“What do we do?” Sennett asked. Evelyn stood still, looking around at the pockmarked iced civilians. When she didn’t respond, Sennett said, “Evelyn!”
“I don’t know, damn it!” Evelyn snapped. She held her hands up, taking a deep breath. “Okay, what do we need? First, we need shelter. Then we need to find out if anyone’s left alive and not homicidal on the station. Then we need to get the hell out of here.”
Lee scratched his head. “Hey, isn’t that Central Control?” He pointed to a building made nearly entirely out of windows.
“Looks like it,” Sennett said.
“Seems like that would be a good place to start,” he said. “See what’s working, what’s not.”
“Good idea,” Evelyn said. This small bit of direction seemed to help center her in some way. “Everyone try your wrist pads. I don’t think we can get a message to anyone who can help us, but we can at least try.”
Sennett and the others looked toward their pads as they headed toward Central Control. She tried to contact Schultz, then Mason, then Godfrey. All of the messages came back, undeliverable.
She was startled when Wes, who was at the back of the group, shouted.
One of the pockmarked women seemed to have broken free of the gel. She had Wes by the arm, a hammer in her other hand. Screaming a war cry, she raised it to crush in his head.
Sennett fired her icer. Evelyn had a different weapon. Sennett looked towards her as the woman fell dead, her hammer clattering harmlessly on the floor.
The gun that Evelyn was holding was simple, black. It was designed to fire a single electric shock, stopping the heart of the target on contact. Sennett didn’t know the proper name for them because she’d only ever heard their street name. The One Shot.
In answer to Sennett’s accusatory glare, Evelyn said, “I don’t think your Commissioner’s new toys are going to be enough in this situation. Let’s go.”
Without any other options, Sennett followed them.
When they were in the shadow of Central Control, knocking from above caught their attention.
“There’s someone at that window,” Narumi said, pointing. Sennett looked up to see them. These people seemed sane and afraid. They were pounding on the glass, shouting something.
“What are they saying?” Evelyn asked.
“Dunno, I don’t speak nonaudible through glass,” Sennett muttered.
“Alright, smart ass,” Evelyn snapped. She held a hand up to pause the others and trotted up to the front door. It swung open easily at her touch.
“Anyone else think that’s weird?” Sennett asked. “On 86 we have to have specific clearance to get into Central. I imagine this place being a plague research center, the security would be tighter.”
“Maybe the security system’s down,” Narumi said.
“But it was working enough to shut the outer door,” Wesley suggested.
“Maybe Hero Girl broke it,” Evelyn replied.
“Individual security measures can be controlled from within Central Control,” Lee said, as they walked into the front lobby. “Maybe someone from upstairs let us in.”
“Or maybe it was these people,” Fernie said, pulling her weapon.
From the hallways that surrounded them, leading to offices that housed all of the crucial functions of the station, pockmarked people were running for them. Some were holding makeshift weapons. Others looked as though they intended to murder with just their bare hands.
Sennett didn’t waste time calling out a warning. She dropped her bag, firing with her icer while she fished her air gun out. Three of the people she iced in the initial blast stayed iced. The fourth managed to break through almost at once.
Evelyn wasn’t the only one using her One Shot by that time. Narumi and Lee had theirs out as well. Lee took out the man who’d freed himself from the ice. “One chance,” Narumi called, “that’s all we can afford to give them, detective.”
A blast of red light came from the crowd, hitting Lee in the shoulder and burning him. “Acid gun!” he cried, dropping to one knee in pain. Only able to hold one weapon, he opted for the icer. “Apparently the can use weapons too,” he said.
“I can see that,” Evelyn cried. “I’m starting to think this was a bad idea.” They fired over and over, but the people just kept coming.
“Fernie, get that door shut and bar it with something!” Evelyn said. The younger woman ran to do so. Evelyn pointed to an office. “Back there, come on! Narumi, you and me on cover.”
The team ran into the office. Narumi tossed something out into the lobby just before slamming the door. A moment later something exploded, and several things banged into the door.
“Did you just bomb those people?” Sennett asked.
“Yes,” Evelyn said, “Lee, how bad is it?”
“It hurts like hell, Captain. I can’t really move this arm,” he said.
“Fantastic, our best sharpshooter’s out,” Evelyn muttered.
From the other side of the door, someone yelled, “Holy balls, what happened?”
“Oh, what fresh hell is this?” someone else asked.
“Etta!” Fernie cried. She pulled open the door before Evelyn could stop her.
Three women were standing in the center of the nonmoving escalator, looking out over the lobby. They were all Earthian, civilians by their dress, jeans, and t-shirts. One woman, with short cropped hair and a tattoo of stars across her left arm, said, “Fernie!” She hurried down the stairs to reach her.
“What the hell is going on here?” Fernie asked.
“Long story,” Etta said, looking back up at the other two. “This is Marcella and Sandi. Marcella is a researcher, Sandi’s in security.
Sandi looked like she was in security, with broad shoulders and a complete lack of humor in her eyes. Though Sennett had to admit that might have had more to do with the situation. Marcella was one of the thinnest people Sennett had ever seen, with narrow hips and a pointed nose. The emergency fire ax she was holding probably weighed more than she did.
Etta turned to Sennett, reaching out a hand to shake. “Thank you for coming, Detective. It’s an honor to meet you, even in these circumstances.”
“Thanks,” Sennett said, “but I don’t understand why you asked for me. I’m just a detective.”
“Is this everyone in your party?” Evelyn asked, apparently hoping to stop Etta from gushing over Sennett.
“No, Marcella’s sister and her wife are upstairs,” Sandi said.
“Is anyone hurt?” Wesley asked.
“No one’s hurt, but my sister’s pregnant,” Marcella said.
“Fantastic,” Evelyn said, “Alright, let’s get upstairs before we attract any more attention.”
Sandi led the way back up the escalator. “Has word of this spread to other stations?” she asked.
“Just us,” Sennett said, “and that was just because Fernie got the message from Etta.”
“So, what’s the exit strategy?” Sandi asked.
“Working on that,” Sennett said, “Our ship got cut in half coming in.”
Sandi stopped and turned to look at her. “So the rescue party is now stuck here with us?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Sennett said, “but my commissioner knows we’re here. Sooner or later she’ll send someone to help us.”
“Later we might all be dead,” Marcella said quietly.
“So we’ll hope it’s sooner,” Evelyn said.
At the top of the stairs, they headed left, down a simple hallway with brown carpet and cream colored walls. Some potted plants had been knocked over, spilling soil and roots all over the place.
Sandi led them to a particular door. She knocked twice, waited, then three times. A moment later they heard something large move slowly. Then the door opened just a crack to reveal a worried, pale face with brown eyes. “Who are these people?” the woman asked.
“IHP, Ernie,” Marcella said, “Turns out Etta was right. They did come.”
Ernie opened the door and let them in. She looked as though the disaster had caught her in bed, with sweatpants, tank-top and a flannel. Her hair was pulled back in a messy braid.
A second woman was standing near the window. She wasn’t showing much yet, just a bit of a bump over the top of her pants. She gave the group an apprehensive look when they came in the door. “What happened downstairs?” she asked. “It sounded like a bomb went off.”
“That’s perceptive,” Lee said.
“There are now several fewer berserkers in the place than there had been before,” Sandi said, “I can only consider that a good thing.”
Sennett looked around the office. The desk had been moved in front of the door, that was what they’d heard sliding. The couch and chairs were in a circle, several jackets slung over the backs.
Wesley got Lee into a chair and pulled his med kit from his bag.
“This is Ernie and Ginny,” Marcella said, gesturing to each woman in turn.
“How long have you been hiding here?” Evelyn asked.
“We’re honestly not sure,” Marcella said, “The lights haven’t been dimming. It’s disorienting.”
“I think we got here on the fifth,” Ginny said.
“So what’s going on here?” Sennett asked, “When we got Etta’s message, you were overrun by soldiers.”
“They’re mostly dead now,” Ernie said, sitting on the couch.
“They were the first people to get this virus,” Etta explained, “They tried to quarantine the infected, but obviously that didn’t happen. The most popular rumor is that one of their people tried to run, didn’t realize she was infected, and it spread from there.”
“This might be a dumb question, but is the virus that you’re talking about the thing that made those people out there homicidal?” Wesley asked.
“Yeah,” Sandi said, “We’ve been calling them berserkers because that’s the closest thing we could think of to describe their condition.”
“There’s no humanity in them anymore,” Ginny said. “No memory, no mercy. They’re just fueled by rage.”
“They don’t seem to fear death, or react to pain,” Sandi added, “Something in the virus keeps them coming until their heads have been destroyed.”
“Are there any warning symptoms?” Wesley asked.
“Yeah,” Marcella said. “First comes the uncontrollable itching. We think that’s due to the skin changing texture. Then the patient’s whole body goes numb. Then they stop breathing. Finally, they get those pockmarks all over their body.”
“Then they start killing people,” Etta added.
“Any idea how it spreads?” Evelyn asked.
“So far it doesn’t appear to be airborne, thank God,” Ernie said, “It seems to be transmitted by body fluid.”
“Sounds like zombies,” Wesley said.
“Zombies would be easier. They can’t use weapons and they’re not very smart,” Sandi said.
“Is this something that got lose by accident?” Evelyn asked.
Etta and Sandi looked at each other. “We might have thought that, but the soldiers showed up before the virus,” Etta said.
“We think they let it lose in the mall to test it,” Sandi said, “The mall shut down first, then that whole Level. For a few days people were trapped on either the top or bottom levels, we couldn’t go past it.”
Evelyn looked out the window. “This reminds me of the outbreak on Earth.”
“Wait, Earth?” Sennett asked, “Do you know what’s going on there? No one on S86 has any idea what’s happening.”
“I only know part of it,” Evelyn said, “Most of the Americas are overrun by a virus like this. People going insane, killing others.”
“We were getting garbled reports from IHP there before Earth went dark,” Narumi said, “There was a virus, but there was something bigger going on. Something worldwide.”
“Something bigger than this?” Marcella asked.
Suddenly, everyone’s wrist pads beeped. Sennett looked down. “Holy shit, I have a signal,” she said.
“Me too, calling Schultz,” Evelyn said.
Sennett called her house, not wanting to bother trying to get anyone directly.
Liam answered from the couch. He was wearing sweatpants and a tight-fitting black tank top. “Hey, girl,” he said, giving her a surprised grin. “Mason, April! It’s Sennett!”
Sennett could hear clattering footsteps. Mason skidded to a halt next to the living room table. April nearly collided with it. “Mommy!” she cried, “I miss you!”
“I miss you too, Baby,” Sennett said.
“How’s everything?” Mason asked, “Did you find out what happened at that station?”
“When are you coming home?” April asked.
“Well,” Sennett said, “Yeah, we did find out what’s going on. But it’s a little more serious than we were expecting. I might not be home for awhile.”
“Why, what’s going on?” Mason asked.
“Our ship was cut in half, the door into the station malfunctioned,” Sennett said, “We’ve got somewhere safe to hold up, but I don’t know how we’ll get home.”
“Safe?” Liam asked, “Sen, what’s going on that you need to be safe from?”
Sennett took a deep breath, looking at April. “Some of the people here are sick,” she said, “and they’re acting violent.”
“Does the IHP have backup on the way?” Liam asked.
“As far as I know, they don’t have backup to send,” Sennett said.
“Okay, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,” he replied, nodding.
“Wait, what?” Sennett asked, “The hell do you mean, you’ll take care of it?”
Before he could respond the message cut off. Sennett’s cuff went back to her home screen. All of the lights around them went out, leaving only their wrist pads to illuminate their frightened faces.
Copyright © 2018 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.