Sunday AC April 9
Sennett woke with a start in complete darkness. Her back screamed at her for jolting after hours cramped in a tight ball. She tried to stretch it out in silence, as she remembered why she wasn’t in her house.
“Is someone else awake?” a voice whispered.
“I am,” Sennett replied. She heard someone crawl toward her. A moment later someone else grunted, causing the first voice, Fernie, to say, “Oh, I’m sorry! Are you okay?”
Suddenly there were lights and sounds all over the room, as people lit up their wrist pads and woke with varying levels of irritation.
Sennett stood up, looking around the room. Ginny and Ernie had taken the couch. Everyone else had found spots on the floor. Sennett herself had spent her few hours of sleep braced against the table.
Lee, as it turned out, had slept near the window where they’d been taking turns keeping watch. This had left him exposed to Fernie’s boot.
“I’m sorry, everyone,” Fernie said, “Lee, are you okay?”
“Like I wasn’t already banged up?” Lee muttered.
“Since we’re all awake now, we might as well get moving,” Evelyn said, combing her hair out with her fingers. “Wesley, how many MRE’s do we have left?”
“Enough for breakfast, but then we’ll be out,” Wesley replied.
Evelyn nodded. “Alright, let’s hand them out, then.”
“What are we going to do after that?” Sennett asked, “It’s going to take days for Schultz to get a rescue team here. And that’s only after she scraps people together to send in the first place.”
“Hey, it’s more food than we had,” Ernie said, scratching her arm. “We ran out the day before yesterday.”
“Ernie and Marcella tried to get down to the cafeteria,” Ginny said, “We probably don’t want to try that again.”
“Damn berserkers almost ripped us to pieces,” Marcella added, “We managed to lock a whole bunch in there, at least.”
Sennett was watching Wesley hand out the meals and bottles of water. He broke the seal on the side of his own MRE and started shaking it to activate the warming solution. His hair was rumpled with sleep. He’d taken off his uniform jacket again revealing his tattoo-covered arms.
Tearing her eyes away from the sight of him, she said, “We should try to get to the research building since we’re stuck here awhile. See what we can learn.”
“No,” Evelyn said, “We’ve got civilians to protect. We’re safe here.”
“Sure, until we starve,” Sennett replied.
“Schultz is sending help,” Evelyn said, “We can scour some of these offices. I’m sure the people who worked here stashed food.”
“Sorry,” Ginny said, “but we’ve already checked all the offices that we can get to. We found some protein bars and snacks. They’re all gone now.”
“It’s not a good idea to go without food that long,” Wesley said, “What if these berserkers get in here? We’re not going to be able to fight them off if we’re all half starved.”
“I think they’re right, Captain,” Narumi said, “Besides, we need to find out what caused this, so we can protect against it.”
“Narumi, there are five of us,” Evelyn said quietly.
“Right,” Narumi said, “Five agents to protect one hundred stations. We don’t need anything else working against us, especially our own ignorance. I’ll go with Detective Montgomery.”
“I will, too,” Wesley said.
“You’ll need one of us to go with you,” Ernie said, “The security system is probably still up. And if you want into the research, it will need to be one of the scientists. So I’ll come.”
“I said no,” Evelyn said.
“You’re not my SO,” Sennett replied, “So I’ll go with just Ernie if I have to. Sandi, you were security. You want to come with us?”
“I can do that,” Sandi said, braiding her hair. “Just let me eat something, and we’ll go.”
“I’m not letting a civilian go without me, that’s for sure,” Narumi said.
“Sandi should stay here,” Ernie said, scratching the back of her hand. “To protect everyone else.”
“I’ll go, then,” Wesley said, “I can load up on supplies.”
Evelyn looked at Sennett. “Alright, go. But I’m putting it on you to bring everyone back, Hero Girl. Don’t you lose any of my people.”
“You know I can’t promise that,” Sennett said.
Evelyn shrugged. “That’s why I don’t want you to go.”
“Montgomery,” Narumi whispered as they crept down the stairs, “What’s that in your back holster?”
“What?” Sennett asked. Her icer was in her hands, as she scanned the area for berserkers.
“I recognize the weapon you’ve got on your side, it’s the same standard issue I used to have. But I don’t recognize the piece you’ve got on your back. What is it?”
“Um, I’d rather not say,” Sennett said.
“Why?” Narumi asked.
Sennett shrugged. “Because you can’t feel bad for not turning me in for what you don’t know I have.”
“Oh, you have to show me now,” Nerumi said, stopping at the foot of the stairs. When Sennett still hesitated, Nerumi said, “You’re traveling with me, a civilian and another IHP member. For the safety of everyone I’m not going another step until you show me that piece you’re carrying.”
“Fine,” Sennett said. She pulled her pistol from its holster and held it out for Narumi’s inspection.
“Oh, shit,” Nerumi said, gingerly taking it from her. “Is this an old metal gun? I’ve only seen them in museums.”
“Does that thing even work?” Wesley asked, inspecting it.
“I don’t know, I’ve never had to fire it,” Sennett said. She took it back and holstered it. “My other weapons aren’t lethal. This one though, I don’t intend to aim it anywhere unless I’m ready to kill someone. I’d like to stick to the icers if we can.”
“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Nerumi said.
“These berserkers are brain dead,” Ernie said, “Don’t lose someone just to spare them, Detective. Let’s keep moving.”
They moved to the door, opening it carefully. The area around Central Control seemed quiet for the time. Sennett didn’t want to bet on how long that was going to last.
“The transit station’s right up here,” Ernie said, leading them toward a large tower that spanned to the Level’s ceiling.
“Wait, the transit’s in the middle?” Sennett asked, “I thought these things were all built just the same.”
“The disease center required faster travel, in case of accidents,” Ernie said.
“That doesn’t look stable at all,” Sennett said, looking up at the tower.
“Hasn’t fallen yet,” Ernie said with a shrug.
They reached the transit station without incident. “Do you think the transit’s still running?” Sennett asked, “All the rest of the power is out.”
“The transit should be on the backup energy, along with life support. Otherwise, we’d already be dead,” Wesley said.
Sure enough, as they stood on the pad, Sennett could hear the sound of a train winding its way down the tower. Its light brightened the whole Level, shining in the absolute darkness like a beacon.
From all around them, they could hear footsteps. Sennett pulled her icer, looking around. Berserkers were coming for them from every direction. Some were still walking, with a calm determination. Others were running.
“Oh, shit,” Wesley said, pulling his icer as well.
“Ernie, get behind us,” Nerumi said. As the first few berserkers reached them, she started firing. Sennett and Wesley did the same as the transit pulled to a stop in front of them.
Sennett took a moment to be thankful that there were no berserkers on the transit as they boarded. She checked to make sure that Ernie was safe before turning to see Wesley, knocked back by the blow from an air gun. A berserker, airgun in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, was descending on him. Sennett fired her icer, freezing it for no more than a moment. Wesley pulled his own weapon and shot the man away before he had time to unfreeze entirely.
Inside the transit, Ernie was screaming. A berserker had been hiding under one of the seats and had her by the arm. Nerumi fired, disintegrating the woman’s face. She stepped into the transit, grabbed the body and tossed it out into the growing crowd. Sennett pulled Wesley into the transit just before the doors closed.
Sennett dropped to her belly to check that the transit was fully clear of berserkers. Nerumi plopped down on a seat. “Did she get you?” she asked Ernie.
“No, she didn’t,” Ernie said, sitting down shakily.
“This is too weird,” Sennett said, “The outside security is working, but in station security isn’t. The backup power is working, but shouldn’t that include at least emergency lighting? This all feels intentional.”
“Could be that the station’s just breaking down,” Wesley said, “Not a comforting thought. What the hell are we supposed to do if life support goes?”
“Die,” Nerumi said quietly.
Sennett’s thoughts went to Liam and Godfrey. “People I trust know we’re here,” she said.
“People can know we’re here, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do anything,” Ernie said, staring out of the window.
“What level are the labs on?” Wesley asked.
“Top level,” Ernie said, “So if something goes out we’d only have to contain from one side.”
“Of course, the mall was dead center,” Nerumi said.
“Well we didn’t think we’d have to block contagions from the fucking mall,” Ernie snapped, rubbing her arm.
The transit slowed to a stop at the top level, according to the lights above the door. They stepped out cautiously, the only light coming from their wrist pads. They moved carefully, trying to make as little sound as possible.
“We should hit a security booth before we go in,” Ernie said.
“Why, we’re already armed,” Wesley said.
“You are, I’m not,” she replied, “Besides, I was thinking of respirators and safety suits.”
The others stopped, looking at her. “You know, I think it just now occurred to me that we’re walking into a building that’s full of little bottles of viruses,” Sennett said.
“With a security and containment system that may or may not be working,” Nerumi said, “Fantastic.”
Ernie lifted her wrist pad to brighten the area around them. “There,” she said, pointing to a white building, no bigger than twelve by twelve feet. It had a luminescent strip around it, which caught the scant light of their pads and glowed.
The team trotted towards it. Sennett entered first, while Nerumi waited outside in case anyone came upon them suddenly.
“We’re good,” Sennett said, after a quick scan of the room. The others hurried in, shutting and locking the door behind them.
“Look around for anything useful,” Nerumi said.
The security station was well stocked. They found MRE’s, bottled water, lanterns. Wesley accidentally startled all of them by opening what they thought was a cupboard that turned out to be a bed. It came crashing down, nearly hitting Sennett in the process. Nerumi only just caught it.
“Sorry about that,” Wesley said, pushing the bed back up into place.
“My house isn’t this prepared for a crisis. Were you guys planning for something like this?” Sennett asked.
“Kind of. The guard stations were designed to protect the guards in case the facility went red,” Ernie said, pulling backpacks out from a utility closet. She started packing food into one.
“I think I found the safety suits,” Nerumi said, reaching past Ernie into the closet. She pulled out several bright blue jumpsuits, complete with hoods and face masks. For a few minutes, the room was quiet, save for the sounds of everyone pulling on their suits and packing supplies into bags.
A pounding on the glass caught Sennett’s attention as she shoved a rope into a bag. She looked up. There was someone on the outside of the booth, hammering on the glass. The un-bandaged gash on her forehead, when added to the fury on the woman’s face, assured Sennett that this wasn’t a survivor looking for help.
“Shit, Nerumi,” Sennett said, pointing to the berserker.
“What? Oh, piss,” Nerumi said, looking up. The first berserker had been joined by several more, all banging on the glass and screaming.
As Sennett and the others watched, more came from every direction.
“They’re going to tear the place apart,” Wesley said.
“How far away is the facility?” Nerumi asked.
“About twenty yards, directly out the door,” Ernie said.
“Okay. Maybe if we can blast through the initial crowd we can make a run for it,” Nerumi said.
“That seems highly suicidal,” Wesley said.
“Spread out and look for anything that might help us,” Sennett said, “this place seems well stocked enough.”
“There’s one thing,” Ernie said, “The booth can send an electrical pulse out around it. It will probably kill most of them.”
“We can’t just kill all of these people,” Sennett said.
“They’re not people anymore, Detective!” Ernie cried, “They’re nothing but meat, still running around after they died! If they were still conscious enough to realize what they were doing, they’d want us to kill them.”
“Plan B,” Nerumi said, “We’ll call that Plan B and keep looking.”
“Fine,” Sennett said. She pulled the bed down again, checking in the folded shelves that were tucked in with the bunk. She found a few things, an empty water bottle, a broken wrist com screen, a tiny stuffed cat that someone must have brought along for luck.
Nerumi was looking through the desk, casually tossing things onto the bed. Something black and heavy hit the mattress, bouncing a little and catching Sennett’s attention. She turned and picked it up, recognizing it at once.
“So, this might work,” Sennett said.
“Why, what is it?” Nerumi asked.
“It’s a personal transporter,” Sennett replied, turning it around to inspect it.
“Is that what those things look like?” Nerumi asked, “I’ve never seen one up close before.”
The transporter looked very much like Ki’s, but not quite so advanced. Where Ki’s was smooth with nothing but a battery readout, this one had two buttons on the side. One glowing red, one darkened green.
“It looks like it’s only a two-way connection,” Sennett said, “I bet it goes to the facility.”
“We don’t really have a way to know that for sure,” Wesley said.
“That’s fair,” Sennett said. She looked up. “Have any of you ever used one before?”
Everyone shook their heads. “It’s a daunting experience. The first time it really disorients you. I’ll try it, then come right back.”
“No, you shouldn’t go alone,” Wesley said, “What if it takes you right in the middle of them?”
“Then hit the electrical pulse quick, and get on with things,” Sennett said, “Give me ten minutes to transport, see what’s on the other side, and come back.”
“Sennett, this isn’t a good plan,” Nerumi said.
Just then a window cracked. One of the berserkers, armed with a baseball bat, was banging on the pane.
“Let’s assume I’ve still got ten minutes,” Sennett said and hit the red button before Nerumi could say anything more.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell
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