we don’t want to let on to, isn’t it?”
“What about Alana?” Grant asked. “She’s technically retired.”
“She’s a mess,” Adam countered, shaking his head. “Has she even turned up again?”
Rachel nodded. “I saw her come back into town with her camping gear when I was on my way home. I’m not sure what kind of shape she’s in, though—you never know with her.”
“She’s a mess,” Adam repeated. “And she will be until that arm heals. I’m not going to ask her to go anywhere until that happens. It’s too dangerous for her and it’s too damned dangerous for us.” His gaze flicked toward Grant. “I’m surprised you suggested it. She’s your niece.”
Grant closed his eyes. “By all accounts, she’s extremely good at what she does. I imagine she’ll be just as unstoppable as she was before once her arm heals.” He shook his head, crossing his arms and turning back toward the windows. “We have to reassemble the database.”
“You say that like you know something that we don’t, Grant,” Frederick said. He leaned back in his chair, studying his friend’s profile, half in shadow, half illuminated by the afternoon sunshine. “I think you know that there’s something in the database that will give us an edge in the war that’s coming. Going to share what it is?”
Grant’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “Other than the tactics of three or four thousand years of human warfare? One or two things. A map or three to buried treasure.”
“Buried treasure,” Rachel echoed, her tone flat and disbelieving. “Did I actually just hear you say that, Grant?”
“Hear me out,” he said. “There are things that the Foundation and the Guard hid away just like we hid the database. Clues to how to find all of that are in the database if you know where to look and what they hid could save us all.”
“As in all of humanity,” Rachel said, her tone still disbelieving.
“That’s what your sister and I always believed, yes,” Grant said quietly, making eye contact with his sister-in-law. “I don’t expect you to agree since you’ve never seen the evidence. But I hope you won’t stand in our way.”
Rachel exhaled. “It might be a moot point, Grant. We don’t have anyone to spare. We don’t have anyone to send.”
“You’re not sending her without her consent,” Rachel said, striding toward him, shoulders square and expression like a thundercloud. “And I’m not going to let you guilt her into going, either. She’s paid her debt to you and everyone else, Grant. Let her live her life and make her own choices. You gave her that after she brought you home. Let her have her life.”
His expression grew hard and cold, jaw tight and eyes narrowing. “I have no intention of using guilt to make her do anything, Rachel,” he said, his voice low and dangerous. “She’ll make her choice on the merits of the choice. She doesn’t have to do anything.”
“But he knows that she will if he asks,” Adam said quietly. “Because that’s Alana—that’s how she is. He knows that all he has to do is ask and she’ll do it and damn the consequences.”
“Damn the consequences, though they may be dire,” Frederick said, staring at his hands. “You’ll have to hope that she’s up to the challenge, old friend—and that she doesn’t decide that whatever time that’s given to her with Ezra Grace is more than enough to make her happy for the rest of her life—however long or short that may be.”
“What do you mean?” Grant asked.
Frederick shook his head. “She’s in love, my friend, and he loves her back. She may decide that the risk isn’t worth it. She might tell you to go take a hike.”
“She won’t,” Adam said. “Trust me. She won’t, no matter how much both she and Dr. Grace may want her to. She’s duty-bound, regardless of what she personally wants—and whether or not she’s already paid her debts to all of us.”
“You can’t be the one to ask her,” Rachel said, glaring at Grant. “It has to be someone else.”
Grant just stared at all three of them for a long moment.
Then he turned and walked away, out the door and out of sight.