Virus, Episode One

Tuesday, AC April 4

(AC stands for accepted calendar, the calendar that all Stations have chosen to use)

It’s been three months since we left our heroes, cleaning up Station 86 after the AI dog attack. The station of First Contact is shaken and its people are afraid.

Most of them expected that living on a space station, too far away from Earth for direct communication to be possible, was going to be dangerous. Perhaps they hadn’t expected the dangers, like terrorists and human error, would be so familiar.

The station had suffered a great loss of life. Many of those lost had been police officers, fighting to protect civilians. The station’s police training program had stepped up its recruiting efforts and hurried its program. Officers were promoted to detectives and replaced with new, hastily trained cadets. Commissioner Schultz said to them that, as she was green herself, they would learn together.

This learning was taking place with varying degrees of success, much to the dismay of Detective Sennett Montgomery. Still without a partner, she’s been assigned to work with the cadets who haven’t mastered all of the skills they need to be on the streets. Whether they’ll survive to reach the streets has yet to be determined.

She stood behind a row of such cadets in the shooting range. Her hair, caught in thousands of braids, was pulled well away from her face in a ponytail. She wore simple jeans and a police t-shirt, with the 86 stars over her heart. The cadets were dressed the same. They aimed at a row of human-shaped targets set roughly twenty yards away. From the looks on their faces, an observer might have thought the targets were prepared to shoot back.

“Let’s try it again,” Sennett said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Fire when ready.”

The cadets fired. Some of the targets fluttered or staggered, hit off center. Others didn’t move at all.

“You guys know you have sights on the air guns for a reason, right?” Sennett asked, “It’s not cheating if you use them, I promise.”

“Why do we have to do this?” one girl whined, “My aunt said you needed people to do paperwork and stuff like that. I mean, I know we all have to go through the training, but we don’t really need it.”

Sennett had to resist grabbing the girl by the ear and shaking her. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Alexis,” the girl said.

“Alexis, your aunt’s a filthy liar. We need people for everything, especially officers to walk a beat. And even if you are going to ride a desk, you’ll still need to know how to shoot. You wear the uniform, your job is to serve and protect. So you need to know how to protect people with an air rifle.”

“But you saved the whole station with a disrupter,” a young man said. Sennett thought his name might be Bill. “Why aren’t we training with them?”

“Disrupters are illegal,” Sennett said.

“You have one,” a ma’sheed girl named A’vril said.

“I don’t,” Sennett replied, “I turned mine in after the AI dog attack.” She stamped on a button on the floor, setting the targets back in place. “Try again. Use your damn sights this time.”

She took a few steps away from the cadets as they took a few shots. Her wrist pad was blinking, indicating that she had messages.

The first one was from her brother, Mason. Going to Godfrey’s food cart, can’t get April from school. I’ll grab dinner.

Sennett sighed with relief. If she had to get April, she had an excuse to leave early.

The next message was from Liam, her new roommate. Hey, Sen. Simulator battery is wearing out. I’d go get another one but, you know, I can’t. Peace.

“Probably used it all up making junk food,” Sennett muttered. Reluctantly, she went back to her cadets.

A’vril was aiming for one of the targets. She took a deep breath and fired. The target fell, snapping onto the ground with a satisfying sound that Sennett hadn’t heard all day. “I did it!” A’vril cried, jumping into the air with her weapon still in her hand. When she landed her finger hit the trigger, this time unintentionally. The blast of air hit Alexis, throwing her back several feet.

“Oh, shit,” Sennett said, “A’vril! Put down your weapon and get running on the track. Can someone help Alexis up?”

“Montgomery?”

Sennett looked behind her as Bill hurried to help a groaning Alexis to her feet. Commissioner Schultz was walking towards her, also dressed in training clothes. Everyone in the room except for Alexis stood at attention.

“Commissioner,” Sennett said, “How can we help you?”

“I just came down to see how our new officers were doing,” Schultz said, “When do you think they’ll be ready?”

“When Hell freezes,” Sennett snapped, casting a glair in A’vril’s direction.

“Why don’t we stop here for the day,” Schultz said, “all except for A’vril. You can keep running for a while.”

To the girl’s credit, the only credit Sennett had seen fit to give her that day, she didn’t complain. She just continued to run.

“Sennett, do you have time to talk?” Schultz asked.

“Haven’t you been here since six this morning?” Sennett asked. Even so she went to the rang, and lifted one of the weapons.

“I have,” Schultz said, “I’m getting ready to go home. But I like to shoot for a while before I head out. It relaxes me.”

“I guess you could use some sort of relaxation,” Sennett said as Schultz selected another air gun. “With the state of these recruits, I fear for the lives of everyone in the station.”

She stomped on the lever to bring the targets in place.

“Don’t worry too much,” Schultz said, “Remember, you’re working with people who need extra help. Not all of them are in such bad shape. That’s why I wanted you to work with them.”

Schultz fired once, twice, three times. The targets snapped cleanly against the floor.

“I thought it was because I was bored at a desk,” Sennett said.

“You were the one who’s been complaining about being bored,” Schultz said.

“Of course I’m complaining. You’ve got me doing paperwork and making schedules.” Sennett set up the targets and started firing. The targets snapped into place, but that didn’t surprise Sennett. They were only set up for twenty-five yards.

“What do you expect of me? You don’t have a partner. We don’t assign lone detectives to cases. I could put you back in blues and have you walking a beat again. But I thought you deserved better than that. Put the targets back, please?”

Sennett grimaced, then changed the settings to forty-five feet. “Sorry I broke the one you gave me, Commissioner,” she said, “In my defense, she was a useless fat sack of fat.”

“Is that how you talked to her?” Schultz asked, taking her shots.

“You know I didn’t,” Sennett said, as all the targets snapped back, “I was polite to a fault until I caught her taking bribes from that drug ring.”

She set up the targets again. “Then she had the audacity to accuse me of colluding with gun runners because Liam’s under house arrest at my place.”

“That’s only because he didn’t have a house to arrest him under,” Schultz said, watching Sennett knock the targets down.

Sennett replaced the target. This time, she set them at sixty feet.

“You’ve been through a hell of a lot in the last year,” Schultz said, “Your foster mother died in front of you, your little brother, your daughter, and the whole station. You didn’t take a single day off after that.”

“I didn’t really have the option,” Sennett said, “We had assassins on the station.”

“And you saved us, along with your friend Godfrey,” Schultz said, “You’re a hero.”

“I’m not a hero,” Sennett said.

Schultz shot, knocking down the first two targets. The third, farthest from her, only shuddered. “Hum, I need to get in here more,” Schultz said, “Anyway, we’d all barely caught our breath before the station was attacked by AI dogs. While we were dealing with that, the whole station found out that your daughter was half Khloe. You can’t tell me that you haven’t being harassed over that.”

Sennett fired three times, knocking all three targets down. “How about we leave my daughter out of this conversation?”

“Okay,” Schultz said, “let’s talk about something else. How long have you been wearing that caffeine cuff?”

Sennett glanced down at the copper colored band on her wrist. “You know that members of The Core are still around. April’s a target,” she said.

“Then I’ll send some uniforms to keep an eye on you, “ Schultz said.

“No,” Sennett said, “We’re short staffed as it is.”

“It’s not your job to worry about that,” Schultz said. She sat the air gun down and turned to look at Sennett. “I want you to take some personal time. A couple weeks, paid.”

Sennett sat her gun down as well. “Am I being suspended?” she asked.

“Of course not,” Schultz said. “But you need rest. You need to heal, physically and emotionally. I’d say the same to any of my women, not just station heroes.”

“I am not a hero,” Sennett said again, “and I don’t need to be taken care of.”

Schultz sighed. “Alright, I guess that wasn’t the right way to do this. Sennett, I know you’ve been carrying a lead bullet weapon,” She turned to give her a hard stare. “Look, I’ve been dancing around it, but you are messed up right now. Anyone would be, in your situation. But a messed up detective who’s starting to ignore the law endangers the whole station.”

Sennett opened her mouth to protest, but Schultz held a hand up. “It could be a suspension if you want.”

“Fine,” Sennett said. “I guess I could use some time off.”

On the transit home, Sennett tried to see the positive side of the situation. At least if she wasn’t going to work, maybe she could get some sleep during the day.

That is if she was able to sleep during the day any better than she could sleep at night.

She left the transit on level three, the level that housed the elementary and grade schools. It was crowded with children and teachers, hurrying to and from classes. Many people recognized Sennett and waved greetings.

Some gave her dark or suspicious looks. She made a point of smiling widely at them. She’d been dealing with the looks, and the comments, since the station had found out that April’s father had been Khloe. She didn’t think it was worth her time to get upset about it. The stares and whispers of the casual racist couldn’t hurt April. Terrorists could.

When she reached the lower grade playground she saw a crowd of kids. April and her friend Khal’Lee were visible right away. Khal’Lee because he, like all other Ma’sheed, had glowing skin.

April stood out for the same reason she would always stand out. She was half Earthian and half Khloe. Now that everyone knew, she no longer wore her seeming bracelet to pass as Earthian. She was taller than most of the children. Her hair was still soft and wild, brown like her eyes. But her skin was bright pink.

As Sennett walked towards the children, she noticed one of the playground monitors talking to a woman she didn’t recognize.

“Mommy!” April called, running over to her.

“Hey, Baby,” Sennett replied, catching April and giving her a big hug. “Do you know who that is?”

“No, Mommy,” April said.

“She’s visited the school a lot this week,” Khal’Lee said.

“Huh,” Sennett said.

Just then the woman saw her. She waived and walked down the fence towards them. “Detective Montgomery!” she called, “I was hoping to catch you.”

Sennett sat April down and said, “Stay here a minute, okay?”

“Okay,” April said.

Sennett walked over to the fence. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

“You’re April’s mom?” the woman asked, “She’s a beautiful little girl. Really extraordinary. But, I guess you already know that. Did you have a normal pregnancy with her? I mean, normal for an Earthian?”

“That seems like a personal and rude thing to ask someone you’ve just met,” Sennett said, crossing her arms.

“Right, right. Sorry, I get excited,” the woman said. She held out her hand. “I’m Doctor Oswald. I’m from Station 6, and I came to ask you some questions about April.”

“What exactly do you do, Dr. Oswald?” Sennett asked.

“I’m a genetic researcher,” the doctor replied, “We’re interested in learning more about the connections between the humanoid races.”

“I bet you are,” Sennett said.

“You see, April’s the first half-breed we’ve ever had. And she represents a wealth of information that we thought we’d never see. What we’d like is for you and her to come to Station 6 for a few days, maybe a week, to run some tests. Not anything big!” she held her hands up, just as Sennett was opening her mouth. “Not anything that would make your little girl uncomfortable. Just some basic blood work and observations on the two of you. And her father as well, of course.”

“You can’t have done much research,” Sennett snapped, “April’s father is dead. He died before she was born.”

“That is unfortunate, very unfortunate,” the doctor said, dropping the smile from her face. “Terrible, little girl growing up without the nurturing aspect of her father. Must be hard, being a single mom.”

“Yeah, it’s terrible, I’m a fighter, all that,” Sennett snapped.

“Anyway, of course we wouldn’t ask you to come just out of charity,” the doctor said. “My company is prepared to offer you a substantial amount of money for your time.”

“I don’t really need money,” Sennett said, “I have a good job and my house is paid for.”

“Of course, of course,” the doctor said. “I didn’t mean to suggest anything otherwise. And really, this shouldn’t be about money. It should be about the benefit to all of humankind. The knowledge we might gain April is incredible. Are you the only woman who can carry a child from another race? What is it about you and her father that worked to produce a child when so many other couples have failed. I’m sure you can see how valuable she can be.”

“I understand my daughter’s value, yes,” Sennett said. “I’m sorry, I’m not interested. I value my privacy highly.”

“I don’t think I’m making myself clear,” Dr. Oswald said. “We wouldn’t be doing anything troubling or invasive to your daughter. As I said, it’s just-,”

“Just some blood work and observation, I understand,” Sennett said. “You’ve made yourself quite clear, Doctor. Please, don’t take this as a personal rejection. It’s just that I hate the thought of my child becoming a lab experiment. Sorry you made the trip for nothing, Station 6 is a long way away.”

Before the doctor could respond Sennett turned, took April by the hand, and started towards the transit.

“Mommy, what did that lady want?” April asked, adjusting her backpack. “Did she see a crime happen?”

“No, Baby,” Sennett said, “she wanted to run tests on you.”

“Why?” April asked.

“You know why,” Sennett said, giving her hand a squeeze. “In the whole universe, you’re the first person to ever have a mom and dad who were from different planets. The doctors want to find out how you happened.”

“So that other people can have kids, even if they’re from different planets?” April asked.

“That’s right,” Sennett said.

“Like Mr. Godfrey and his wife?” April asked.

The transit train arrived, and they boarded. Sennett waited until they’d found a seat before she said, “Yeah, like Godfrey and Ki.”

“But they really want to have a baby. Can’t we do the tests, and so maybe it will help them?”

“It’s not that simple,” Sennett said.

“But why not?” April asked.

Sennett sighed. “Don’t worry about it, Honey, okay? That’s grownup stuff.”

April looked confused but didn’t push the issue further.

Bailey was waiting for them when they walked through the door, sitting politely with his tail wagging. He was an artificial intelligence terrier, with a silver body and the unnerving habit of behaving like a dog of flesh.

“Go put your shoes away and get started on your homework,” Sennett said, “I’ve got to get this installed and start dinner.”

“Okay, Mommy,” April said, but it was an empty promise. She was kneeling on the floor, stroking the dog. He opened his mouth and dropped a green rubber ball on the carpet for her.

“Bailey, no,” Sennett said, “not until her homework’s done.”

The dog scooped the ball back up right away. April groaned, but headed for her room.

Liam was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through screens of text. He glanced up when Sennett entered the room.

The former gun runner was a tall, thin man with muscles that Sennett hadn’t been able to see under his oversized coat when he’d first arrived at her doorstep. His hair was nearly shaved. He closed his screens when he saw her. “What was that?” she asked.

“Letter from some friends,” Liam replied, “Did you get my message?”

“I got it,” she said, opening the side of the simulator to shove the cell in. “What did you do today?”

“Read some, ran the vacuum,” he said, giving a theatrical sigh.

“Yes, I am aware that you’re bored,” Sennett said, sitting down at the table. “And for the next few weeks, we’ll be bored here together. I have to take a vacation.”

“A vacation? That don’t sound like you,” Liam said.

“It’s not,” Sennett said, “Commissioner Schultz thinks I need some time away.”

“That ain’t a bad idea,” Liam replied, “Some time away from the station, in general, might be good for both of you.”

“I can’t leave, the school year hasn’t ended yet,” she said. “I don’t want this situation to effect April too much.”

“You don’t want the fact that a terrorist group is going to be hunting April as soon as they know she exists to affect her?” Liam asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sennett was walking, arm in arm with Lo. He was smiling at her, his pink crystal-like hair catching the lights above them. She noticed that he had a little gravy on his cheek. She laughed, licking her thumb to wash it off with.

“Stop that,” he laughed, “I can get it.”

“Sorry,” Sennett laughed, “It’s what my mom used to do if there was something on my face.”

He pulled a napkin from his pocket and wiped his face. “You are going to be a great mom,” he said.

Sennett heard the click, and she realized what was happening. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t ever real.

Even so, she saw Lo’s smile fade into a look of surprise. He fell against her, bringing them both to the ground.

Hot blood covered her as she tried to see the wound. It wasn’t real, it couldn’t be real.

Sennett sat up in bed. The feel of hot blood on her skin was replaced by the sweat that had soaked through her nightclothes. Tears were streaming down her face.

She got out of bed, stripping her clothes off and throwing them in the bin in disgust. It had been over five years. Was she going to dream about the night Lo died for the rest of her life? She pulled on a fresh pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, then stumbled out into the living room.

Liam was asleep on the couch. The lights were off, but the wall screen was on. Mason, Sennett’s little brother, was sitting in one of two armchairs. With pale skin, a soft build and dark hair, it was clear to anyone that they weren’t siblings by birth.

“Thought Liam was staying up tonight,” Sennett said, taking the other armchair.

“He was, but I couldn’t sleep,” Mason replied, “Kept hearing things outside. It’s just some stray cat, but, well, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sennett said. “Someone came to April’s school today. A doctor. She offered me a lot of money to let her company run tests on April.”

“What kind of tests?” Mason asked.

“Blood work and observation on Station 6. She said it’s to help couples like Godfrey and Ki have kids.”

“But you said no?” Mason asked.

“Of course I did,” Sennett said, “Those kinds of tests get shared, which means April’s name would get shared. So far only Station 86 knows about April. It’s safer that way.”

She tapped her earpiece so that she could hear the show without waking Liam. They’d both still be there when the exterior lights came on for the day.

Missed Seeming or You Can’t Trust The AI? Click here to get caught up.

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law

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