“Holy shit,” Liam muttered, looking at the breakfast menu. “Sen, have you seen these prices?”
The group was sitting in the dining room of the hotel the next morning. Sennett, who’d been up late talking with Godfrey about his meeting with Akiko, glared at him over her menu. “I don’t know much about your upbringing, but I was taught it’s not polite to talk in public about money.”
“Yeah, must have missed that lesson, not having any parents growing up,” he replied. “But seriously, this is three times what you’d spend back on S86.”
“He’s not wrong,” Godfrey looked over the menu. “If I tried to float these prices, I’d get punched in the mouth. With good reason.”
Sennett wanted to put her head down on the table and just go to sleep. She hadn’t had a cup of klav and had neglected to pack a caffeine cuff. She scanned down the menu in her bleary state, seeing prices instead of just food for the first time.
“Wow, you’re not kidding,” she muttered. She flipped through the whole menu and found a note on the back page.
Visitors to Station Central should know that you will be served nothing but the freshest, real grown food found among the stations. Station Central has grown and raised all its own food since the day it was founded. We hope that you enjoy the taste of fresh, honest food as much as we enjoy providing it for you and your family.
“Ah, well that’s why,” Sennett muttered. “None of this food is replicated. It’s all fresh grown here.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Godfrey said, flipping to the back page as well. “It’s the only station that has a full farm. I wish I could see it, but it’s closed to the public.”
“What are we doing today, Mommy?” April asked.
“Dunno,” Sennett said. “We’ve got a ton of options. There’s an amusement park level, a beach level, an entertainment level. What do you guys want to do?”
“Can we go see them make a video of Howie’s House?” April asked.
“I checked the listings already, they’re not doing that today,” Sennett said.
“I think we should go to the beach, then catch a movie this afternoon,” Liam said, still frowning at the menu.
“Can we go to the research center?” Mason asked. “They’re doing some awesome stuff with biotech. We could take a tour.”
“And I could blow my brains out from boredom,” Godfrey muttered.
“Do you promise?” Mason asked.
“Can you two not start on each other so early in the morning?” Sennett snapped.
Liam sat up. “Isn’t that the Councilwoman that was talking to you yesterday?” he asked, nodding toward the door.
Sennett looked up. There was Akiko, dressed in a simple black suit with a pair of overly large sunglasses. Gene trailed behind her.
Akiko pulled off her glasses and looked around the dining room, spotting them. She smiled and sauntered over to their table. “Godfrey, how are you?” she asked. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to ruin your breakfast.”
“What a relief,” Godfrey muttered. “How can I help you, Councilwoman?”
“Well, you mentioned you were traveling with Thorn Montgomery’s children. I wanted to stop by and say hello,” she said.
Sennett tensed. She glanced over at Mason, who shrugged. “That’s us,” she said.
“Ah,” Akiko said, reaching over the table to shake her hand. “I knew your mother professionally, of course. She was a good woman.”
“Thank you, Councilwoman,” Sennett said. April was looking at Akiko with wide eyes. Sennett was bracing, ready for her to start crying.
Gene nodded at the table. “Mason Montgomery,” he said. “You’re not the Mason Montgomery that’s been growing human organs, are you?”
“I am,” Mason said.
Gene’s eyes widened. “You look like a kid,” he said.
“I’m not,” Mason snapped. “I’m twenty, and-.”
“And you’re still in school even, right?” Gene asked. His face broke into a ridiculous grin. “How’d you ever think to do something like that? Do you know, scientists have been trying to come up with a biotic organ forever since the early 2000s and you’ve just started growing them. That’s amazing!”
“You know a lot about science for a politician,” Liam said.
“Sorry,” Sennett said, “This is my friend Liam.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you,” Akiko nodded. “As I said, I don’t want to interrupt your breakfast. But Godfrey, I understand you grow your own plants on Station 86?”
“I do,” Godfrey replied.
“I wanted to extend an invitation to our farms here. If you want to see them. Consider it my apology for yesterday.”
“Wow,” Godfrey said, looking pleased despite himself. “We were just talking about how people aren’t usually allowed to tour the place.”
“We only allow select groups in. It would be too stressful for the animals to have tourists in every day,” Gene said.
“Animals?” April asked, perking up. “What kind of animals?”
“Farm animals. We’ve got some sheep, goats, cows. Chickens, of course.”
“That’s awesome!” April gasped.
“There’s a full zoo on Level 4, you know,” Liam said, giving her a curious look.
“But can’t we do both?” April asked.
“Touring a farm sounds like fun,” Sennett said quickly.
“Nope,” Liam said. “Sen, I think what you’re thinking of is bone-crushingly boring. That sounds bone-crushingly boring.”
“You could go to the beach or something,” Sennett said.
“No, I’d rather stay around you,” Liam said, sitting back in his chair. “If I’m in your line of sight, no one can go accusing me of anything, you know?”
“Gene will escort you if you don’t mind. I’m sorry to say I won’t have time this morning,” Akiko said.
“Why do we need an escort at all?” Godfrey asked.
“Because otherwise, they’re not going to let you in,” Gene chuckled.
After breakfast, Gene led them to the transit bay. They waited patiently for one of the massive silver pods to land. It was circular and designed to carry small groups.
“These pods are a strange way to get around the levels,” Godfrey said. “Wouldn’t a transit train like on the other stations make more sense?”
“Not really,” Gene said. “You’ve got to remember that Station Central is a tourist destination. Families come in tired, or in a hurry to get to one of the attractions. No one wants to wait around on a transit.”
“Different way of doing things, I suppose,” Liam said, as a pod came to rest in front of them. They all clambered inside and settled into the smooth, cushioned blue seats. Bailey sat next to April and turned his head toward Gene. “That’s a funny little toy you’ve got,” Gene said. “Almost acts like a real dog.”
“He’s an AI,” Sennett explained. “We had to get a permit to bring him.”
“Oh, I remember Mom saying something about signing off on that now,” Gene brightened. “The AI dog, and something else too. Some prisoner on house arrest, or something.”
“Really?” Liam asked. “How thrillin’. D’you mean there’s a dangerous prisoner walkin’ about the station?”
Sennett had been in Godfrey’s greenhouse many times. Not as many as Mason, who’d had spent time there repaying Godfrey. First, for intentionally poisoning his plants and then accidentally exploding a watering system. She’d expected the farm to look like a larger version of that, with rows of planters overflowing with vegetables and herbs.
This, however, was a different world entirely.
The area was so vast, she couldn’t even see the other wall. Everywhere she looked she saw neat lines of greenery that stretched forever. Things she’d never seen before, only recognizing them from pictures in school. There were corn plants, taller than she was. There were rows and rows of tiny fluffy plants that she couldn’t distinguish from so far away. Bright orange and white gourds caught her eye in the distance.
They stepped onto a walkway built along the wall of the level. Small, round robots crawled along the ground. They seemed to be looking for something, but Sennett couldn’t tell what.
“What are those things?” April asked, pointing to one of the robots.
“Farmer bots,” Gene said, looking down at them with a smile. “They look for weeds and harmful insects, and get rid of them.”
“That’s what you need, Godfrey,” Mason said, leaning against the rail.
“Why would I need a robot to pull up weeds when I have you?” Godfrey asked. His eyes were scanning the plants, feasting over them as though he were a starving man. Looking towards Gene, he asked, “Can I go into the field?”
“Sure, if you want to. Please don’t touch the plants, though. As I’m sure you can imagine, they’re very expensive.”
“You should keep this one out, then,” Godfrey said, nodding toward Mason.
“Why, did you learn to keep your hands to yourself?” Mason snapped. “Gene, let me tell you what this asshole did to my first heart plant prototype.”
“Alright, enough of that,” Godfrey muttered. “If a plant’s too fragile to be touched, it’s not ready anyway.”
Gene chuckled. “Come on, let’s go down.”
As they walked along the walkway, Godfrey lifted his nose to sniff the air. Sennett did as well. It smelled strange, different than in the rest of the station.
“Can you smell the soil?” Godfrey asked, looking back at them. “I haven’t smelled real, honest to God soil since I left Earth.”
“What about all the dirt in your greenhouse?” Sennett asked.
“I’ve had to add too much to it. Minerals, vitamins and such. It’s more science than soil now,” he said.
They reached a set of stairs, leading down onto what Godfrey had called a field. He hurried forward, kneeling between the rows of plants. “April, come and look,” he said. “Do you recognize this?”
April and Bailey went forward and knelt to look at the plant Godfrey was pointing at. She tilted her head to consider it. Baily did the same.
“It’s a yellow squash plant. Look, you can see the squash starting to grow at the stem.” She pointed to a tiny yellow bulb right next to the stem.
“Wow,” Sennett said. “How’d you learn that?”
“Mister Godfrey and Uncle Mason have been teaching me about plants,” April said.
Godfrey stood, looking around them. He took another deep breath. “Been too long since I smelled that,” he said.
“Come on,” Gene said, giving Godfrey a warm smile. “there’s a lot more to see.”
Sennett let the others go ahead. She looked around at the plants, wondering how many of them would end up on her dinner plate during this vacation.
Godfrey lagged to walk next to Sennett. “I’m glad this place is here, in case we’ve lost Earth,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sennett said, nodding.
Gene looked back, smiling. “What’s that?” he asked.
Godfrey didn’t say anything, so Sennett said, “We were just talking about how we’re glad this place is here in case the Earth is lost.”
Gene stopped. He was still smiling, but his eyes crinkled in worry. “Why would you say something like that?”
Sennett stood, putting her hands in her pockets. “Well, because the Hollow Suits have all but wiped out humans on Earth. I kind of assumed you knew about that, Gene.”
Gene looked around quickly, seeing only the weeding robots. “Let’s not talk about this here, okay?” he whispered.
“I forgot. Godfrey mentioned you and Akiko weren’t talking to your people about the Hollow suit,” Sennett said. She crossed her arms, inspecting him. “I almost died, getting the information about the Hollow Suits. Two good IHP agents did die for it. Are you gonna tell me that was all for nothing?”
“People need to know about this,” Mason said. “We can’t protect ourselves if we’re kept in the dark.”
“The right people need to know,” Gene said. “The people who can do something about it. Listen, I’m going to have to ask all of you to not talk about the Hollow Suits while you’re here on Station Central. For the sake of everyone’s safety, please.”
He looked around again, muttering, “I’m really sorry for what you went through on Station 16.”
“It wasn’t a good time,” Sennett replied. “That’s why I needed a vacation.”
“Yeah, um,” Gene said. “Well, come on. We’ll go see the other fields, then we can go to the barns.”
Gene led them through the fields, past rows and rows of plants that she didn’t recognize but Godfrey did. He pointed them out to her, excited.
“Those there are carrots,” he said. “And those vines there will have watermelons eventually. I’d love to be growing watermelons, but they take up too much room.”
“How can you tell that? That doesn’t look anything like a carrot,” Sennett said.
“That’s because you’ve never seen it before I cut it up and put it on your plate,” he said.
Eventually, they worked their way through the fields and reached an elevator on the other side. Sennett thought this was probably good timing. April looked like she was losing her interest in seeing plants she couldn’t touch.
The elevator doors opened smoothly, and the second floor of the farm assaulted Sennett’s senses. The sounds struck her first, a cacophony of bleating, screaming, cawing, mooing and scratching. A second later, the smell hit her.
“Wow, that’s familiar,” Godfrey said, smiling in such a way that one would almost think he was enjoying the scent.
They walked down a path that led between enclosures. The first one they came to was full of chickens. Sennett had seen videos of the flightless birds before, but she’d had no idea that they had such a range of colors. There were all white ones, of course. But there were also black with white spots, a multitude of browns, and even some incredibly fluffy ones.
“Wow,” April gasped, leaning over the thick enclosure wall. “They’re so funny looking. Is that really how they walk?”
“Yep,” Godfrey said, looking down at the chickens.
They walked slowly through the enclosures, inspecting the animals. There were turkeys, which frightened April with their size. Next came ducks that swam around their water-filled enclosure and quacked at them when they saw them. The goats were next. They butted at their wall, trying to get at the humans. The cows, which were far bigger than Sennett thought any animal had a right to be, blinked at them sleepily as they constantly chewed. Their pen was massive, spanning larger than an entire block of houses back home.
“And finally, my personal favorite,” Gene said, leading the group to the last enclosure. “The sheep.”
“Why are the sheep your favorite?” April asked.
“Wait until you see them,” he grinned. For the first time, he opened a door that led into the enclosure.
“Most of the other animals don’t really want human contact. They’re taken care of by automated systems. But sheep shearing is one thing that’s still best done by humans. It lessens the stress on the animals. So it’s good for us to come in occasionally and play with them.”
April was looking at the sheep, entranced. They were fluffy, varied in color from white to brown to black, and certainly seemed to like humans. They all meandered over to them and started to sniff at their hands.
“They’re tickling!” April laughed, as one tiny sheep started to lick her.
“They expect you to have treats,” Gene said, reaching into a bin next to the door. “Here, give them these.” He handed her a few brown pellets from a bag he’d grabbed on the way in. Taking another few himself, he offered his flattened palm to the nearest sheep. “Just like this, see?”
Bailey was sniffing at the sheep, investigating their haunches and faces. Gene looked down at him, his brow furrowed. “What is it doing?” he asked.
“Baily’s investigating the sheep,” April said. She was wrist deep in fur.
“Never seen a robot dog do that,” Gene said.
“I read in a book that some farms had dogs to take care of the sheep,” April said, looking up.
Godfrey nodded. “That’s right. Dogs have all kinds of uses on a farm. They watch out for coyotes and bobcats, protect fields from birds, and they herd sheep.”
Bailey looked up at his words, his ears perking up. April looked over at him. “Do you know that word, Bailey? Can you herd the sheep?”
The dog wasted no time. He started trotting around the sheep in a businesslike manner, yipping at them. The sheep, who were already tightly clustered around the humans, pulled in even tighter. Bailey looked to April for further directions. “Um,” she said, looking to Godfrey. “What do I do now?”
Godfrey laughed. “I don’t think the sheep need to go anywhere else, Little Bit. Better tell Bailey to stop.”
“Where did you guys get that dog?” Gene asked, leaning toward Sennett.
“Kind of a weird story,” Sennett said.
“He’s an AI dog,” April said. “He came when the bad dogs attacked us. But he was a good one, and he helped save us.”
“That so?” Gene asked.
“Yep,” Sennett said quickly. “He’s a good little dog.”
“And he’s, um, he’s safe?” Gene asked. “I mean, I guess you’d have to if you let your kid play with it. It’s just, well you know what happened on Station 90, right?”
“Bailey’s not that kind of AI,” Sennett said.
“I’m sure you’re right,” Gene said, scrutinizing Bailey as April scratched behind his metallic ear.
Gene left them after the tour, saying that he had to get back to work. Sennett and the others headed down to the dining level for lunch.
“April,” Sennett said as they rode down in the pod. “Please do not tell people that Bailey is AI when we’re not on Station 86, okay?”
“Why not?” April asked.
“Because AI robots are not allowed on the stations,” Mason said. “They can be dangerous.”
“Bailey’s not,” April said. She wrapped her arms around the dog and pulled him close.
“He could be, though, if he was protecting you,” Liam said quietly.
“Don’t freak her out,” Sennett snapped.
Liam shrugged. “You can’t lie to the kid. That dog will kill to keep April safe. You know that. That’s why you let him hang around her.”
The pod slowed to a stop and the group emerged into the busy level. “That’s not true,” Sennett said, taking April’s hand. “She loves the dog, that’s why I let her keep him.”
Liam gave her a knowing smirk but said nothing more.
“What do we want for lunch?” Mason asked.
“Let’s just look around and see what looks good,” Sennett said. Everything looked good to her. Breakfast seemed a long time ago.
They’d been walking a few minutes when Sennett became aware that someone was following them. She couldn’t tell much, only that the person was wearing a dark hoodie and moving slowly through the crowd.
“April, go walk with Uncle Mason,” Sennett said quietly, giving the girl a nudge. April gave her mother a questioning look but then hurried forward to take Mason’s hand.
“What’s up?” Liam asked, slowing to walk next to her.
“Don’t know yet. Could just be me being paranoid,” she replied, but she didn’t really believe that.
The hoodie was slipping through the crowd, heading right to Sennett. When it was close enough, a voice from the hood said, “Excuse me, are you Sennett Montgomery?”
Sennett stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Wanna put your hood back, sir?”
“I can’t really,” the man whispered, glancing around. “But it’s you, right? You were on Station 16 with the IHP team?”
“I’m going to need to see your face before I start talking to you,” Sennett replied.
The man glanced around and pulled his hood back carefully. He was familiar to Sennett, but he couldn’t remember where she’d seen him before.
Godfrey was the first to realize who it was. “Sennett, get away from him,” he gasped. “He’s wanted by the police.”
“Shit, you’re Whitehall,” Liam said.
“Wait,” Whitehall said, reaching for Sennett’s arm. She pulled away, reaching for a weapon she didn’t have. He reached for something in his coat.
“Hey!” someone in the crowd around them cried. “That’s the man the police are looking for.”
“Damn it,” Whitehall muttered. He pulled his hood back on. As he did, his jacket pulled up, and Sennett spotted a weapon tucked into his belt. He turned and tried to dodge into the crowd. Sennett grabbed his arm, but he turned around and punched her in the face. She staggered back, almost falling into Liam’s arms.
“What the hell!” Godfrey cried. Sennett stood up, looking around. But Whitehall was gone, lost somewhere in the crowd.
Copyright © 2019 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.
Station 86 is shocked when a Khloe assassin begins killing members of the all powerful council. Officer Sennett Montgomery and Councilman Godfrey Anders swear to find the assassin after Godfrey’s wife is falsely accused. But the killer, and the council itself, are not what they seem. Neither, as it turns out, is Sennett’s daughter.