Sennett released Wesley’s hand as soon as they landed on the transport pad in Central Control. As she realized it was probably dangerous to storm off, she settled for wiping her hands on her pants.
“Look, I’m sorry I said what I did,” Wesley said, “Now’s not the time for politics.”
“Never is there a right time for what you said,” Sennett replied, “but we just had to leave two good women behind to die. So, you know, priorities.”
“Right, yeah,” Wesley said.
Sennett led the way back to the office. She held her pistol, not wanting to take any chances.
They knocked on the door and were admitted. Fernie and Sandi shoved the desk back in front of it as soon as they were through.
“What the hell took so long?” Evelyn asked, “Where are Narumi and Ernie?”
“Ernie turned,” Sennett said, setting down her bags. “She bit Narumi.”
“Narumi wouldn’t come back with us,” Wesley said, “She thinks she was infected.”
“No, oh no,” Ginny whispered. She began to sob quietly. Marcella put an arm around her, pulling her close.
Sennett pulled Ernie’s wristpad from her bag. She brought it to Ginny, who took it from her and held it to her chest.
“What happened to Narumi wasn’t Ernie’s fault,” Sennett said, “She risked her life trying to get the information on that wrist pad. She’s a good woman.”
“No, it wasn’t Ernie’s fault. It’s yours,” Evelyn snapped.
Sennett turned to her. There were tears in the commander’s eyes, but she seemed determined to not let them fall. “It was your idea to go up there, you had to have known we couldn’t let you go alone. You killed Narumi.”
“No,” Ginny said fiercely, “They had to go, we all knew it. Ernie knew it, that’s why she went. Don’t you blame this woman because you were too scared to go.”
“Narumi made the choice,” Lee said, wiping his face, “We all thought it was best, not just the detective.”
“She said that Ernie might have found the cure,” Sennett said, “If she’s right, then we might still be able to save her.”
“Bullshit,” Evelyn said, “Don’t start filling everyone’s head with false hope now. You’ve done enough.”
“Wesley, did you see anything about a cure?” Fernie asked.
“No, but I was in the other room. It was Narumi who was with her while she was looking through the files,” Wesley said, shrugging. “Look, we can go back and forth all day about whether or not we should have gone up there. But we did and we’re back. If there’s a cure on that pad, I want to find out about it now, so that we can save Narumi. If there’s not a cure, well then at least we have something to do while we wait for rescue.”
Sennett went to the table without waiting for Evelyn to answer. She started moving food boxes off of it, clearing them into the trash. Ginny brought the wrist pad over and sat it on the receptor. Sennett took the backup energy cube from her bag, hoping that it was still working.
As soon as the screen lit up it showed the contents of Ernie’s com. There were dozens of files marked Soldier Strain 73, Station 16 Test.
“Fine, let’s take a look at this damn information, then,” Evelyn said. She tapped open a file, minimized the screen and pulled it closer to read it.
“How do we even know where to start?” Marcella asked, looking over the files.
“Dunno, these names don’t make any sense to me,” Sennett said, “Just pick one and start reading.”
She pulled a file to herself and opened it. At the top of a list of documents, she read the title, Hollow Suit Intel.
“What’s a Hollow Suit?” Sennett asked.
“I don’t know, but I heard some of the soldiers talking about it once,” Sandi said, “They shut up as soon as they saw me, though. Guess civilians aren’t supposed to know about it.”
“Good thing we don’t give a shit about what civilians are and are not supposed to know,” Evelyn said. Sennett nodded in agreement and opened the first document.
Report: Corporal Jack Adwell, 45th Space Wing
Daily Report from September 18, 2143
USS Impact arrived home today from the Andromeda trip. I was not permitted to speak with the returning crew. I advised Dr. Watson that I would be reporting her to my higher-ups, as we are supposed to be permitted upon the base at all times. You will find my formal complaint regarding the situation attached to today’s reports. I don’t appreciate being treated in such a way, and I hope I’m not out of line in suggesting that a woman might have been permitted faster. After a good amount of insistence, Dr. Watson has agreed that I will be permitted on site tomorrow to speak with them.
No further reports avail from Corp. Adwell. Suspected AWOL or deceased.
“That’s not great news,” Sennett said, flicking the document over to Evelyn. The captain opened it, her eyes wide. “No, especially not when added to this.”
She sent a photo to the center of the screen. It looked like a person dressed in a space suit, except that its helmet was darkened. It was holding a large automatic weapon. Sennett tapped on the picture, revealing more. They showed several of what she assumed must have been the Hollow Suits, shooting the scientists and soldiers of Cape Canaveral.
“I found a video,” Fernie said.
The video took over the whole screen.
The video was of security footage from Cape Canaveral. It was so much worse than the pictures.
People were running from the Suits, screaming. The suits were simply firing into the crowds. Soldiers tried to fire at them, but it had no more effect than raindrops.
Sennett shut the video off just as Ginny ran to the garbage can and threw up. “Don’t play questionable videos without warning people,” Sennett said, giving Fernie a hard look.
“Yeah. Sorry about that everyone,” Fernie said.
“This one looks like a video report,” Lee said, “Everyone be advised I’m starting this.”
The screen was taken up by the new video. A woman in uniform green sat at a table in the middle of an otherwise empty room. She sat with her back straight, her hands folded on the desk. She looked right at the camera, presumably right at the person holding it.
“Don’t worry, Amanda. We just want to help. You’re not in any trouble. Please tell us for the record what you saw,” another woman, presumably standing behind the camera, said.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Amanda replied, “The, um, the Hollow Suits arrived at our base at two hundred hours. I wasn’t on watch that night, so I was in my bunk. The first thing I heard was screaming outside of our barracks window. Then the alarms started going off. I don’t remember thinking, then. I just pulled my boots on and grabbed my rifle.”
Amanda cleared her throat, looking down at her hands. “I’ve been in the military since I was eighteen. I joined the day after graduation. Eleven years, and we’ve been at peace. There wasn’t a single combat veteran on that base. The Hollows just, they just ripped through us. I got right up close to one and shot it in the visor. It shattered, the visor I mean.”
Her hands were shaking. Her face contorted as she tried to keep control of herself. “There was nothing behind it, nothing in the helmet! But it just kept coming at me. It was just an empty suit, but it kept coming at me.
“I wasn’t the only one to run, you know. Any of us who could get the hell out of there.”
“No one blames you for running,” the woman behind the camera said, but Amanda was shaking her head profusely.
“No, I should have stayed. I should have fought! I should have helped the ones who couldn’t get away!”
Amanda began to sob as the video cut off then.
“Guess we know what the Hollow Suits are now,” Evelyn said in the silence that followed.
Sandi opened another folder. “Shit,” she said, making it bigger.
It was a map of Earth. The key showed that red represented places Hollow Suits had been spotted, black were places where they’d taken over. Green areas were Hollow Suit free.
“America’s all black,” Wesley said, “So is Europe.”
“Africa’s just a mass of red dots,” Sandi said.
“Asia and Australia seem mostly okay,” Sennett said. But even those continents had red dots. No continent was without at least four or five sightings.
“This is what this virus was for,” Etta said, reading another file. “They designed it to infect our soldiers with so that they could have a chance against these things. But this document doesn’t seem to be the whole thing. It keeps talking about turning the virus off or calling it back. How would we call a virus back?”
“Everyone, keep reading,” Evelyn said, “While this is all fascinating, I haven’t heard anything yet about a cure.”
“I think I have it,” Fernie said, raising her hand. “Holy shit, this isn’t a virus! Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s kind of a virus, but more like a computer virus. No, that’s not right either.”
“You’re not making sense, Honey,” Evelyn said.
Fernie looked up, her eyes blazing. “It’s nanites! It’s not a virus, it’s just nanites! That means that we should just be able to use a disrupter and shut them all off.”
“Nope, someone tried that,” Sennett said, opening another document. “In America, which is entirely infected by this. They’ve been quarantined by force by the rest of the planet.”
“What does quarantine by force mean?” Ginny asked, coming carefully back to the table.
“As far as I can tell, it means shooting any American who tries to leave,” Sennett said, scanning through the document.
“Wait, someone did find a solution here!” Marcella said, “Just a few days after the station went dark, we found something! It should be in the lab still; we just didn’t get a chance to release it!”
“Great,” Sennett said, scratching her arm. “So we just need to go up and get it.”
“Assuming it’s still there,” Etta said.
Evelyn was quiet, looking at Sennett. “How long has your arm been itching?” she asked.
Sennett stopped herself, looking down at her arm. She’d nearly scratched it raw without noticing. “Well,” she said, “I’d have to say that it started about the time Ernie scratched my face.”
Copyright © 2018 by Nicole C. Lutrell
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